In some European countries, PhD programs are free. As I understand, PhD opening depends on the research funds of the supervisor. In other words, PhD research is funded by a national agency or EU.

Some countries offer the programs for free and an international student in the UK should pay about $20,000 per annum?

In addition to the research cost (which is funded through the same routes), a PhD student has other expenses for the university, which is provided by the tuition fee in the UK, while in countries with free PhD programs, the governments provides the supports (correct me if I am wrong).

My question is: Why/how such governments support PhD education of international students? And if it is reasonable, why isn't it the case in the UK?

  • I'm having a little bit of trouble with your phrasing. Do you mean "an international student in the UK must pay about ..." (probably pounds, not dollars, right)? And by "expenses for the university" do you mean fees due to the university from the PhD student? – Azor Ahai -him- Jun 18 '18 at 16:23
  • @AzorAhai I cannot speak for the OP, but a PhD student needs physical space and uses the university resources. – Googlebot Jun 18 '18 at 17:29
  • @Googlebot I know, but I'm confused as to what they mean. – Azor Ahai -him- Jun 18 '18 at 17:46
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    If you're a fully funded PhD student in the UK, your tuition fees will be paid for you (essentially the same as a fee waiver). You will also be paid a stipend to cover living costs. Hence, the PhD is free. If you're not funded, you will have to pay tuition (undoubtedly more expensive for non-UK students, which is why it may be harder to get funding) and be able to support yourself. – astronat Jun 18 '18 at 21:46
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    PhD research is funded by a national agency or EU - Or from the regular university budget. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 19 '18 at 12:58

I believe what you're talking about is the issue of tuition waivers: that is, are students obligated to pay fees for the tuition, or are those handled by the university.

In many countries in central Europe (including Scandinavia, Benelux, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) PhD studies are actually paid employee positions, so what tuition charges exist are small, since students normally don't have to take many courses as part of the PhD program (international students may need to register for a few classes to satisfy qualification requirements, but it's not a coursework requirement per se). In other locales, such as as some programs in the US, grants cover tuition charges as well as stipends, preventing students from having to pay those charges. And in many of those countries, the tuition fees amount only to a few hundred euros, not tens of thousands.

It's only where students are expected to do large amounts of coursework and where no arrangements to remit or waive tuition are made that students are responsible for paying large amounts of tuition.

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    In France the situation is a bit more complex. "PhD students" (I do not see how to translate properly the actual title, doctorant) are paid employees. However, they must pay a tuition, even though their is no coursework, about 500€ per year I believe. However, some universities waive the tuition for students that are employees of the university, but not students that are employed by another organization (for example, these doing their PhD in collaboration with a private company and who are paid by the private company). – user9646 Jun 18 '18 at 17:22
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    Generally speaking, the chance of an international student is much higher to get admission to a PhD programme, say in Sweden, than winning a scholarship in the UK. The latter is highly competitive and only a fraction of PhD students (both home and international students) receive full scholarships. Of course, after enrollment, there are various ways for compensation. – Googlebot Jun 18 '18 at 17:22
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    @NajibIdrissi Technically, I believe most PhD students in Europe do have to pay some sort of registration fee—but the cost is on the order of hundreds of dollars per year, not tens of thousands, and there is some benefit received in exchange (for instance, students at my university in Northrhein-Westphalen got access to all public transportation in the state as part of it.) – aeismail Jun 18 '18 at 17:27
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    @SSimon Whether or not their paid positions, the important issue is that the tuition charges are not in the tens 9f thousands of Euros, and I don’t believe that is a controversial statement. – aeismail Jun 19 '18 at 12:45
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    Actually™, the situation is more complex is Germany, too. While being a payed employee (typically: wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter, "a scientific employee") is one side to a PhD studies, being the actual PhD candidate (Doktorand, the doctorate candidate) is the other. You can finance your PhD studies from some other source than being an employee. Being an employee does not guarantee in any way that you get your PhD. Depending on the money source, you might be required to do teaching as an employee. But typically your PhD supervisor and your work supervisor is the same person. – Oleg Lobachev Jun 19 '18 at 13:39

Many people believe that education is not a commodity. They think that tuition fees are wrong and cannot be justified. While this belief may not be as widespread as it used to be, it is one of the most important reasons why many European countries charge low tuition fees or no fees at all.

There are also practical aspects. Many European countries are small, with often only one or two universities offering any particular subfield. Without sufficient international mobility, those subfields can easily become inbred. Governments often encourage universities to hire more foreign PhD students, researchers, and professors. Many politicians who otherwise support high tuition fees for foreign students prefer to keep PhD education free.

Let's assume that the typical cost of undergraduate education is €10,000/year to the university. PhD studies are more expensive, maybe €15,000/year, because the students need more one-to-one time with their supervisors. International PhD students are typically employed, which may cost €40,000 to €50,000/year. Then there are reseach expenses, which vary greatly depending on the field. Most of these expenses are ultimately paid by the government. If the university tries to pass a large fraction of tuition costs to the student, it becomes less attractive to foreign students, without reducing the overall cost to the public significantly.

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    "Many European countries are small, with often only one or two universities offering any particular subfield"... Really? Can you cite some examples of countries that small to support your claim that there are "many"? – Miguel Jun 21 '18 at 10:36
  • @Miguel In my subfield of computer science: every European country except Germany, France, and the UK. Or at least that was the situation when I was looking for a place to do a postdoc. If a country has only 10-20 research universities, the chances are most PhDs in a particular research area come from the same departments. – Jouni Sirén Jun 21 '18 at 11:17
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    Maybe we have different definitions of subfield. In Spain there are 52 public Universities, all of them are research institutions, and almost all of them have Computer Science departments. So, unless you demand excellence or have already focused on a very specialized topic, you have a wide choice. Anyway, the generic assertion "Many European countries are small" seems a bit US-biased. – Miguel Jun 21 '18 at 12:08

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