Free education refers to education that is funded through taxation or charitable organizations rather than tuition funding. Primary school and other comprehensive or compulsory education is free in many countries, for example, and all education is mostly free (often not including books (from primary) and a number of administrative and sundry fees in university) including post-graduate studies in the Nordic countries. The Article 13 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ensures the right to free education at primary education and progressive introduction of it at secondary and higher education as the right to education. From 2013 in Northern Europe, Estonia started providing free higher education as well. In Argentina, Norway and Finland, no fees apply for foreign students enrolling at a university, although they may not be eligible for a monthly study allowance and loan. Bachelor's degree programmes in Norway are solely taught in Norwegian. Master's degree programmes in Norway are offered in either Norwegian or English depending on the programme and/or university. Sweden, until recently, provided free education to foreign students but changes have been introduced to charge fees to foreign students from outside of the European community. Denmark also has universal free education, and provides a monthly stipend, the "Statens Uddannelsesstøtte" or "SU", to students over 18 years of age or students who are under 18 and attending a higher education. Bachelor and master's degree programmes in Denmark are offered in either Danish or English depending on the programme and/or university. Czech Republic, Greece, Turkey and Argentina provide free education at all levels, including college and university.
In Brazil, free education is offered by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry offers scholarships for graduate degrees, masters, doctoral and post-doctoral for Brazilians and immigrants who have Brazilian citizenship. The best universities and research centers are public institutions, financed by either the local state (state universities) or the federal government (federal universities). Graduate students can get paid if they qualify for the incentive but competition is extremely fierce. There has been a proliferation in the last 10 years of private universities which are interested in providing professional training to their undergraduates. These private colleges are not interested in nurturing research centers, since it is not part of their business model to get involved with research.
Uruguay adopted free, compulsory, and secular education in 1876, after a reform led by José Pedro Varela during the Lorenzo Latorre dictatorship. The University of the Republic follows the same principles, although graduates must pay a yearly contribution.
In Fiji the government announced in 2013 it would cover the costs of primary and secondary school education, equivalent to 250 Fiji dollars per year per student.
In Sri Lanka, free education is provided by the government at different levels. Government funded schools such as national schools, provincial schools and piriven provided primary and secondary education free, while assisted schools and semi-governmental schools provided the same at subsidized rates. At the university level, the universities provide undergraduate courses free, however, this totals only about 10% for those qualified for university entrance. Grants and scholarships are provided for a limited number of study allowances.
Elsewhere, free education usually comes to students in the form of scholarships and grants, if they cover all or most of students' expenses. Individuals, institutions, and advocacy initiatives are examples of providers of grants and scholarships. They may have economic (e.g. tax-deductibility), humanitarian, charitable or religious motivations.
There are examples of steps towards free education being taken across the world primarily in those nations developing rapidly, such as China.
In Mauritius, the government provides free education to its citizens from pre-primary to secondary levels. Since July 2005, the government also introduced free transport for all students.
In European countries such as France and Malta, tuition is usually free for European students, and in Germany, tuition is free for all European and international students. In Scotland University tuition is free for all Scottish nationals and is discounted for all European students, except from students coming from other parts of the United Kingdom.
In Russia, prior to the destruction of the USSR, tuition (high-quality) was free for everyone. Since 1991, if a student obtains sufficient grades, he/she might be eligible for a free federal education (on a competition basis), otherwise payment is needed. Private education is always to be paid.
Trinidad and Tobago offers free tertiary education to its citizens up to the undergraduate level at accredited public and select private institutions. Postgraduate degrees are paid up to 50% by the government at accredited institutions. This benefit is given to the citizens under a programme called Government Assisted Tuition Expenses Programme (GATE) and it is managed by the Funding and Grants Administration Division of the Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training
In Canada, elementary and secondary education is free. Students from low-income families (less than $50,000 per year) in the province of Ontario will soon be provided with grants large enough to cover college tuition.
In the United States, President Obama released a proposal to allow students to attend two years of community or technical colleges for free as long as they maintain a GPA of at least a 2.5 and attend college at least half time. Critics argue that a free tuition program will have negative outcomes, especially when funded by the government. Some argue that eliminating tuition from two year colleges takes away the opportunity to teach financial responsibility to college students. Tuition can be used to teach students how to use their refunds from grants and loan. Student loan debt can be used to teach students how to create savings plans to pay back not only student loans, but any other loans they will have in their lifetimes. Others argue that federal grants raise the cost of tuition. Schools take advantage of federal aid and raise tuition because they know their students will be able to get the money from federal grants and loans. Some people do not want the government to take on students’ tuition because salaries are rising to compensate for the growing tuition.
Free education has long been identified with "sponsored education". This may now evoke images of advertising campaigns, but in the past, especially during the Renaissance, it was common practice among rich dignitaries to sponsor the education of a young man as his patron.
Thomas Jefferson proposed "establishing free schools to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and from these schools those of intellectual ability, regardless of background or economic status, would receive a college education paid for by the state."
In the United States, the first free public institution of higher education, the Free Academy of the City of New York (today the City College of New York), was founded in 1847 with the aim of providing free education to the urban poor, immigrants and their children. Its graduates went on to receive 10 Nobel Prizes, more than at any other public university. During the late 19th century, the government's compulsory education was introduced as free or universal education, and extended across the country by the 1920s.
Compulsory education is typically funded through taxes. Aggravated truancy can be prosecuted. Homeschooling, private or parochial schooling is usually a legal alternative.
As of the start of many free internet-based learning institutions such as edX and mitX, education is now free to anyone in the world with internet access. In many countries, the policy for the merit system has not yet caught up with these recent advances in education technology.
Online education has become an option in recent years, particularly with the development of free MOOCs (massive open online courses) from providers such as Khan Academy (High School) and Higher Education, through providers such as Udacity, Free University of Nigeria (FUN), World Education University (WEU) and Coursera. Free education has become available through several websites with some resembling the courses of study of accredited universities. Online education faces barriers such as institutional adoption, license or copyright restrictions, incompatibility and educator awareness of available resources.
Due to the extensive requirements of resources for online education, many open community projects have been initiated. Specifically, the Wikimedia Foundation has developed a project devoted to free online educational resources, Wikiversity, and recently, several other sites for specific topics have developed. MyMCAT was designed as a free community project to aid students wishing to take the MCAT.
Christian Leaders Institute offers tuition free college level ministry education. Students can take any classes free of charge, but are encouraged to help support the mission of the institution by making donations to this 501 (c)3 United States Charity.