The Netherlands – Tuition fees: around £1,656 per year
Germany – Tuition fees: free
Spain – Tuition fees: £577-£1,086 per year
Poland – Tuition fees: Free for Polish courses, £1,800 per year for courses taught in other languages
France – Tuition fees: From £160 per year
Norway – Tuition fees: free
Czech Republic – Tuition fees: £3,500 per year
Studying abroad is a fun way to grow up. You travel. You meet new people. You get out of your comfort zone. It shows you’re willing to get out, leave your home town, and go see the world.
As it stands, some European countries enable Brits to study without paying tuition fees or incurring anywhere near as much debt as they would in the UK. Living costs can also be cheap. Many learn a new language and experience a different teaching style. Some stay on and find jobs. Others fall in love and life takes a different direction altogether. Whatever comes of it, studying in Europe is worth considering. Here’s a roundup of our top destinations:
Tuition fees: around £1,656 per year
The Netherlands is becoming a popular choice for UK students, thanks to its low tuition fees and its close proximity (it’s a 45-minute plane journey from London). It is the largest provider of English-taught study programmes in mainland Europe, with more than 2,100 international study programmes and typical tuition fee of around £1,656. With a low cost of living, a cool music and arts scene and a biking culture, cities such as Amsterdam have lots to offer young people.
Peter Ffoulkes, 20, who studies law at Swansea University, is currently spending his year abroad at Radboud University in Nijmegen. He says the pros outweigh the cons in nearly every respect. “There is a huge international student community here and it’s really great to be surrounded by people from all over the world. I couldn’t speak Dutch before coming to The Netherlands and I still can’t – just a few words really,” he says. “But it’s not a problem at all because every single Dutch person I have met while I’ve been here can speak fluent English.”
Ffoulkes says the classes are smaller than at Swansea and he’s been able to study courses that weren’t available to him back home. However, he says there are some downsides. “The marking is stricter and there are higher pass grades,” he says. “Also, the fall of the pound has meant that I don’t have half as many euros as I thought I would.”
Tuition fees: free
If you want cheap (or even free) education in the heart of Europe, then Germany is the place to be. International students make up around 12% of the student population and the teaching can be world class. English-taught programs are rare at undergraduate level (but more common at postgraduate level) so if you want to take advantage of the country’s free undergraduate education, you’ll need to either learn German or be quite open-minded about what you study.
Daisy Jones, 26, spent her year abroad from Manchester University in Berlin. “It’s a fab place to live. It’s super cheap for rent, there are lots of cool restaurants, and obviously amazing clubs,” she says. “This is where I really got into the techno scene.” However, despite studying German, she found it difficult to practise basic language skills as everyone seemed to speak English.
Others agree that learning German can be hard. Emma Bain, 25 from UCL, spent a year in Cologne for her Erasmus placement. “It’s tempting to spend most of your time with other Erasmus students and get away with speaking hardly any German,” she says. “I lived with an Italian girl and a German guy but it wasn’t easy to keep friendships with native speakers, especially when you arrive and your language skills aren’t that good because often they’d rather just hang out with other Germans.”
Alina Strugut, 34, who studied a PhD at Leipzig University, says the teaching style can also be quite different. “In the UK, there is less intrusion from the professor or academic adviser, and researchers can choose what to focus on more freely than in Germany,” she says. “In Germany the academic hierarchy is much stronger.”
Tuition fees: £577-£1,086 per year
Although most higher education programmes are taught in Spanish, there are some English ones too, and nearly all universities offer a wide range of language courses for international students. The average cost is £577-£1,086 and £1,120-£1,273 for postgrads.
Sofia Leadbetter from Sheffield University has just completed an Erasmus year at the University of Seville. “My Spanish improved throughout the course of the year because it was the only language I communicated in at home and when I was out. My confidence grew and while I didn’t have exclusively Spanish friends, there were many I could count within my friendship group.”
Leadbetter says she found the teaching style quite different to that at home. She says that unlike her experience in the UK, where PowerPoint presentations are nearly always used in lectures, Spanish professors preferred sitting down at the front of the classroom. “This felt very reminiscent of school for me and many other foreign students,” she says. “There was a different sort of teacher-pupil relationship and contacting your teachers via email proved difficult at points.”
Tuition fees: Free for Polish courses, £1,800 per year for courses taught in other languages
Perhaps a less obvious choice, Poland is still one to consider. Tuition fees are competitive and the cost of living is a fraction of what a foreign student might have to spend elsewhere. Full-time studies in the Polish language are free of charge for EU students, though you may also need to sit the same entrance exams as locals.
If you are not able to study in Polish, tuition fees are around £1,800 per year and there are more than 700 courses taught in foreign languages (mainly English).
Alina Strugut studied at the Academy of Social Sciences in Warsaw. She found the teaching style similar to that of the UK. “Classes were very participatory, inclusive, and heavily focused on critical thinking. We had to do some readings before, and then critique those readings in class. There were no wrong answers; everyone was encouraged to voice out their opinion. The final evaluation would be based on class participation and essays.” Despite this, Strugut thinks that there are downsides. “I’ve found that a degree from the UK opens more doors than one from Poland.”
Tuition fees: From £160 per year
Average annual tuition fees are £160 for most undergraduate programs at public universities and £217 for master’s programs. Private universities charge considerably more. Like most cities, living expenses are higher in the capital, but for many it’s worth the cost – Paris has been named the world’s number one student city four times in a row. Most programmes are taught in French but there are more than 1,100 courses taught in English too.
Jessica Clark, 28 from King’s College London, spent a year at the University of London Institute in Paris. “This was a British uni in Paris so there was a big English presence and feel to it, which is not the best for learning the language or integrating. In fact, there wasn’t much cross over with French students at all,” she says. “If I could go back, I would maybe go to the south of France instead. Oh, and not have a boyfriend in the UK at the time.”
Tuition fees: free
Studying in Norway is free at all public universities (with a few exceptions in the case of specialised programs). Although living costs can be higher than elsewhere in Europe the beautiful landscapes, wide open spaces and low crime rates make it an attractive place to study. Most higher education programmes are taught in Norwegian, but there are approximately 250 master’s programmes and 250 bachelor programmes taught in English.
Tuition fees: £3,500 per year
Students who wish to study in English can still do so fairly cheaply, at around £3,500 per year. Living costs are also more affordable than in many other European countries. Plus, due to its geographic location, the Czech Republic is at the crossroads of many cultures with a strong Jewish, Slavonic and German influence.
Keep up with the latest on Guardian Students: follow us on Twitter at @GdnStudents – and become a member to receive exclusive benefits and our weekly newsletter.