National Student Fee and Support Systems in European Higher Education

The levels of student tuition or administrative fees, grants and loans highlight stark differences across Europe, according to a report published on 22 October by the European Commission's Eurydice network. The report, which covers 33 European countries, reveals that fee systems have remained relatively stable across the continent, despite some notable exceptions. Germany is the only country to recently abolish tuition fees, despite introducing them only in 2007.

Estonia significantly changed its funding system in 2014, linking fees to study performance: only students who fail to stay on track with their studies (ie do not achieve the required number of credits each year) are charged. Fees are similarly linked to poor performance in other countries including the Czech Republic, Spain, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Poland and Slovakia.

The highest tuition fees in Europe are in the UK (England), following a major overhaul of its higher education system in 2012. The fees are not paid immediately, but only after graduation when students' earnings exceed a defined threshold - a unique model in Europe. Relatively high fees are paid up front by students in Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and the Netherlands.

The report, National student fee and support systems in European Higher Education 2014/2015, highlights a great variation in the number of students paying fees in publicly funded higher education institutions. A number of countries – Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Malta, Slovenia, Finland, Sweden, UK (Scotland), Norway and Turkey– do not charge any fees for full-time students.

At the other end of the scale, all bachelor students pay fees in 11 countries: small administrative fees are charged in the Czech Republic, Germany (situation differs between Länder), Poland and Slovakia, while tuition fees are required in the Netherlands, Portugal, UK (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Iceland (in private dependent institutions) and Liechtenstein.

In most European countries only a minority of students receive grant support. In nine countries, all (Cyprus, Denmark, Malta, Finland) or a majority of students (Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom (Scotland), Sweden, Norway) receive grants. Iceland is the only country which offers no public grant system, although this is currently under debate.

In 35 education systems (some countries have more than one system, eg BE, UK), grants are awarded on the basis of financial need to some or all students (Denmark, Finland and Sweden offer universal grants for full-time students provided that basic requirements for study performance are met); 23 systems offer grants on the basis of merit linked to an assessment of academic performance. Nearly all of these systems combine need-based and merit-based grants.

Publicly subsidised student loans play a significant role in student support in around half of the countries covered. Similarly, also in around half of the countries, some aspects of support depend on overall family circumstances and are not paid directly to students but as tax benefits to parents or as family allowances.


This annual Eurydice report contains a comparative overview of student fee and support systems (grants and loans). It covers 33 European countries (EU Member States, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Montenegro and Turkey).

It also offers country-specific information, including:

Fees (differentiated by cycle – Bachelor/Master's), shown by year (for both part-time and full-time students), and whether international students pay different fees compared with national/EU students. Fees include all costs charged to students – including for registration, admission and certification.

Support in the form of grants, differentiated as need-based and merit-based grants.

Three additional elements are included where they are a main characteristic of student support: loans (if there is a national student loan system, and above 5% of students take out the loan); tax benefits for parents and family allowances.

A short description of planned reforms affecting the public fee and support system which are under discussion in governments.

A separate report published by the European Commission in June (see IP/14/709) showed that introducing tuition fees usually increases the total amount of resources for higher education, though new income from fees is not always invested in ways – such as additional teaching posts - that directly improves the student experience.

It also showed that tuition fees do not have an overall negative impact on enrolments in higher education, even among students from lower socio-economic groups, unless the magnitude of change is exceptional. However increases in fees can result in falling enrolments among older students. That report underlined that grants and/or loans are crucial for offsetting the potentially negative consequences of fees or fee rises on university enrolments, particularly from vulnerable groups.


The European Commission's Eurydice Network provides information on and analyses of European education systems and policies. It consists of 40 national units based in 36 countries participating in the EU's Erasmus+ programme (EU Member States, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey). It is co-ordinated and managed by the EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency in Brussels, which drafts its studies and provides a range of online resources.


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