8 developing countries offering first-world education at affordable rates

developing countries
Young people in developing countries are sharing more traits with their peers in developed countries than ever before. Source: AFP

Every year, many of us dream of moving to rich countries like the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

There seems to be less appeal to go to developing countries — those between rich countries and poor countries.

As of the end of 2022, data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada showed that 807,750 international students were holding valid study permits. 

During the 2021-22 academic year, 679,970 international students were studying in the UK. 

While these two countries are popular for those with hopes of starting a new life and career there, they often come with a big price tag. 

In Canada, tuition costs for undergraduate programmes were US$36,100 a year and US$21,100 for postgraduate studies in 2022, according to Statistics Canada. 

What’s someone without these kinds of funds to do?

For those on a tight budget, choosing a good university in one of the best developing countries might just be the answer you are looking for.

Developing countries are those with a lower average standard of living, relative to other countries. There’s no official definition.

In fact, World Trade Organisation members announce for themselves whether they are “developed” or “developing” countries. Around two-thirds of 164 WTO members are developing countries.

By this, and without an official definition, we can see that these are places where it’s cheaper to live. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Rent or internet may be cheaper in another country, not because they’re worse, but for many other reasons. The internet company offers big discounts, for example, or we may come from a country with a stronger currency.

But despite the financial benefits, we have to address the elephant in the room.

The controversy behind the term “developing countries”

The World Bank has for many years referred to “low and middle-income countries” as “developing countries.” According to this World Bank classification, “developing” countries are:

  • low-income countries with GNI per capita of US$1,035 or less
  • Middle-income countries with a GNI per capita of more than US$1,035 but less than US$12,616.

However, in 2015, the World Bank made an announcement changing the way international development was categorised. They declared that the use of “developing/developed world categorisation” had grown increasingly obsolete and would be gradually phased out.

The term “Global South” is used by some as an alternative term to developing countries.

Developing countries tend to have some characteristics in common. For example, they commonly have lower levels of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, energy poverty, higher levels of pollution such as air pollution, littering, water pollution, and open defecation.

This declaration acknowledged the evolving worldwide situation, marked by swift economic advancement in certain nations typically referred to as “developing” and the socio-economic challenges in some “developed” nations.

Should I go to a university in any of these developing countries?

When it comes to studying abroad, developing countries aren’t usually at the top of your mind — and there are reasons for this. 

Data from the 2021 QS World University Rankings showed that unis in developing countries are often underrepresented in the top global rankings.

It has led students to assume that education in these countries may not meet international standards.

Many also avoid developing countries because of concerns about safety and political stability

Look at the numbers, and you’ll see why. 

The Global Peace Index 2021 showed that some developing countries rank lower in terms of safety and security, which can deter students and their families from considering these destinations for education.

Perhaps that’s why many popular study-abroad destinations, such as China, India, and South Korea, often get the spotlight, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report 2020.

8 developing countries with the best and most affordable education

developing countries

Thailand’s nightlife is one of the most famous and vibrant in the world. Source: AFP

1. Thailand

Thailand is known to be one of the most popular Asian countries for travel.

It’s no surprise, considering the country is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and is frequently featured as a top 10 must-visit destination. 

Much of this has to do with the beautiful beaches in Krabi and Phi Phi Island, over 40,000 Buddhist temples and many hidden markets with delicious food such as pad thai and tom yam. 

While Thailand is the perfect country for travel, it is also one of the best-developing countries for affordable education. 

The average cost of tuition fees in Thailand varies from US$17,000 to US$28,000, depending on the programme. 

With top unis such as Mahidol University, Chulalongkorn University and Chiang Mai University, international students can enjoy an excellent education without breaking the bank. 

developing countries

Malaysia may be a developing country, but it offers world-class university at an affordable price. Source: AFP

2. Malaysia

As a multiracial country, Malaysia is a great option for students who want to immerse themselves in the cultures of its three main races (Malay, Chinese and Indian) as well as its many Indigenous tribes.

Malaysia offers low tuition fees, summer all year round, arguably the richest food in the region, and, most importantly, the affordable cost of living.

Beyond this, the country hosts several international universities such as the University of Nottingham from the UK and Monash University from Australia, which offer students the opportunity to earn UK and Australian degrees at Malaysian prices.

Tuition fees come up to an average of US$4,000 per academic year.

developing countries

Rwanda attracts students from around the world due to its solar energy plans and environmental entrepreneurial opportunities. Source: AFP

3. Rwanda

Forecasted to become the “Singapore of Africa,” the Central African country of Rwanda has emerged as an up-and-coming education hub for international students.

Unfortunately, many overlook this beautiful country due to its history with genocide in 1994. 

Unbeknownst to many, Rwanda has come a long way since then and is now one of Africa’s most promising nations. 

Today, it is one of Africa’s cleanest and greenest cities. Its solar energy plans and environmental entrepreneurial opportunities are slowly attracting international students worldwide. 

The University of Rwanda is the country’s largest institution, with over 30,000 students. Other universities, such as Kibogora Polytechnic and the University of Kigali, are highly ranked in the country for their programmes. 

Tuition fees here can go as low as US$1,000 per year

4. Kenya

Africa is often overlooked by many when choosing a study-abroad destination. 

This continent, however, is home to several developing countries that offer affordable first-world education. 

Over the years, it has attracted many international students — especially American students, with around 1,200 students choosing to study abroad in Kenya each year. 

One institution that stands out is the University of Nairobi, Kenya’s leading educational institution. 

It offers ICT, information technology, and computer science programmes. The uni is renowned for producing exceptional IT graduates, many of whom have ventured into creating tech startups responsible for reshaping the country. 

Here, international students need not worry about debt as tuition fees range between US$1,380 and US$5,000 per year

developing countries

Higher education in India is well known for its affordability and high quality. Source: AFP

5. India

Whether you prefer hiking the Himalayas, visiting wildlife sanctuaries, or going to yoga getaways, you’ll find India to be one of the best developing countries to travel or study in. 

Tuition fees here vary depending on the education level and institution chosen. Usually, tuition fees cost just under US$7,880 per year

India boasts two world records: it is the most populated country in the world with the most extensive high education system. 

Some top entrepreneurs today started at the famed Indian Institutes of Technology, such as Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and founders of Flipkart Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal.

Though English is not the main language spoken in India, it is often used as the language of instruction at universities in India, especially at the postgraduate level.

6. Russia

Russian unis are quickly scaling the heights of global rankings thanks to their world-leading programmes in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 

Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU), ranked 75th in the QS World University Rankings 2023, offers the following programmes: business management, life sciences and medicine, anthropology and many more.

Studying here is a chance to be part of one of the world’s most highly educated populations since over half of Russian nationals have a university degree

It’s also an affordable way to spend a few years abroad. Studying for a bachelor’s degree would cost you about US$3,690 to US$4,000 annually

developing countries

Chinese universities are renowned for their excellence in science, technology engineering and math. Source: AFP

7. China

Want an excellent education in a country with a thriving economy, unique and delicious cuisine, and abundant entertainment options? Then consider studying in the country with the second-biggest population.

China is home to one of the world’s largest and strongest higher education systems, ranking eighth in the system strength rankings. 

Among Asian unis, 124 Chinese institutions are featured in the rankings, with Tsinghua University leading the pack, securing second place.

Studying in China offers a unique opportunity to gain valuable insights into what is poised to become the world’s largest economy.

What’s more, you can practise or learn Mandarin, the world’s most widely spoken language, which is increasingly essential in international business and politics.

The best part? It’s affordable to study in China. Tuition can go as low as US$2,807 per year

developing countries

Indonesia has more than 700 ethnic and racial groups, of which 90% are Malay and indigenous, 5% Chinese and 5% minority. Source: AFP

8. Indonesia

Home to the largest economy in Southeast Asia with the world’s fourth-largest population, this developing country has so much more to offer international students. 

Since its independence in 1945, Indonesia’s higher education sector has grown significantly. 

Starting with only 10 institutions in 1950, the country now boasts almost 3,000 private and 150 public universities — of which 30 institutions rank in the top 350 in the Asian rankings, with Gadjah Mada University the highest ranked at 57th.

Currently, the country hosts around 6,000 international students — many of whom come from neighbouring countries, Malaysia and Thailand, for good reasons.

Tuition fees can go as low as US$2,400 to US$6,100 annually

Don’t forget about the scenic island off south Sumatra, delicious Indonesian rendang and a rich culture too!