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4 people from around the world share the wonders of free education — and reveal the hidden drawbacks

October 22,2017 20:17

Some governments even cover the entire cost of a college education, leaving graduates with zero debt and a clean slate to start their new careers. Business Insider spoke with four people from different European countries to find out what it's really ...



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Higher education doesn't come cheap in the United States — citizens collectively hold about $1.31 trillion in college loan debt.
Things are hardly this dire in certain other countries, where everything from preschool to university is paid for — at least in part — by the government.
Some governments even cover the entire cost of a college education, leaving graduates with zero debt and a clean slate to start their new careers.
Business Insider spoke with four people from different European countries to find out what it's really like to get a free education.

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France

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What do you pay for university?
Public university is still free except for about €200 ($237) of fees, which include basic healthcare.
What's it like to pay so little?
We are happy and grateful to not have to think about the huge amounts of debt awaiting us after graduation. You can focus on the studies that matter to you rather than the most lucrative ones.
Are there any drawbacks?
Many students in France also have to work during their studies to afford basic things like eating and housing etc. and this can affect their success or the length of their studies compared to students whose parents can help pay for you.
— Marie-Catherine Beuth, Managing Editor, Business Insider France

Germany

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What do you pay for university?
I was enrolled from 2009-2015. During this time period there was some variation in university fees. The total fee during that time was ~€500 ($592) per semester (6 months). Before and after, the university was almost "free."
What's it like to pay so little?
I have a lot of friends who studied in the UK and the USA (mostly universities which have very good ranking), who had to pay significantly more for their university.
We discussed the topic several times and actually came to the conclusion that there is little to no difference between Ivy League schools or highly ranked UK universities and my university in terms of the content covered.
This means, although I paid considerably less, I had access to the same quantity and quality of knowledge through my lectures as they did. From my perspective, this was obviously a very satisfying conclusion.
Are there any drawbacks?
The professor/student ratio was generally much higher at my university. There was less course/project work in my course, compared to the highly-ranked and expensive universities that my friends attended. 
— Andrej Guminski, Research Associate at Research Association for Energy Economics

Denmark

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What do you pay for university?
Totally free. You only have to pay for the books you need.
What's it like to pay so little?
Everybody has the same opportunity to pursue a university degree no matter if they were born into rags or riches.
By removing the perception of education being an economic investment in yourself or in your children, you generally see that students choose a program that is not a necessarily the practical and obvious choice but which is what they are passionate about.
This is also one of the reasons why it is very common for students to begin on a degree and afterwards change program or university entirely within the first two semesters.
Are there any drawbacks?
With education being free, the Danish word "evighedsstuderende" has risen. The direct translation would be 'eternity student' and it refers to a person who never finishes his studies but continuously keeps changing study program year after year. 
Another potential drawback is that people don't necessarily choose a study program based on their future job opportunities.
— Daniel Borup Jakobsen, VP Marketing, Plecto

Sweden

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What do you pay for university?
What you cover is expenses for books (course specific literature) but then again things like JSTOR are usually accessed through university and hence already paid for. 
Also, you get about $200/month from the State if you study full-time to cover those costs.
What's it like to pay so little?
Having access to free education means you don't need to rush into a BA program, graduate and start working to pay debts off. Instead, if you get a job on the side, you can actually study a bunch of courses for a couple of years to figure out what it is that you really want to do.
Are there any drawbacks?
Swedes graduate later than, for example, Americans. Which then results in us getting our first job/apartment/car and so on later, leading in some sense to us (higher-educated Swedes) also getting kids later in life. 
But overall I think it is great, which probably is why Sweden is one of the highest-ranking countries when it comes to overall quality of life and happiness. 
— Samuel Skwarski, PR/Creative, Volontaire

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