Here's my rough understanding of differences in higher education in different countries:

  • In the U.S., college is paid for in general by the individual student, not the state. On the other hand, access is basically universal, as anyone can attend a community college, which is open admissions (no entry or admissions requirement) if they wish.

  • In other countries, such as those in Europe, college is generally provided for free by the national government. However, I assume that placements are competitive and have strict entrance and performance requirements.

Those would be my impressions. However, I find it extremely hard to confirm the latter point, because basically no one talks about the difference in admissions requirements in U.S. vs. Europe (possibly because people in the different environments take their own practices so much for granted that no one thinks to say them out loud in conversations?).

So: Am I correct that countries in Europe with free government-funded higher education have strict entrance requirements in all cases? Or, is there any nation that has both open admissions and universally free college education?

By "college", I mean adult education (age 18+), including community colleges, 4-year colleges, universities, and international equivalents.

For the purposes of "strict entrance requirements", answers should address the status of nationwide qualifying examinations such as the Abitur (in Germany, etc.) or Matura (in Switzerland, etc.), which are passed by less than half of secondary school students, and do not have any analog in the U.S. (And which, as a U.S. person, I didn't even know about until it came up in the comments.)

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    Answers in comments and extended discussion have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Nov 8 '19 at 16:55
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    Generally speaking, I really wouldn't use the term "college" in a European context, where it has no meaning for most of the countries and may not be understood. – Massimo Ortolano Nov 8 '19 at 17:52
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    @DanielR.Collins Pretty much everyone in Italy has a maturità (yes, exceptions exist, some even famous, but that's not the point). Yes, it is a required qualification, but it's like being able to read and write: technically a requirement, but without it university is probably not something you're considering anyway. – Denis Nardin Nov 8 '19 at 21:28
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    @DanielR.Collins that's the final exam through which students complete high school. Graduating from high school is a requirement to attend University. – fqq Nov 9 '19 at 2:36
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    @DanielR.Collins I guess this does make the educational systems incomparable.In Italy maturità is widely considered, if not easy, at least a reasonable requirement for all intellectual pursuits.When the son of a famous politician had to do four attempts to pass the exam, he was widely mocked as "stupid",even on the national press.I don't know anyone between the age of nineteen and forty and without developmental disabilities that does not have the maturità. If you consider that a restriction, do as you wish.I personally consider not asking even that, just setting the students up to fail. – Denis Nardin Nov 9 '19 at 8:03

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I can mention the case of Argentina. All public universities are free, with open admission since the early 1980s. Anyone with a high school diploma (and there's no comprehensive final exam, or qualifying exam, etc. after high school) that applies gets in, including foreigners that have residency (which is super-easy to get). There is a limited possibility of needs-based financial assistance.

The free admission even extends to most graduate programs, where the number of available scholarships is a significant percentage of the graduate student population.

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    +1 This is actually the best example I've seen to date. Thanks for sharing this! I'm going to edit some of this information into my own answer. Very interesting to read about Argentina today. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 9 '19 at 16:51
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    I think this answer would be improved by explicitly noting that there are no qualifying final exams for the Argentinian high school diploma, and maybe some references. That said, it's close to my top pick for a selected answer. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 9 '19 at 17:12
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    I edited the exam comment in. I'll look for references a bit later. – Martin Argerami Nov 9 '19 at 23:30
  • This seems to be the highest-voted answer that fully satisfies my question, so I'm selecting this as the accepted answer. Thanks again for sharing this. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 15 '19 at 19:04

Here is an overview of the situation in Germany, where there are no tuition fees for Bachelor and Master programs at public universities (though student union fees and public transport fees totaling 60-130 EUR per semester still apply).

  • For Bachelor degrees, the general requirements for admission to any German university are (1) proof of knowledge of the language of the study program (German or English) and (2) university entrance qualification (Hochschulzugangsberechtigung).

    "University entrance qualification" means proof that you are eligible to attend a university. In Germany, this is obtained by completing the Abitur examination. In the German education system, at the age of 10, students are already separated into different types of schools based on their performance, some of which have direct access to Abitur (and therefore to university), and others which have practically no access to university. About 50% of German students complete Abitur and have directly access to university.

    For international students, this is the corresponding high school leaving certificate. Depending on the country, your school leaving certificate might directly qualify you to study in a German university, or you might be required to do a two-semester preparatory course (Studienkolleg) before being allowed into German university . In this database (only in German), you can search for your country and school leaving certificate to see how it is in your case.

  • For most Bachelor degrees, admission is unrestricted (Zulassungsfrei), which means that any student that satisfies the above general requirements will be admitted, without going through a field-specific aptitude test. Switching programs after the first year is not difficult, but there is a somewhat strict requirement to pass the first-year courses in a limited amount of time, so the idea is to let students "test" their preferred program and switch to another one after the first year if they are not comfortable with it.

    Note that not all Bachelor programs have unrestricted admissions: in some fields such as Medicine there is a limited number of admissions and students will be chosen according to their grades in previous stages. This is called Numerus Clausus (NC).

  • On the other hand, most Master programs do have an aptitude test and students are admitted based on qualification in their field (in addition to the general requirement of having a Bachelor's degree). At this stage, students are supposed to already know what they want to study. I would expect the level of "strictness" of the aptitude test to be in some way related to supply and demand (disclaimer: personal opinion here), so the requirements do not necessarily have to be stricter than in US universities. The offer of Programs taught in English (which are mostly only Master programs) is more limited than for German programs, so the aptitude test for English programs might also be stricter.

    As pointed out in the comments, many Master programs are the result of the splitting of old 5-year programs (Diplom) into a 3-year Bachelor and a 2-year Master. Students doing the Bachelor program that apply to continue with the corresponding Master program at the same university usually have very easy admission into the Master program.

In summary, the requirements for entrance to German university in general are somewhat strict, but once you are in, there are in most cases few additional requirements for choosing a specific university or field.

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    This answer suggests Germany is, effectively, not an example of country with open admissions. – einpoklum Nov 10 '19 at 20:13
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    From my own experience, studying in Germany is not completely free. You will have to pay a small fee each semester to student services (at least where I studied). It was around 60€/semester. – Ian Nov 11 '19 at 7:15
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    @einpoklum-reinstateMonica My answer initially focused more on international students and another definition of "open", as in "anyone with a high-school diploma can enter". After some discussion with OP, I saw that they were interested in national students and in how difficult it is to get the high school diploma, so I edited the answer. As the body of the question still asks "Am I correct that countries in Europe with free government-funded higher education have strict entrance requirements in all cases?", and specifically mentions Germany, I think this answer is relevant to the question. – wimi Nov 11 '19 at 8:32
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    @Ian that is why I wrote "no tuition fees", as those are not tuition fees. I have added them to the answer now. – wimi Nov 11 '19 at 8:33
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    For someone who considers the student union / transportation fee a significant hurdle, it should be added that German students from a low income background have the possibility to get an interest-free student loan (BAFoeG). – Dubu Nov 11 '19 at 14:30

Well, it depends how strict you are with the terms "open" and "free":


Most European countries I am familiar with (Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland) are actually fairly open in terms of admission. There are always some basic requirements (e.g., candidates need to have a high school diploma or comparable), and sometimes there are entry examinations, but in general there is no US-style admissions system.

As an example, in Sweden university programs can define their own objective admission criteria (e.g., specific grades in specific high school subjects) and how many students they are willing to admit, but they cannot rank students themselves - they need to accept at least as many eligible students as advertised based on a ranking generated centrally (usually based on high school grades, as far as I know). Students will generally get admitted somewhere, but some of the best schools (e.g., KTH, Chalmers) you will need rather good grades to get in.

In Germany, the system is comparable to Sweden in the sense that your high school grades largely determine whether you can enroll in a specific program at a specific university through a system called Numerus Clausus.

In Austria, historically every eligible prospective student could enroll freely in any program of any university (there was no further admission system, aside from basic requirements such as having a high school degree or equivalent). This is still the case for many programs, but in some high-demand programs (e.g., medicine) they have now started to experiment with entry exams.

These systems are all quite different to US-style admissions systems. There are no application packages, interviews, or recommendation letters, and it's generally not the university that actually makes the decision (instead there is some broken but objective kind of ranking criterium, such as grades or test results). Further, these systems are often more about routing than they are about admission - for instance, in Computer Science in Austria, everybody who wants to study CS can do so in Austria, but not everybody will be able to study at TU Vienna (historically the most popular place to study CS in Austria). It's also important to understand that the difference in quality of the schools is actually not dramatic, so "getting into" TU Vienna is not a huge job market advantage - people mostly prefer studying in some cities over others.

In Switzerland, as far as I know admission is still completely open - every eligible Swiss citizen can choose to enroll at ETH or EPFL (international top universities). The "selection" here mostly happens at the first semesters of study - for ETH, I know that many, many students will give it a shot and drop out within the first weeks, after realizing that they will likely not be able to keep up with the highly intense workload and intellectual challenge.


Education in all these European countries varies between free and (relatively) cheap. Taking Austria as an example again, studying was historically indeed free at all public universities (which were basically all of them - private universities are a new trend around here, and not one that has really gained any traction). Since around 2000, we have been flip-flopping back and forth between "free" and a study fee of around 400 USD per semester (depending on which political party was governing the country). Tuition for non-EU citizens is about twice as high (so about 1600 USD per year of study).

In Sweden (and, I think, in Switzerland and Germany) there is no fee for eligible citizens (EU citizens in the case of Sweden and Germany, Swiss citizens in Switzerland). At least in Sweden and Switzerland, tuition for citizens of other countries is at least in the same ballpark as in the US (still a bit cheaper, but far from "free").

However, I assume that placements are competitive and have strict entrance and performance requirements.

To summarize, this assumption does not really work out. Systems differ, but in general universities are fairly open for eligible students (although entry tests and grade-based systems are increasingly seeing use).

So how do universities cope? Mainly by scaling up. Classrooms in Europe can be large - classes with 500 or 1000 students are not a rare sight in popular programs in Austria, Switzerland, or Germany (but not in Sweden, as programs can limit how many yearly students they accept - often in the range of about 100, give or take). It is often accepted that many students will fail and drop out - when I studied CS in Austria, it was not uncommon to partake in early exams with fail rates considerably above 50%, and about half of my classmates switched programs / universities during the first year of studying.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – cag51 Nov 10 '19 at 5:40
  • There is a small tuition fee in Switzerland, ranging from about 700 - 1000 CHF per semester. (swissuniversities.ch/fileadmin/swissuniversities/Dokumente/…) Furthermore, at many Swiss universities non Swiss citizens do not pay more than what Swiss citizens pay (and with others it’s nowhere near what you’d pay in the US). – idmean Nov 10 '19 at 9:00
  • As @wimi's answer explains, in Germany, you cannot enter University by virtue of having finished high-school. – einpoklum Nov 10 '19 at 20:14
  • @einpoklum-reinstateMonica I guess this depends on what you consider a high school in the German system. In Austria I mostly see "high school" be used for schools that you graduate with Matura (aka Abitur in Germany). Other schools are called Mittelschule (new middle school, NMS). These only go to age 15 or 16, and are indeed not sufficient for university admittance. – xLeitix Nov 10 '19 at 20:31
  • @xLeitix: But if not (almost) everyone is sent to high-school, then graduating high-school as a requirement means that admission is not free. So, it doesn't actually depend on what we consider high school :-( – einpoklum Nov 10 '19 at 20:41

I have taught at both at two Swedish universities and one American university (Ivy League). The main difference is really the philosophy - in the US, it is difficult to get in, but once admitted, it is not that hard to stay with passing grades.

In Sweden, getting admitted is relatively easy (which implies a much more diverse body of students), but the difficult part is actually passing the classes. In mathematics, only about 40%-70% pass the final exam (passing grade is from A-E). Not having to pay tuition might explain why students are not as motivated as in the US, but studying without eventually getting a diploma is a waste of time that could have been spent on working.

I still prefer the Swedish system - it allows for people with diverse background to have the opportunity to get a diploma. Only very few programs have a high competition for the spots, so higher education is available in principle for almost everyone. But to stress - passing the classes is the main challenge and I would say that the quality of the education is at least on par with the United States.

EDIT: There are several ways to get a spot at a Swedish university.

High-school diploma that fulfills some basic requirements depending on program (these requirements can be fulfilled later, for example in math, many universities offer preparatory courses as a complement to high-school diploma).

University entrance exam Anyone can take this exam, any number of times (offered twice a year), each time at the cost of about $50.

Work experience Military service, having a company, or general work experience might give enough support university admittance.

I have taught classes with people between 18 to 60 years old -- as mentioned, it is quite diverse. It is also quite common to work part-time in parallel with studies. Also, students get a scholarship for university studies (unless their income from working is already over a certain limit).

I noticed that during 2009-2011, the classes were larger. It is most likely due to the 2008 economic crisis, and thus fewer work opportunities. Universities hence act as a sort of 'buffer' to keep people busy -- it is better (IMHO) if the tax-payer money to goes towards university tuition, rather than unemployment benefits.

On grad-school: Another big difference is that graduate studies (getting a PhD), is a proper job in Sweden (with unemployment benefits, parental leave, sick leave, retirement savings, etc) and the salary is something one can live comfortable off. Also, it is much less that a PhD student prematurely stop the studies, compared to the US system, where the qualifying exams are expected to get rid of say 50% of the PhD students.

In the US, it seems very difficult to handle a pregnancy during the PhD studies.

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    I think that having taught in the Ivy League, you're overlooking a big part of the U.S. higher education picture. About half of college entrants in the U.S. are attending 2-year community colleges with open admissions -- easy to get in to the point that there are no requirements, e.g., not any exam at either the college or the high school to qualify. And very hard to pass, as graduation rates are around 20% nationally for these institutions. The Ivy League is of course the polar opposite of all that (highly selective). – Daniel R. Collins Nov 9 '19 at 6:29
  • @DanielR.Collins even before you reach that extreme, there are thousands of colleges and universities in the US. 300 or so are ranked nationally by US news (and the rest are considered ranked lower). At the rank 100 mark, you are already at an admissions rate of over 70 percent. The curve approaches 100 through the remaining schools, i.e. the overwhelming majority of them. And meanwhile the graduation rate goes the other direction of course. – A Simple Algorithm Nov 10 '19 at 0:29
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    And by the way I'm quite sure most students in those lower tier schools would wash out quickly at a top tier school, with the exception of the good students they enticed with big scholarships. Not because they are really hard, just the students are really bad. In my experience students at top schools are not so much super-smart as super committed to doing the work. – A Simple Algorithm Nov 10 '19 at 0:31
  • I agree that there is a big difference - this is another observation of society in general in the US. There are big socioeconomic differences. Not having parents with good income really affects the chances of getting into a good university. – Per Alexandersson Nov 10 '19 at 20:16
  • You wrote that admission is "relatively easy". What does that mean? What's the condition for admittance? – einpoklum Nov 10 '19 at 20:16

California isn't a country, but our community college system does have open admissions as well as being in effect free. It's free in the sense that all students receive at least an ~80% subsidy, and most are 100% subsidized. There are various programs that allow students to completely get free tuition. There is a need-based program that something like half of students at my school qualify for. There is also something called College Promise, implemented in California as AB 19 in 2017, which makes community college in California free for first-year, full-time students.

The real economic issue for our students tends to be not tuition but the need to survive while going to school. Rent is expensive in urban areas of the state. Many students work 20-40 hours a week to support themselves while taking a full-time load, which means that they don't succeed academically, or end up repeating all their classes because they don't pass the first time.

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  • Similarly, Louisiana subsidizes about 50% of tuition at the flagship University if your grades are adequate and are a LA (not L.A.!) resident. – RonJohn Nov 9 '19 at 3:34
  • New York State is passingly similar (but of course it's not at the national level). The subsidies in NYS last for about 2 years of schooling, but since only 15% of students graduate in that time, most wind up paying out of pocket down the line. How long do the CA subsidies last? – Daniel R. Collins Nov 9 '19 at 6:33
  • @DanielR.Collins: The 80% subsidy is hidden from students and is completely automatic. Students in the state take some total number of units every year. If you multiply this by the nominal in-state tuition per unit, you get an amount of money x. Some amount of money that's in this ballpark flows directly from students to the state every year. (It's not actually x, because some students don't pay tuition, and some students pay out-of-state tuition.) The state takes tax money and distributes it to community colleges, and the amount of money they distribute is roughly 5x. Hence a ~80% subsidy... – user1482 Nov 9 '19 at 23:51
  • ...The need-based fee waivers can be renewed for as long as the student continues to fill out financial aid forms and continues to have financial need. The California Promise thing is only for the first year. – user1482 Nov 9 '19 at 23:52
  • California is sort of a country :-P – einpoklum Nov 10 '19 at 20:16

Scotland has free undergraduate full-time degrees, and the part-time distance-learning Open University has no entry requirements for most of its degrees (access courses are available for those who haven't studied up to age 18). And as far as I'm aware there are no limits on student numbers.


Scottish students with personal income of £25,000 or less, or on certain benefits, can qualify for the Part-Time Fee Grant and funding to cover 100% of course fees (including the access course).

Studying part-time for a 360-credit honours degree at a rate of one 60-credit module a year, would typically cost £1,008* per year and take six years to complete. At today’s prices, the total cost would be £6,048.


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  • "Scotland has free undergraduate full-time degrees, and the part-time distance-learning Open University has no entry requirements for most of its degrees". To be clear: are those disjoint institutions? That is: It sounds like the full-time degrees have entry requirements, while the Open University has out-of-pocket tuition fees? – Daniel R. Collins Nov 9 '19 at 6:39
  • They are separate provisions, but the net effect is that OU degrees in Scotland are both free (for many students) and open admission. Also, many universities will waive admission requirements for mature students on full-time/conventional degrees and access courses are available which have no entry requirements eg stir.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/access-to-degree-studies/… – Owain Nov 9 '19 at 19:52

For any reasonable understanding of the terms, French public Universities are open admission and free.

To give a bit more details, one is allowed to enroll in a university provided one has a high-school degree. At the moment, about 80% of high-school students eventually succeed at getting the required high-school degree. Even without such a degree, there are several ways to enroll, so that for instance someone with a couple of years of working experience should have no problem enrolling in an undergraduate program related to his working experience.

Besides, even the program and university you want to join is to a large extent up to the candidate, in the sense that aside from regional requirements that incite students to enroll in a university close to where they live, a high-school graduate can freely choose to join the geography undergraduate program at the University of Bordeaux or the philosophy undergraduate program at the University of Strasbourg.

Costs are not exactly zero: they are calculated to match the administrative costs of enrolling someone. So they are very low, typically in the low hundreds of euros per year. Students from an economically struggling background may waive them. That happens to typically 10 to 25% percent of the students in a typical undergraduate class at my own institution (which is itself fairly typical in that respect).

Finally, public Universities constitue almost the entirety of the University system. There are a couple of private Universities, but they tend to be quite small. I would say only one of them is fairly well-known. On the other hand, there is a parallel system of higher education which is to a large extent at the opposite end of the spectrum, that is to say very selective in its admission process and which can be quite expensive (for French standards, that is to say tow orders of magnitude more expensive than the University system).

In conclusion, if all you are looking for is an existence statement, then I think French Universities will do: open admission and free.

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  • Thanks for writing this answer. As it happens, I'm currently living with 4 French people. When I brought this up with them, they all strongly disagreed with your assessment, citing the difficulty of the Bac as incomparable with the U.S. system. One also cited class differences that keep some number of poorer people from completing the Bac. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 11 '19 at 15:34
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    @DanielR.Collins A quick look at available date suggests that among Americans aged 25, around 90% have graduated from high-school. In France, it is about 79%. So yes, there is a significant difference (not especially surprising considering the vast historical differences between the educational system of these two countries) but I disagree with the idea that the two systems are incomparable. Maybe the people you live with are older or think of the Bac général only, which is indeed far less common in the population (around 40%), but also not a prerequisite for entering university. – Olivier Nov 12 '19 at 8:12
  • That may be true in one case, but one is 21, just graduated with a French bachelor's degree last spring, and started graduate school in the U.S. in the fall. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 12 '19 at 14:27
  • @DanielR.Collins An educational system is built in stage. Not all children then students, successfully complete any given stage. Not all children successfully complete primary school, for instance, and among those who don't poor children are statistically overrepresented. Absolutely true. In the last 30 years, France has set itself the aim of moving from rigorous selection at the high-school level to general achievement of the high-school level, and it succeeded to a certain extent (now 4/5th of an age group complete that level). – Olivier Nov 12 '19 at 22:39
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    The point is that for those who successfully complete the high-school stage, universities impose no supplementary restriction. I would call that open admission at this stage. On the other hand, I would agree to characterize the French high-school system as significantly less open admission than American high-school. For instance, I would bet that your friend who graduated from a B.A at 21 comes from a general high-school and got a Bac général, in which they indeed probably followed a more demanding cursus than that of an average American high-school. – Olivier Nov 12 '19 at 22:45

I'm going to offer an answer, partly from the U.S. perspective, highlighting information gathered in the comments, chat, and other answers.

  • In both Europe and at U.S. lower-level (community) colleges, entry to the college usually requires a high school diploma and no other qualifications.

  • However, the "quality control" that I would expect for the European system most commonly occurs with some state exam at the exit to high school (such as the Abitur, Matura, or Baccalauréat), as a requirement for awarding the high school diploma. Note that the U.S. has no such comprehensive qualifying exams at any of the national, state, or local levels to receive a high school diploma.

  • In addition, European secondary school students are often "tracked" (as we'd call it) into distinct educational institutions, some of which give vocational training only, while others are college preparatory. In contrast, in the U.S., systems of "tracking" have been systematically dismantled in recent decades. (e.g., Buress and Garrity, Detracking for Excellence and Equity).

  • The end result is that while in the U.S. around 85% of students receive the high school diploma (and hence automatic entry to an open-admissions community college), a significantly lower rate of European students receive a degree qualifying them for college. Examples would be the 20% rate of students receiving the Swiss Matura, or the 49% of students with the German Abitur.

American education reporter Karen Fischer, who specializes in international college experiences, summarized this state of affairs in an interview in Clarion, March 2020, "Higher ed: reproducing social inequality?", in support of a series of articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

When you look at countries that have enacted some variation of free college – that buzzword of the presidential primaries! – the way they’ve typically been able to do it is by limiting the number of spaces at public universities. And that ends up creating some weird dynamics. In Brazil, for example, almost everyone who benefits from free college at top-ranked public universities got there because they went to private high schools and could afford the kind of preparation that helps them gain admission. Germany, too, has free college, but it’s a very stratified system, where certain students get tracked into higher education and others don’t. One of the particular challenges of the American higher-ed system is that we really elevate the idea of equity of opportunity, and that makes other countries’ solutions hard to adapt.

The best example of a national system that is both universally tuition-free and basically open access to all - including an absence of qualifying exams for the high school diploma - seems to be Argentina (thanks to Martin Argerami). Given that, Argentina is noted for having among the highest university dropout rates in the world.

Interestingly, in 2017, a member of the National Academy of Education, economist Alieto Guadagni, observed that being without high school exit exams was an unusual state of affairs, and argued that they should instituted in line with most other countries (Google translate):

According to Guadagni, the solution is to implement a general exam that stimulates the preparation of students in their last years of high school. "Everyone does it except Argentina and Uruguay. It is a tremendous delay. Implantation of exams is a necessary but not sufficient condition, although it is not going to change," he added.

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    In the European systems you cite, the entry requirement is simply to have finished high school. I am not sure that it matters that 50% or 80% of the student population chooses a non-university track early on. In France in 2017, 73% of a generation had passed at least the high school exam, and admission fees cost between 150€ and 400€ based on the level of study. – Cimbali Nov 9 '19 at 11:42
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    Details from the same source: 30% of this generation did long (3+years) university studies, 14% short studies and 29% had the qualifying high-school exam, the “Baccalauréat” (from which 12% dropped out of university, so 17% chose not to attempt university). Then 13% had a diploma from a different high-school track, and 14% no high school diploma (7% middle school diploma + 7% no diploma). – Cimbali Nov 9 '19 at 11:58
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    I think you're still misinterpreting the European system, as also pointed out in other comments, and also from the point of view of the terminology. I don't understand why you insist on this. Also the distinction vocational/preparatory for university is not sharp: I studied in a vocational high school, but then went to university. – Massimo Ortolano Nov 9 '19 at 13:13
  • @Cimbali: I agree (having read up on it today) that France has one of the highest rates of college-acceptable high school diplomas (i.e., high rate of passing the Baccalauréat). But still: finishing high school in Europe has a barrier (qualifying exit exam) that does not exist in the U.S. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 9 '19 at 16:55
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    In Germany, similar to what @MassimoOrtolano says for Italy, while/after finishing the vocational training "track" there are further possibilities to go on with the "university track". – cbeleites unhappy with SX Nov 9 '19 at 23:04

Not sure if something hasn't changed in the last years, but it has been like that in Latvia since 1991(regain of independence):

There is a (fairly large) number of state sponsored slots in 2-4 major state universities.

To qualify for those slots, you have to be above the threshold in entrance exam results.

The threshold depends on the number of applicants vs number of slots for this program, so, it is technically possible to have every student of some programs above threshold, if the enrollment is low.

Every semester there's exams, after which the state sponsorship for next semester again goes to those that pass the exams above the threshold as compared to their fellow students.

Anybody who didn't pass exams has to pay for his tuition for that semester.

There exist a number of private schools, where you can't receive state payment for your studies and some of them might have additional criteria for eligibility.

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  • If there's a requirement to pass exams at any level, then that's not the same as U.S. open admissions. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 9 '19 at 16:27
  • @DanielR.Collins maybe I wasn't clear, but requirement to pass exams is in order to receive state funding. You can enroll in the same program with private funding regardless of exam results. – Gnudiff Nov 9 '19 at 17:47

Argentina. I did my BA for free there. And my MA almost for free. Both in public universities. They even give you scholarships if you cannot pay your already almost non-existent tuition fees.

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    This answer already mentioned Argentina. What's the contribution of your answer? – scaaahu Nov 14 '19 at 3:10
  • Did they mention that you can do a BA for free and a MA almost for free? – Philosopher of science Nov 20 '19 at 0:19
  • Yes. All public universities are free and the number of available scholarships is a significant percentage of the graduate student population.. You basically repeated that answer. – scaaahu Nov 20 '19 at 4:25
  • Mmmmhh.. But maybe readers don't know that you can get an MA from a public university there... – Philosopher of science Nov 20 '19 at 17:49
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    Done! Thanks for the suggestion. – Philosopher of science Nov 21 '19 at 18:17

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