College Tuition Charges – Nearly free are nonetheless the norm in Europe

Paris — With the exception of Great Britain, the Netherlands and some of the leading specialist schools, tuition 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 increasing tuition fees. If the increases occurred in recent years, they remain limited and restricted to certain regions or a few large business schools with an international vocation. There is no doubt that if French, German or Swedish students were to suffer the same raises as Quebec students, such a measure would raise protests 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 hardly changed the general picture. Thus, since 2005, some German Länder have put an end to gratuity. But their fees hardly exceed $650 per semester.

A report by the European Robert Schumann 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 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 United Kingdom and the Netherlands have aligned themselves with the Anglo-American model with high tuition fees. But, unlike in Great Britain, where they will soon reach US$14,000 a year, in the Netherlands it is no more than US$2,500 a year. The country also has a generous scholarship system, while the UK favors borrowing.

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 a completely free education, but also a highly developed scholarship system that allows them to meet their 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 support, 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 enrollment 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 in Paris 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 holders from the poorest families (25% of French students) are exempt from fees and even enjoy free accommodation if they come from abroad.

These recent exceptions do not prevent the vast majority of French Grandes Ecoles from being completely 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 by the press, these Great Schools receive fewer scholars than the universities, although in some of them this proportion reaches 20%.

The debate over tuition increases is also raging in France. Last August, leftist think tank Terra Nova proposed tripling undergraduate tuition to $690 a year and quadrupling master’s tuition. But this proposal is unlikely to be accepted as it clashes with the values ​​of French society. The answer was not long in coming. “Above all, we should not increase tuition fees when the priority of priorities should be to relaunch the entry of graduates into higher education”, said the national secretary of Higher Education of the PS, Bertrand Monthubert. The same reaction from former Minister of Education and centrist candidate for the presidency François Bayrou who asks, for all the grande écoles, “that the government impose free education, I 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 mainly took into account the reputation of the establishments, the richness of the offer and the low cost of studies.

Correspondent for Le Devoir in Paris

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