Student Loans Around the World: Who Else Is Struggling?

Student loan debt continues to plague millions across the United States. From the recent graduate to the established businessman, nearly everyone seems to be paying off or recovering from the effects of staggering student debt totals.

But despite the problems ubiquity across the country, you don't tend to hear about student debt outside of U.S. borders. Americans are notoriously insular with their media consumption and awareness, but can that explain the apparent lack of international participation in the student debt conversation?

Are other countries facing the same problem? If not, what are they doing differently?

The U.S. vs the World

Every spring, U.S. students graduate only to find themselves owing more and more in student loans. Student loans from recent graduates make up more of the country's debt than any other category, excluding mortgages.

The current average graduate with student loans owes about $29,000 – a 50 percent increase in the last decade.

However, this is not only an American problem. The following countries also have students saddled with debt:

  • Sweden: The land of meat balls and Vikings is also a country full of poor students graduating with debt. The average student has $19,000 in loans with about 85 percent of them graduating with debt. Tuition is generally free in Sweden, but the high cost of living forces students to take out loans anyway.

  • Canada: Even though Canadians have access to free healthcare and other social programs, student loans remain a major issue. The average person owes about $25,000 a year – comparable to American figures. About 20 percent of those will owe more than $40,000, with another 20 percent having to repay more than $20,000.

  • Australia: The land down under is about to become the land underwhelmed by debt. Recent policy allowing universities to change their tuition fees has many projecting that student loans will rise exponentially in the coming years. Australia does have more lenient repayment policies, allowing many to repay their loans based on their income.

The Countries with the Least Student Loans

Even though the problem of student loans seems universal, several well-known countries have avoided or combatted the problem. Germany has free tuition for students and has gained recent fame for Americans who choose to study there instead of at home.

Other countries where the youth receive a free education include the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Brazil, Argentina and Greece are others where students can get a discounted degree.

The UK has a maximum that universities are allowed to charge students per year, which equals about $14,000 a year. Tuition fees in France are about $200 a year – not including the price of crepes.

Unfortunately, the cost of tuition is not the only factor that determines how much students borrow for college. Cost of living, including room and board, can make up the bulk of what students borrow for.

Many of these countries have made affordable education a matter of public policy, instead of leaving it up to the schools to decide. While it's impossible to say how to fix the student loan problem in the U.S., it's clear through these countries' example, it is possible.

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