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Studying in the European Union and the European Economic Area


Overview of the European Union (EU)

Studying in the EU and the EEAThe European Union is a political and economic association that encompasses 27 member states of Europe. The EU emerged from years of bilateral treaties and unions right after the aftermath of World War II leading to its formal establishment in 1993. The EU functions through various intergovernmental bodies and institutions present within Europe. Some of these institutions include the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank. The integration of European countries has allowed member states to benefit from each other’s political, economic and education resources. 

The member states are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands (Holland), Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. The United Kingdom left the European Union on 31st January 2020.

About the European Economic Area (EEA)

The European Economic Area was formed in 1994 and comprises of 26 EU member states apart from Croatia and also includes three European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states. The association was established after an agreement with the European Union allowing the three EFTA member states (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to utilise the EU’s internal market without necessarily being part of the European Union.

Defining an EU and EEA student

A European Union Student is a citizen of one of the 27 EU member states. Some of these countries include Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Belgium, France, Poland and others. Notably, some of the EU countries may consider one an EU student if the individual is a refugee in any of the EU countries. Other countries also recognise individuals with a permanent resident permit in these countries as EU students. If embarking on postgraduate studies in Europe, it is practical to enquire from the higher education institution that one intends to join as to whether one can be considered an EU student. This is important, as EU students have access to benefits not applicable to non-EU students such as reduced tuition fees, flexible application deadlines and a wide pool of scholarships and education grants. It has not yet been determined what UK students will have to pay to study in EU member nations post 2020, or whether visas will be required to study in Europe.

A European Economic Area student can be a national of Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein, or Switzerland. EEA students are offered similar benefits as European Union Students. Despite not being a member of the EEA, Swiss citizens are accorded equal rights as EEA students.

Studying in Europe

Studying in the EU and the EEA

Taking up postgraduate studies in the EU and EEA is highly beneficial, as the EU is recognised worldwide for providing quality higher education. Europe hosts hundreds of higher education institutions that offer a variety of graduate and postgraduate programs. Postgraduate students who enrol in EU institutions benefit from the diverse courses available. They can choose to study in any language among those offered by institutions. Language qualifications in the EU and EEA vary depending on the country and higher education institution. Although English is used widely as the language of instruction across European Union institutions, international students are better placed if they acquire language proficiency in the foreign languages used by specific EU institutions of higher learning.

Europe has numerous research facilities, making it a hub of innovation and home to many renowned scientists and professionals. EU international students have the opportunity to experience a diverse cultural heritage as they include students from different countries and cultural backgrounds. With the development of the European Higher Education Area, studying in Europe has become even more attractive for international students.

To qualify for postgraduate studies in the EU and EEA institutions, one is expected to possess internationally recognised qualifications. With clear evidence of these qualifications, international students can easily transfer credits acquired in one course in cases where the student chooses to study elsewhere. Quality transferability is made possible through such instruments as the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System and the European Quality Charter for Mobility among others.

As a major component of Europe’s competitiveness, education is provided at reasonable costs to encourage more students from inside and outside Europe to enrol. In fact, a number of European Union countries still have tuition-free institutions. For instance, students from the EU and EEA member countries can study in Sweden tuition-free. Tuition and application fees are only applicable for international students outside the two associations. Regardless, non-EU and non-EEA students can benefit from scholarships offered to international students in Sweden and across Europe. Most EU and EEA countries have particular policies that outline the eligibility criteria for tuition-free study. This information is available in higher education institutions and international students should get this information from the specific institution one intends to attend their postgraduate studies. The living expenses are also affordable across the EU, however bear in mind that overall, costs vary from one EU country to the other.

Visa requirements for studying in the EU and the EEA 

One of the most remarkable advantages of being a member state of the EU and the EEA is that individuals do not actually require a visa to study in Europe, Switzerland, and within the EEA. However, international students from outside the EU, EEA and Switzerland are required to apply for a student visa in the particular country where they have been accepted to study. This is now likely to be the case for UK students wishing to study in another European country. Different countries within the EU and EEA are guided by immigration laws, and international students must meet all requirements to obtain a student visa. The visa allows students to move freely within the country throughout the duration of their studies.

Some of the student visa requirements include having a valid passport, proof of processing-fee payment, a letter of acceptance to a reputable institution in the EU country, medical insurance, and proof of academic ability to pursue postgraduate studies in the given language of instruction. Students must also provide evidence of payment of tuition fees as well as evidence of how they intend to financially support their stay in the country – in Ireland, for example, international students must show evidence of having at least €7,000 to live on for the year.

When planning to study in the European Union and the European Economic Area, it is advised that one investigates immigration laws and visa application requirements of the particular country of interest. Proper planning and fulfilling all requirements is crucial to accessing study opportunities in the EU and the EEA.

Find out more about immigration and visa rules in Europe for postgraduate students.


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