Counting the Pennies
10 Most Affordable Countries in Europe to Do Your Economics PhD
Are you interested in doing a PhD in economics but worried about the cost? It's a real concern for many, and can dramatically affect your decision-making process. If you live in the United Kingdom, you could end up with around fifty thousand pounds worth of debt at the end of your three years. In the United States, you could have even more. The stress of having this weigh over you - not only while you're studying, but also afterwards while you search for a job and during your first years in employment, can be massive.
Fortunately, the UK and the US aren't the only two places in the world with colleges and universities great for studying economics. Particularly in many European countries, higher education hasn't yet been turned into a corporate business to the same extent, meaning not only can you find cheap PhD programs - some are completely free. But paying less (or even nothing) doesn't translate into a lesser experience. On the contrary, many of the countries on this list can make legitimate claims to housing some of the most prestigious higher learning institutions in the world.
Studying abroad has other advantages during your years to complete the program, too. These include learning a new language, getting to know a new culture, meeting people you wouldn't normally, and more generally forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. These things can be somewhat scary, but are often incredibly rewarding.
So without trying to convince you any further to move to another country, read on for our list of the top ten places to look for an affordable PhD in Europe (in no particular order). If you plan to start your PhD application soon, download our free guide "How to successfully apply to a PhD in Economics".
Germany's positive academic reputation is known worldwide, and the country has a rich, impressive higher education system. Most universities in Germany have very low or no tuition fees, and there are large numbers of government grants available for PhD students, such as those provided by the DAAD or the Excellence Initiative.
Living costs vary between areas, but rent control means that housing is relatively affordable in many parts of Germany, although costs have been increasing in recent years. There are often plenty of courses available in various fields in English; aside from that, learning German, while a tough language, can be an extremely rewarding experience. This author can testify.
- PhD Program, Supplementary Course, Program
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Ph.D. Supplementary Coursesat Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IFW) in Kiel, Germany
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IWH Doctoral Programme in Economics (IWH-DPE) - Call for Applications - Fall 2023 IntakeStarts 1 Sep at Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) - Member of the Leibniz Association in Halle (Saale), Germany
The cost of tuition fees for PhD students in Denmark is also low: usually around DKK 3,600 (US$500) per year, making it an extremely affordable option for studying. The quality of life is very high there, with a beautiful countryside and a strong culture of environmental awareness.
Rent and food can be expensive in large cities like Copenhagen, which must be taken into consideration. However, if you enjoy Denmark and want to stay longer, fear not – jobs pay equivalently well there.
France is known for its world-leading technical colleges like l’Ecole Polytechnique, where tuition fees are typically very low for PhD students at just €400 (US$440) per year. Paris can be an eye-wateringly expensive city to live in, but other cities like Lyon or Toulouse are more affordable and also have exceptionally good universities. It may be a little harder to find courses in English at French universities, but they definitely exist, even for economics.
If you can handle the cold, you might consider studying in Helsinki, Finland, which has two world-leading universities. It is far more affordable to live there than in other Scandinavian capital cities, so if you want a taste of Scandinavian life without the hefty price tag then this might be for you.
Generally, Finnish universities offer a lot of courses in English. Helpfully, this means that you won't have to learn the local language, which is renowned for being extremely difficult. Even so, it might be worth giving it a try!
Free tuition for all doctoral students – welcome to Sweden. There are also scholarships available from the Swedish government to cover living expenses of PhD students who come from other countries to study in Sweden.
With a high quality of life and well-regarded universities for economics, Sweden is both highly affordable and highly attractive for studying. But bear in mind that the cost of living, especially in cities, can be high.
Brussels is a bustling and highly cosmopolitan city best known as a center of political activity, but it also has a number of reputable educational institutions. PhD students in economics, politics or international relations in particular will find this a highly stimulating environment. The cost of living in Belgium is generally lower than other European countries and tuition fees are in the mid-range.
Affordable in terms of both tuition fees and living costs, Hungary is a rising power in the European academic world. Academic scholarships for international students are common, making it a popular choice with students from around the world. The city of Budapest is known for being one of the most interesting and culturally intriguing cities in Europe, and it has universities like the Corvinus University of Budapest which offers programs in English.
Bear in mind that Hungarian is a notoriously difficult language to learn, and the political situation in the country has become less and less inviting over recent years, something important to consider when moving abroad.
Who could resist the chance to spend a few years in Italy, eating what surely everyone agrees is the best cuisine in the world? (According to the Italians, at least). As well as delicious food and a relaxed, casual way of life, Italy offers good technical universities as well as institutions which specialize in economics, the arts, history, and architecture.
Accommodation costs vary considerably even within a city, meaning that there are usually options available for students on a budget. Tuition fees are low and it's increasingly common to find international students at Italian universities.
Another Scandinavian country which offers very low tuition fees is Norway. Tuition is generally free for all students, including international students, at all educational levels. Students only have to pay a small administrative fee of $50-$100 per semester, and the universities are of high quality.
However, the costs of living in Norway can be very high, with the cost of basic staples among the most expensive in Europe. On the plus side, Norwegian is arguably one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn once you've got past the difficult pronunciation. Unfortunately, Norwegians often speak such good English, you may never have a chance to practice.
A beautiful country with famous architecture and sunny weather, Spain is another option for an affordable PhD program. It is also especially notable for being more accessible to the many native Spanish speakers in the world than many of the other countries on this list.
The cost of living is lower than countries such as Norway or Sweden, although Spanish universities will often charge a modest tuition fee. This fee is higher for international students than for EU residents (somewhere in the range of €2,000 to €4,000, depending on the program). But, this is still very affordable compared to similar options in the US or UK.
Until early 2022, Ukraine was on this list. However, due to the tragic invasion that began in late February 2022, students are unable to study safely there for now. We stand in solidarity with Ukraine and all of the people affected by needless violence; you can find ways to assist with humanitarian efforts by reading our Solidarity with Ukraine post.
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