PhD Study, for Free? – 14 Countries That Charge Very Little (or Nothing!) for Doctoral Degrees
There are many reasons to study abroad for a PhD – accessing unique research opportunities, studying at globally renowned universities, expanding your horizons and having new experiences – but the chance to pay less for your degree is definitely one of them.
In fact, you may have heard that some places let doctoral students study for free. Is there really such thing as a free PhD? Well, sort of. There are several countries that don't charge any 'tuition fees' to PhD students and I'm going to list a selection of them in this blog.
Before I do though, it's important to understand that 'fee-free' isn't quite the same as 'free'. There are lots of other costs associated with a PhD besides university fees, not least living expenses across three (or more) years of postgraduate research.
You may also find you need to pay for research trips or materials during your doctorate and some universities will also charge small amounts for registration or student union membership. The bottom line is that you may still need some funding, even if your PhD itself is 'free'.
But paying nothing (or very little) for your PhD fees will certainly make a doctorate easier to fund. Let's take a look at some of the places around the world where you can do that.
Austria charges no PhD fees at public research universities. However, this condition only applies to EU and EEA students who finish their doctorates on time (extra semesters cost €363.36 each). International students pay fees throughout their degrees, but the maximum cost is capped by the Austrian Government at a fairly low €726.72 per semester.
EU and EEA students do pay fees to study at Austria's universities of applied sciences and all students pay a small students' union contribution.
Read our guide to PhD study in Austria for more information, or take a look at some current Austrian PhD opportunities.
The country that invented the PhD is also one of the most affordable places to study a doctorate in Europe. Germany's public universities charge no PhD fees to any students (this is different to Masters degrees, which do charge fees to international students in some cases).
Be aware that doctoral students do have to pay a small administration fee of €100-350 per semester. You may also incur fees if your PhD lasts longer than three years.
Read our guide to PhD study in Germany for more information, or take a look at some current German PhD opportunities.
The Czech Republic is home to some of Europe's most historic universities and its public institutions charge no fees to any PhD students. There is a catch though: you'll need to complete your PhD in Czech. English-language programmes are available, but will generally charge additional fees.
Read our guide to PhD study in the Czech Republic for more information, or take a look at some current Czech PhD opportunities.
Denmark is another European country that charges no PhD fees to EU, EEA and Swiss students at public universities. International students do pay relatively high fees, however.
Read our guide to PhD study in Denmark for more information, or take a look at some current Danish PhD opportunities.
Public universities in Finland charge no PhD fees to any students, regardless of nationality. This is different to Finnish Masters programmes which do charge fees to international students.
Read our guide to PhD study in Finland for more information, or take a look at some current Finnish PhD opportunities.
Norway is another Nordic country that doesn't charge fees to any students at its public universities (including those from outside the EU and EEA). However, you will have to pay a small semester fee whilst studying.
Read our guide to PhD study in Norway for more information, or take a look at some current Norwegian PhD opportunities.
Saudi Arabia takes a fairly unique approach to PhD funding. All students' fees are automatically covered by scholarships (which also help cover living costs). Basically, if you're accepted by a university, your PhD will be fully funded.
Read our guide to PhD study in Saudi Arabia for more information, or take a look at some current Saudia Arabian PhD opportunities.
A Nordic country that – you guessed it – doesn't charge PhD fees at public universities. Sweden also goes a little further and pays some PhD students a study grant to help cover living costs.
Read our guide to PhD study in Sweden for more information, or take a look at some current Swedish PhD opportunities.
There are also a few countries where PhD study isn't automatically 'free' but where the fees charged are very low, or some students may be exempt from paying them.
PhD study in Brazil is free for domestic students at public universities (as part of constitutional higher education policy), but many institutions also extend this offer to international postgraduates.
PhD study isn't free in France, but it is remarkably cheap. All students pay €380 per year at public universities. This is different to Masters degrees which charge a higher rate to international students.
Hungarian universities offer a limited number of state-funded PhD places to EU, EEA and Swiss students. If you're accepted on to one of these you'll pay no fees and also receive a maintenance grant.
The cost of a PhD in Israel varies, but it's actually quite common for universities to waive doctoral fees for the students they accept.
Students who are accepted for a PhD in the Netherlands are often classified as university employees during their doctorate. If this is this the case for you, you won't pay traditional PhD fees and may also receive a salary and / or other benefits.
Students do pay fees for PhD study in New Zealand. However, there isn't a higher rate for international students, which makes the country a relatively affordable option for study abroad (as well as a very attractive and exciting one!).
As I said at the beginning of this post, there's more to a free PhD than low fees. With a few exceptions, most of the countries above will still expect students to support themselves and this often means finding additional PhD funding for accommodation and living costs.
Fee policies can also change year-on-year, so make sure you're signed up to our newsletter for the latest updates.
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Brexit and PhD study
Lots of the countries on this page only offer free tuition for EU students, and Brexit could affect this right if you're from the UK.