College Tuition Charges – Just about free continues to be the norm in Europe

Paris — With the exception of Great Britain, the Netherlands and a few large specialist schools, fees remain moderate or almost non-existent in the vast majority of European countries. Despite some recent exceptions, most European universities are far from following in the footsteps of Quebec and the UK in terms of tuition increases. If there have been increases in recent years, they remain limited and restricted to certain regions or to some large business schools with an international vocation. There is no doubt that if French, German or Swedish students suffered the same increases as Quebec students, such a move would raise an outcry in most of these countries.

This does not mean that European universities are not tempted to increase their tuition fees, but this debate, which has been going on for several years, has changed little of the overall picture. Thus, since 2005, some German Länder have put an end to free entry. But their fees hardly exceed $650 per semester.

A report by the Robert Schumann European Foundation published in 2011 shows that the European model still clearly differs from that of Anglo-Saxon countries. It classifies European universities into three categories. (1) The one where the university is completely free includes Scandinavian countries, including Finland, whose school system has been regularly praised by all OECD studies. (2) The category of countries where fees are moderate or almost non-existent includes France, Germany and the Czech Republic, Spain. This is the dominant European model. (3) Only the UK and the Netherlands have joined the Anglo-American model with high fees. But unlike Great Britain, where it will soon reach $14,000 a year, in the Netherlands that amount doesn’t exceed $2,500 a year. The country also has a generous scholarship system, while the UK favors loans.

Another study published this time by the OECD confirms that the most favored university students are those from Scandinavian countries. Not only do they enjoy completely free education, but also a highly developed scholarship system that allows them to cater to your needs. Then come the other European countries where tuition fees are almost non-existent and scholarships are a little less important.

European countries are also distinguished by a financial aid system that favors family solidarity and housing assistance, while Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom favor the financial autonomy of young people, specifies the Schuman Foundation.

The debate in France

The minimum application fees of French universities (US$ 230 per year) do not prevent this country from having some Grandes Écoles, in particular business schools, whose tuition fees are prohibitive. For example, it costs over $15,000 a year to study at HEC Paris. More recently, the Institut de Sciences Politiques de Paris has significantly increased its tuition fees, which can reach $13,000 at the undergraduate level. However, these values ​​remain modulated according to family income. Even at HEC, scholarship students from the poorest families (25% of French students) are exempt from tuition fees and even benefit from free accommodation if they come from abroad.

These recent exceptions do not prevent the vast majority of French Grandes Écoles from being entirely free. Several of them, such as the National School of Administration (ENA), the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Polytechnique, even offer a salary to students who pass the competition. Often denounced in the press, these Grandes Écoles receive fewer scholarship recipients than universities, although this proportion reaches 20% in some of them.

The debate on raising tuition fees is also taking place in France. Last August, left-wing think tank Terra Nova proposed tripling undergraduate tuition to $690 a year and quadrupling master’s fees. But this proposal is unlikely to be accepted, as it clashes with the values ​​of French society. The answer was not long in coming. “We must not, above all, increase enrollment rates when the priority of priorities must be to relaunch the entrance of bachelors in higher education”, declared PS National Secretary for Higher Education, Bertrand Monthubert. The same reaction of the former Minister of Education and centrist presidential candidate François Bayrou who asks, for all grande écoles, “that the government imposes free education, I will support it”.

Recently, the British company QS named the French capital as the first city in the world where it was good to study. The ranking particularly took into account the reputation of the establishments, the richness of the offer and the low cost of studies.

Le Devoir correspondent in Paris

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