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CAPE TOWN - South Africa is plagued with mounting tertiary education fees and debt-ridden students. Although tertiary education is not subsidised in SA, it is free in other countries. 

Free tertiary education is possible for certain countries. This ties in with a country's economic and political climate. 

Considering South Africa's GDP of R4.2 trillion (2016), free education seems possible. However, in comparison, countries like Germany and Spain possess a GDP of R49.8 trillion (2016) and R17.7 trillion (2016) respectively. This shows how Germany and Spain surpass South Africa’s economic performance.

However, importantly, a country's economic climate alone does not influence decision-making. Political rule plays a role too. Therefore, certain countries may prioritise some resources above others. 

In addition, countries that offer free tertiary education tax civil servants painfully. In Germany, taxpayers pay between 14-42% income tax. Similarly, taxpayers in Spain pay income tax of 24-45%. 

Contrary, South African's are only taxed between 18-41% on income. Also, individuals who earn below the tax threshold of R75 000, do not qualify to pay tax. 

Closer to home, President Jacob Zuma released the much-anticipated Fees Commission Report to assess the feasibility of free tertiary education. The Commission recommends that government increase its expenditure on higher education and training to a minimum of 1% of GDP. 

In addition to this, TVET students have been given relief with the recommendation of full funding. According to the Commission, TVET colleges should subsidise all fees in the form of grants and “no student shall be partially funded”. 

READ: UPDATE: #FeesCommissionReport free education for some

Take a look at the countries which offer free (or low-cost) tertiary education: 


Since 2014, the German government scrapped tuition fees for all undergraduate students at all public German universities. This enables both domestic and international undergraduates to study for free. However, students are liable to pay a small fee to cover administration costs. 

-Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland

Public education is free in Norway as long as you are proficient in Norwegian. This grants you entry to study at one of the four Nordic nations (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland). 


Europe students have equal education rights as Native Austrians. With a R5.55 trillion GDP (2016), the education system in Austria is state-funded. However, for non-native students, there is a social and student union fee involved. This fee is no more than R6435.44 per semester. 

-Czech Republic

Studying costs in Czech Republic is solely dependent on language ability. For individuals that are fluent in the native language regardless of nationality, studying is completely free. However, no one is excluded from free education. Individuals that are not fluent in the native language are required to pay a third of the university fee. This amounts to approximately R63 889.10. 


Greece offers free higher education to domestic as well as EU students. However, international students pay a fraction of the university cost. This averages to approximately R23 914.95 per year. Yet, student's should understand the native language. Majority of courses are taught in Greek, with Erasmus students receiving an English-taught exchange. 


Spain offers local and EU students free higher education. However, international students are expected to pay a fee. The cost for international students fees range from R10 775 - R22 302.47 per year. Notably, the majority of Spain's universities are privately funded with 24 out of 76 belonging to the state. Although the courses are offered in English, they are limited. 

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