5 Countries That Offer Free or Very Cheap PhD Programmes

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Do you currently hold a degree or a master’s degree and desire to advance your education by pursuing a PhD abroad? The good news is that those with graduate degrees, like master’s or doctoral degrees, had the best salaries and lowest unemployment rates in several countries. Is that terrible news? A PhD program overseas might be quite expensive. When studying overseas, you would have to take tuition, living fees, and other extra costs into account. However, there is a solution to this. The next step would be researching the nations with the most affordable PhD programs. Fortunately, there are quite a few nations where the cost of attending a PhD program is either zero or extremely low. This enables you to enrol in a prestigious university overseas and learn what it’s like to live in a foreign nation and adjust to other customs. You can concentrate on your studies and any other personal or professional goals when you study for a PhD abroad with little concern for your financial situation. Having said that, the following are the 5 countries that offer free or very cheap PhD programmes in the world.

Sweden

Sweden is the greatest option if you want to pursue a PhD in renewable energy or a field that is closely related to it. According to data, about 56 percent of the energy utilized in Sweden in 2019 originates from renewable sources. What is the nicest thing about obtaining a PhD in Sweden? Everyone can use it for free, even students from other countries. (Note that students seeking bachelor’s or master’s degrees who are not EU/EEA citizens are not eligible for free tuition.)

Seven of Sweden’s universities are included in the top 350 universities in the world according to the QS World University Rankings 2023, making it the home to some of the most highly regarded universities in the world. The KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Lund University, the two top universities in Sweden, are 89th and 95th, respectively.

Key details-

Universities 39
International students 30912
Oldest university Uppsala university
PhD length 4 years
Academic year August to June

For students in Swedish universities, a PhD signifies the pinnacle of academic success. Similar to other nations, the focus is on your independent study leading to an original thesis that adds new knowledge to the topic.

countries that offer free or very cheap PhD programmes
Source: Forbes

Swedish Doctoral Degrees

In Sweden, a doctoral study might take one of two forms:

A typical PhD confers a full doctorate (together with the crucial title of “doctor”) after a minimum of four years of full-time work (240 ECTS credits).

As an alternative, you might decide to pursue a licentiate degree. Typically, this only necessitates two years of full-time work toward a more condensed and modest thesis (equivalent to 120 ECTS credits). Some students first enrol for the Swedish licentiate before upgrading to full PhD candidates since it is comparable to the Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree provided in the UK or other countries.

In Sweden, there are two teaching terms (August to January and January to June), which are separated by summer and winter breaks. You will often have more flexibility throughout the year as a PhD student, but some additional courses and other activities can be connected to particular teaching periods.

Fees and Funding

There are no tuition fees for PhD study at state-funded Swedish universities (note that this does not apply to Master’s or Bachelor’s degrees). Doctoral programs are free for students from the EU, EEA, and other countries.

The same is true of application costs; there are none to be paid for a PhD in Sweden.

Although you will need to pay for your housing and living expenses, your university might be able to provide assistance.

Admissions Requirements

Universities in Sweden are permitted to establish their own admittance standards for PhD programs. A bachelor’s degree in an applicable area is typically the required minimum, but a master’s degree is also preferable, especially if you’re asking for funding.

Your capacity to exhibit prior research experience will be as crucial as your previous qualifications. It is crucial that you can demonstrate some preparation for the independent research you will conduct on your PhD, even if this is just the dissertation project for one or both of your previous degrees.

Norway

Norway is another Nordic nation that ranks among the 5 countries that offer free or very cheap PhD programmes. All students, regardless of nationality, are not charged tuition at Norway’s public universities. Norway’s cost of living is comparable to that of Sweden, therefore you may want to look into ways to reduce your out-of-pocket spending. Other than that, you will just need to pay a nominal semester student union charge to cover expenses like tests or sports facilities, which would only cost you between 300 and 600 Norwegian kroner (approximately INR 2353.24 to INR 4706.49). You can try your luck by submitting an application to the University of Oslo, the top-ranked institution in Norway, which is currently placed 101st in the most recent QS World University Rankings.

Key details-

Universities 22
International students 12400
Oldest university University of Oslo
PhD length 3-4 years
Academic year August to June

Following the Bologna approach, Norwegian PhD programs are third-cycle degrees. As a result, conducting research and creating a PhD thesis will be needed for you.

In Norway, PhDs frequently adhere to a standardized format. Before beginning your PhD research and thesis writing, this usually entails a training component. You might also be regarded as an employee of the university, complete with benefits. In this situation, you will need to uphold your teaching and administrative duties.

Fees and Funding

The fact that all PhD students in Norway get free tuition is a significant and alluring feature of the program. The cost of living is high in the nation. As a result, maintenance financing of some kind is typically required.

Norwegian PhD fees

Universities in Norway do not charge tuition for their PhD programs. However, in order to join and receive a student card at many Norwegian universities, you must pay a charge of INR 4149.5 to INR 8299 to the student union each semester.

Admission Requirements

In Norway, candidates for a PhD are required to hold a master’s degree in a related field. You can check your qualifications’ eligibility at the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education. A similar degree may be approved (NOKUT).

Each research organization has a different set of conditions for applications. Always double-check with your desired university.

Typically, PhD candidates must submit a strong research proposal or project description together with the necessary application materials. Other standard materials for PhD applications may also be requested from you. These are some extra materials that might be needed:

  • certified copies of all the documents that are pertinent to your education
  • a strategy for financing your studies (for the full 3-4 years of full-time study, plus information about the funding source and type)
  • An explanation of any significant scholarly or material resource needs
  • a minimum of one proposed academic supervisor’s name (unless stipulated otherwise)

Finland

Another Nordic nation, Finland, is at the top of our list of 5 countries that offer free or very cheap PhD programmes. In Finland, pursuing a PhD is entirely free, even for those who are not citizens, similar to Norway and Sweden. According to QS, Finland is home to two of the top 150 institutions. This includes the 106th-ranked University of Helsinki and the 116th-ranked Aalto University. It is distinguished as a top-tier study destination by more than just its educational features. Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is ranked 66th in the most recent QS study of “Best Student Cities.” The midnight sun and the Northern lights (aurora borealis), which fill the sky with a breathtaking vista for anywhere between 10 and 20 nights a year, are only two of the most magnificent natural phenomena that can be seen in Finland’s vast, open areas.

Key details-

Universities 35
International students 23794
Oldest university University of Helsinki
PhD length 4 years
Academic year September to June

Fees and Funding

Finland is a very economical alternative for your PhD study abroad because of its generous higher education policy. Any student, regardless of country, is not now required to pay doctoral fees.

In contrast, fees are often charged to non-EU students for Finnish Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

Entry Requirements

A master’s degree (or its equivalent) from a recognized institution is necessary for admission to a PhD program in Finland.

Other prerequisites will be determined by the area of study you are applying for and the particular procedures followed by your university. If unsure, consult your department.

Germany

Germany is famous for having a top-notch educational system and for being an innovative nation. According to QS, three of its universities are among the top 100. This includes Heidelberg University, which is ranked 65th, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, which is ranked 59th, and the Technical University of Munich, which is ranked 49th. According to the most recent Best Student Cities rankings by QS, two of its cities, Munich and Berlin, are among the top 10.

Key details-

Universities 520
International students 311738
Oldest university University of Heidelberg
PhD length 3-4 years
Academic year October-September

Types of PhD in Germany

Germans invented the doctoral degree, which is based on independent study leading to the submission and review of a thesis. Most colleges continue to offer this style, although some others provide more “organized” programs:

The traditional PhD requires you to choose a research project and conduct it on your own under the supervision of a qualified supervisor (Doktorvater/Doktomutter). The candidate selects the setting for their research, whether it be in a university, non-university organization, or German corporation.

Structured doctoral programs are conducted mostly in English and are focused on the global market. Along with writing your thesis, you will complete extra training, which may entail partnerships and job placements with outside research organizations.

Fees and Funding

Doctoral degrees are typically free in Germany for all students, regardless of nationality, due to the generous governmental investment in education. You might, however, have to pay additional costs while you are a student.

PhD fees

All public institutions in Germany offer free tuition for doctoral-level studies for up to three years (six semesters). For any additional time beyond the term of your PhD, you might have to pay tuition.

Despite not having to pay tuition, you will still need to pay a semester contribution (Semesterbeitrag), which typically ranges from INR 8301.06 to INR 29,053.70. This pays for office expenses, student government, and student services (Studentenwerk).

Entry Requirements

In general, you must have completed at least eight semesters of college work before enrolling in a PhD program in Germany. Your final certification must be on par with a German master’s degree.

Additionally, the Dean’s Office (Dekanat) or Board of Examiners (Promotionsausschuss) at your university must acknowledge your prior higher education degree(s).

International students with exceptional qualifications may be admitted to a PhD program with a Bachelor’s degree (fast-track program), albeit you will normally need to pass an entrance exam.

France

France, which has four universities ranked among the top 100 by QS, is another nation that makes it to our list 5 countries that offer free or very cheap PhD programmes. French institutions demand comparatively little tuition. A typical annual cost at a public university, for instance, is around 380 euros (INR 31,544.01 at the time of writing). Three French cities—Lyon, Toulouse, and of course, the nation’s capital Paris, which is placed ninth by QS—are included in the top 100 Best Student Cities list as a result of their high academic standing and affordable tuition.

Key details-

Universities 194
International students 246378
Oldest university Successors to the University of Paris
PhD length 3-4 years
Academic year September-June
Typical fees INR 3,11,455.01/year (public institutions)

PhD Programmes

The bulk of PhDs is completed as part of a program inside doctoral schools, although French universities occasionally do offer specific doctoral research programs.

The number is 266 in total. In order to provide doctorate training for PhD candidates and foster the growth of early career researchers, they are affiliated with universities and work in partnership with related research laboratories and other centres.

Programme length

For a typical three-year PhD, a “doctorat” consists of six semesters, yielding two teachings (or research) semesters annually:

  • late September to early January, with a break between Christmas and New Year
  • early February to early June, with a spring break at Easter for several colleges

Exams are normally held at the conclusion of each semester, and institutions take a three-month summer break from July to September. As a full-time student, you will typically complete your PhD in France in 3–4 years.

The current French PhD tuition is the same for all students, regardless of nationality. But costs can differ greatly depending on whether you attend a public or private school (such a Grandes École).

PhD Fees 

Public institutions charge substantially lower tuition since the State invests an average of INR 11,62,147.82 per student, per year.

The following fees may apply depending on your institution:

  • Fees for PhD students at public institutions are €380 annually.
  • Private institutions – Tuition at private institutions, particularly business schools, range from INR 2,49,031.68 to INR 8,30,105.59 per year.
  • Administrative fees (frais de dossier), which universities may impose, are normally modest—a few tens of euros.

Entry Requirements

In France, each institution is permitted to establish its own standards and conduct personalized evaluations. However, in order to enrol as a PhD student, you will normally need to hold a Master’s degree (or equivalent) in a suitable field.

If you are pursuing your master’s degree and expect to graduate before the PhD program begins, you may apply.

Additionally, you could be accepted based on your performance on entrance tests and in pre-college courses like the ‘Classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles’ (CPGE), which is a frequent practice among French Grandes Écoles.

Hope now you know 5 countries that offer free or very cheap PhD programmes. Not sure which country to choose for your PhD? Don’t worry! Our Leverage Edu experts will provide you with end-to-end assistance starting from your university application to the time you reach your university and commence your studies. Call us at 1800 57 2000 to book a FREE 30-minutes counselling session today.

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