America is suffering from a student loan debt crisis that seems to get worse every year and it has left a lot of people scratching their heads. Close to 45 million Americans currently have student debt and the total of that debt has exceeded $1.56 trillion. One of the ways that politicians, policy-makers, and advocates have suggested that we solve this crisis is by implementing a free college program and forgiving student loans. While a majority of voters seem to support free college programs, solving the problems brought on by the rising cost of college can seem insurmountable. What you may not know is that several countries around the world have already expanded public education to include four-year colleges and universities. In this short guide, we’re going to take a look at those countries and explain how free college works for them.

What Countries Offer Free College?

According to WorldPopulationReview.com, 22 countries around the world are currently offering free college to their citizens. Some even offer free college to international students with a few stipulations, such as what language the class is taught in or mandatory military service in return for the education you receive.

  • Argentina: offers free tuition for citizens.
  • Austria: offers free tuition for citizens.
  • Brazil: offers free tuition for citizens as well as international students; however, all classes are taught in the national language of Portuguese.
  • Czech Republic: offers free tuition for citizens. International students are also given the opportunity for free classes in the Czech language. Classes taught in other languages are not free.
  • Denmark: offers free tuition for citizens.
  • Egypt: offers free tuition for citizens.
  • Finland: offers free tuition for citizens as well as international students.
  • France: offers free tuition for citizens of all countries in the European Union.
  • Germany: offers free tuition for citizens as well as international students.
  • Greece: offers free tuition for citizens as well as international students; however, all classes are taught in Greek.
  • Iceland: offers free tuition for citizens as well as international students.
  • Kenya: offers free tuition for citizens. International students that performed well academically in secondary school are given free tuition at public colleges and universities.
  • Luxembourg: offers free tuition for citizens as well as international students.
  • Malaysia: offers free tuition for citizens.
  • Norway: offers free tuition for citizens as well as international students; however, the living expenses are notoriously high there.
  • Panama: offers free tuition for citizens as well as international students.
  • Poland: offers free tuition for citizens.
  • Slovenia: offers free tuition for citizens of all countries in the European Union.
  • Spain: offers free tuition for citizens.
  • Sweden: offers free tuition for citizens of all countries in the European Union. All of Sweden’s PhD programs are tuition-free for international students.
  • Turkey: offers free tuition for citizens.
  • Uruguay: offers free tuition for citizens.

So, out of the 22 countries that offer free college, just over half of them offer free college to at least some international students. Several other countries are working on expanding their public education programs to also offer free college. Those are Fiji, Malta, Iran, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Russia. It is reported that Thailand has been offering free education since 1996.

Who Really Pays for Free College?

The way that free college is funded differs from country to country. In addition to that, some countries require the students to pay for that education in a different way, typically through military service. So, as is true in many cases, free is a relative term. The burden of the cost usually falls back on the taxpayers. Most of these countries have significantly higher taxes than we do here in America. For instance, most countries in the European Union have a sales tax rate of a whopping 20%.

Something that is very unfortunate but worth noting is that many of the European countries that offer free college programs see much lower enrollment rates than that of America.

When you look at the tax wedge in countries that offer free college programs, they are considerably higher than what you see here in America. A tax wedge essentially measures the amount of money that the government purportedly receives from the taxes imposed on their workforce. The tax wedge in America was most recently reported to be about 32%; the tax wedge in the countries that we listed above that offer free college is much higher. The lowest can be observed in Norway, at 36.2% and the highest reported is in Germany, with a tax wedge of just under 50%. Sales tax in Germany is also significantly higher than most of what we see in America, at 19%. Even the states with the highest sales tax rates in America, which are Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Washington, have rates of less than 10%. It isn’t just the fact that free education is provided that contributes to these high taxes but they still play a significant role in increasing the burden on the citizens of these countries.

So, in most of these countries around the world, the significantly higher tax rates are what allows them to extend their social services to include things like free education and free healthcare.

In other countries, such as Iran and Finland, free education is provided to all students as a result of higher taxes but that’s not all. In Iran, for instance, all students are required to serve in the military for however many years it took them to complete their college degrees.

Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of these free universities suffer and students are taking the brunt of it in these countries. Many students feel as though universities are overcrowded and are not able to provide adequate student services or even academic programs due to the fact that they’re unable to charge tuition. This is especially true in Germany.

Is Free College Really Free?

Countries that offer free college to their students, whether they’re citizens or international students, still have costs associated with attendance. Students are largely still responsible for covering different fees that come along with their courses or exams. Those students also still have to pay for their housing, books, and other materials associated with earning their degrees.