English-Taught Degrees: The Secret To Attending Top-Ranking Universities For Free?

Could your students enjoy the prestige of a top-ranking degree without the cost or steep entrance requirements? Meet the European universities promising to help your international students overcome barriers to university entry.

Close-up of 3 students wearing graduation gowns holding english-taught degrees

Studying an undergraduate degree taught in English provides international students with a certain sense of security. Sought-after with employers, it’s a safe choice which opens up career opportunities all over the globe.

And let’s be real - studying in English can be a lot of fun, too, since it can make travelling and keeping up with pop culture a breeze!

Unfortunately, studying in English hasn’t always come cheap. Sky-high tuition fees have often proved a barrier for international students. And when scholarships exist they're often hard to come by… and even harder to win.

It’s frustrating, even heartbreaking, for students, parents, and counsellors alike when a child feels priced-out of their dream degree.

Thankfully, that’s all beginning to change with English-taught degrees.

English-taught degrees are a (relatively) new incentive born out of the recession of 2008. These programmes offer students set on studying in English the chance to profit from some of the unique advantages of studying in Europe, which often include: 

But why is tuition so much cheaper for these degrees than some of their North American or British counterparts? Why are entry requirements sometimes lower? And do they really offer students the same career opportunities, and carry with them the same prestige, as traditional options?

By reading this post, you’ll learn about how to help your students research English-taught degree opportunities, and how to understand - and explain - their (often quite unconventional!) entry requirements.

We’ll also dispel certain myths and clear up common misconceptions, so that you and your students feel confident when deciding if studying an English-taught degree in Europe is truly the opportunity it promises to be.

Interested in European universities but tired of endless web searches?

Say goodbye to tirelessly sifting through websites in different languages with our latest eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Studying in Europe, which compiles the most up-to-date information from European universities and governments alike!

What is an English-taught degree?

At the most basic level, English-taught degrees are exactly what they sound like: degrees instructed and assessed in English, but in countries where  English is not the primary language of education. 

At the start of 2010, there were just a handful of English-taught degrees on offer from European universities. As of the end of 2020, that number has ballooned into over 3000 full-time undergraduate courses!

Also called “English-taught programmes”, they can be a little tricky to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for: not all universities list them separately on their website, or even specify it in the course name.

One way you and your students can tell is with a little detective work on universities’ websites. Look for course names in English, check the curriculum description, and see if the admissions requirements specify the need for English language/proficiency tests, like the TOEFL or IELTs.

Photo of students studying and laughing together

Despite being a relatively recent innovation, English-taught degrees have been attracting the attention of international students and universities worldwide - especially those in Europe.

Understanding why requires knowing the unique features which set the European higher education market apart from other regions. But what makes Europe such an attractive education destination for international students? Well, let’s take a look! 

What are the benefits of an English-taught degree?

English-taught degrees often charge cheaper tuition fees

Let’s start with the first common obstacle international students face when pursuing an English-taught university education: cost!

It’s no secret that tuition fees are continuing to rise in countries like the US & the UK, with international fees sometimes triple the (already large) sum that home students pay.

But in most European countries, the cost of an undergraduate education is a completely different story.

To begin with, some public university fees are entirely free (yes, even for international students!), as is the case with most institutions in Germany. Sweden, too, offers courses free of tuition charges for EU students, or international students meeting certain residency or nationality requirements.

Free fees often sound too good to be true, so it’s important to note that it’s not a reflection on the quality of the degree or the facilities students’ will have access to. Some of these public universities include the world’s most prestigious - like Technical University of Munich and Lund University in Sweden (numbers 50 and 87, respectively, in QS World University Rankings 2022).

When courses aren’t free, they’re still significantly cheaper than the international average. Substantial government subsidisation and national fee caps mean that universities across Europe simply can’t charge as much as their international counterparts.

For EU students, we’re talking an average as low as 900 EUR (1060 USD) for public universities across the whole of Europe. That lower starting point means that any increase for international students' fees is much lower, too, with the average sitting around 4000 EUR (4269 USD) per year.

Private universities do exist in Europe, and often charge slightly higher fees than their public counterparts. However, since they’ve still got to compete with their high-ranking public counterparts, tuition fees still tend to be far cheaper than international averages.

English-taught degrees frequently have gentler entry requirements

We know there’s nothing more crushing than having to tell a student that they’ve probably not got the grades for the US Tech Institute they’ve had their heart set on since childhood.

And it’s not an easy conversation to have with parents, either. But unfortunately, there are a number of reasons - independent of a student’s intelligence or passion - that can get in the way of stellar report cards.

From your international students who have changed curriculums (or countries!), to those who are simply more gifted in some subjects than others, it can feel unfair when universities place so much stock in a final letter or number grade.

This brings us to another distinguishing - and rather unique - feature of many universities in Europe: the entry grades simply aren’t as steep. Other universities take it one step further, with something called “open admissions”.

Open admissions means students don’t need to obtain a specific set of grades in order to be granted entry to the first-year of that programme.

For students and parents accustomed to the extremely high standards of say, Russell Group and Ivy League universities, it’s common to worry that low entry requirements correlates to a dip in the quality - or rigour - of the programme.

But take a closer look at these universities and you’ll realise why you should never judge a book by its cover. Take the University of Amsterdam: in the past few years, it’s consistently sat next to the equally prestigious University of Bristol (UK), in the top 100 of several international league tables.

In fact, all Dutch universities sit in the top 350 worldwide - making the Netherlands one of the countries with the highest higher education reputations in the world!

But whereas the University of Bristol usually asks for ‘AAA’ results (that’s for A-Levels), the University of Amsterdam instead asks for ‘CCC’.

That’s because there’s a very real reason why these requirements are lower: at many of these universities, the first year is probationary.

During the probationary first year, it’s common to have 5-6 exam cycles: students who don’t achieve high enough results won’t be allowed to continue into the second year of university.

In other words, many universities in Europe recognise that secondary school results might not paint the full picture. Students are given the chance to prove that they’ve got what it takes to excel in their subject and career of choice during their first year of university study.

Want more advice on researching & understanding admissions requirements?

Our latest eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Studying in Europe, makes it easy to research and compare European universities’ application processes

English-taught degrees offer flexible degree schemes (& other perks!)

One of the key reasons many universities have started investing in English-taught degrees is because they believe that a global mindset is essential for students to thrive in today’s increasingly international world.

For many universities, international exchange programmes go hand-in-hand with English-taught degrees. That means a wealth of exciting opportunities for students ranging from a semester or a year in snowy Scandinavia to double-degrees.

Double degrees are undergraduate degrees split over two (or more) campuses or partner universities around Europe.

For example, ESCP Europe (a Europe-wide business school) offers a bachelor’s in management where students can split studies between three different European cities (you can choose between London, Paris, Madrid, Turin and more).

Similarly, students interested in European Law could opt for the double degree offered by Queen Mary University of London and Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and spend the first two years of their degree in London, and the final two in Paris!

Once again, the key to understanding why universities can offer students such unusual opportunities lies with understanding political agreements across different European countries.

A number of countries in Europe are part of both the European Union and the Schengen Zone. Now obviously this makes travelling, working, and studying abroad for EU-passport holders a breeze, but it also comes with perks for other international students, too. Which brings us nicely to our last benefit…

English-taught degrees unlock the freedom to travel

A student visa from within that Area grants international undergraduates the opportunity to travel to any of its 26 countries!

And travel isn’t just simple in terms of legality - most European countries are well-connected by relatively inexpensive trains, buses and flights. Many universities also offer student discount or freebie cards, which reduce the cost of travel further.

Photo of student packing and working on laptop

Of course, it’s not just students with the travel bug who can benefit from these more open borders. They also open up opportunities which can help students boost their employability and build their CVs before and after graduation.

Many of these same countries also offer students attractive postgraduate work visas that can pave the way to permanent residency.

In Germany, for example, recent graduates can apply for a visa extension through the DAAD - which gives them up to 18 months to find graduate employment in Germany without having to leave the country.

Where to find English-taught degrees

Unfortunately, there’s no centralised application system for English-taught Degrees… nor for European universities as a whole.

And, whilst the sheer diversity of courses, countries, and climates on offer in Europe can be incredibly exciting for international students, it does make researching them quite tricky.

Nothing should stand in the way of your students having access to excellent education opportunities

That’s why our latest eBook is available for free. It will help you & your students learn about university options in Europe, including English-taught degrees. It's 6 chapters cover the whole research,  application & admissions process!

That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you.

Our newest eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Studying in Europe brings together the latest from universities and governments, so you don’t have to worry about headache-inducing research.

Broken down into 6 chapters which cover the entire application process - from initial research to submitting university, visa, and accommodation applications - it features 8 of Europe’s most popular education destinations with international students.

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