We’ve all fantasised about semesters abroad, visions of ourselves guzzling Weißbier in Germany or shimmying along a beach in Spain – oh, the opportunities are endless. Sitting in our drab rooms (unless you live in a Sweet Spot house, of course) in one of the many glamorous streets of Lenton or, if you dare, Dunkirk or Beeston, practically burning money as we pay for supposedly elite education, it does beckon the question: why pay £9,250 or more a year plus living costs when perfectly good universities are just across the Channel for a lot less?

In fact, European universities are not just “perfectly good”, many of them consistently rank much higher in the overall league tables than their UK counterparts. Powerhouse ETH Zurich, for example, is at number 9 this year, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden at 28 and the KU Leuven in Belgium at 40. Meanwhile, the UK universities are drowning amidst North American, Asian and Australian universities. Yes, Canada and Australia are technically connected to the UK, but it doesn’t count.

“The ratio of professors to students is roughly the same as in the UK”

Now, if they are ranking so much higher, surely this must mean that they are better, hence can charge more money for their institution? Yet, European universities charge as little as €53 per semester, e.g. top-ranking LMU Munich, although they employ hundreds of professors and cater to thousands of students.*

Teaching buildings must be falling apart, then, surely! Wrong. Given that a lot, but not all, of these universities rely on urban landscapes and pre-existing buildings for their purposes, their upkeep is in the wider interest of the cities’ governance. However, many have their own campuses too, and they don’t look too shoddy.

Even the teaching cannot be called so terrible that it is the root of this cost-friendly education. The ratio of professors to students is roughly the same as in the UK. The classes are no more overfilled than our History lectures. The professors are, like in the UK, leading experts in their subject areas. Granted, depending on the culture of the country, the professors can be quite disgruntled, but you’ll get that in your average British Engineering or Musical Studies department too.

“Almost all European universities offer many of their courses in English”

Ah – the language barrier! Of course, that is the reason why we stay in our nests of English comfort (unless you’re in the North), because we don’t speak German or Hungarian or Italian. Again, wrong, because almost all European universities offer many of their courses in English, led by native English-speaking experts.

The only truly exceptional advantage the UK universities have over European ones is their reputation – if you are looking for jobs in the UK or you are at a truly well known university (sorry, University of Aston but I’m looking at Oxbridge or London league-toppers). In some cases, the specific department is so excellent or specific at one university that it truly is your only option to go there. However, this can be either in the UK or any other university in the world. So why are we not actively looking beyond our limiting 5-university-UCAS-system at exciting academic institutions in Europe? Are we too lazy to write more than our 3000 character personal statement?

“We are paying £9000 for a degree we could do for €300 in the sunshine of Madrid”

Congratulations to us, we are paying £9,000 tuition for a degree that could have easily been done for €300 in the sunshine of Madrid, with less Greggs but equal prestige and top stories to tell your friends back home (gap yah, what?).

[I’m omitting the topic of government endorsements because that is a can of worms I’d prefer to leave unopened, but let me tell you that there is no substantial difference. Nor am I going to go into the student loan institution and its loophole, where after a certain amount of years have passed your debt is wiped.]

* If you love numbers, here are the LMU Munich’s statistics – you’re welcome.

Flora Maier

image: Bernt Rostad via Flickr

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