Where to Study in the Happiest Countries in the World

Where to Study in the Happiest Countries in the World

Craig OCallaghan

Updated September 28, 2022 Updated September 28

If studying somewhere where everyone has a smile on their face is an important factor when you're choosing a university, you might want to start considering universities in Norway. The Scandinavian country has come top of this year's World Happiness Report, a ranking of the world's happiest countries by a United Nations agency.

The report is largely based on asking residents of each country in the world to rank their happiness on a scale of 1-10. Norway's average score this year is 7.54. Other factors, such as economic strength, social support, life expectancy and freedom of choice are also considered. 

All in all, these happiest countries provide exactly the kind of culture and environment which could be perfect while studying. So, if you want to have a smile on your face even while you're writing your dissertation, check out the best universities in each of these countries.

1. Norway


Norway is not only the happiest place in the world but also one of the cheapest for university study, with public education free for both local and international students. Be warned though: a semester fee may be required and the cost of living is also higher than other European nations.

If that doesn't put you off studying in Norway, you couldn't do better than applying to the University of Oslo, the highest-ranked university in Norway in the latest QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017. The university in Norway's capital is ranked joint 113th in the world. 

Three other Norweigan universities are featured in the most recent world rankings. They are the University of Bergen (=177th), the Norweigan University of Science and Technology (259th) and the University of Tromsø (=377th).

2. Denmark


Clearly, the Scandinavian nations know what they're doing as the second-happiest country in the world this year is Norway's neighbour Denmark. Denmark is known for its pretty cities, high-end cuisine and attractive coastlines. All universities here are free to attend for EU/EEA students, although fees apply for students coming to Denmark from elsewhere. 

Five universities from Denmark feature in the World University Rankings, but only one of those is in the top 100: the University of Copenhagen. The university is ranked joint 68th in the world. Denmark's second-best university, the Technical University of Denmark, is also located in the capital city and is placed just outside the global top 100 with a ranking of 109th.

Other Danish universities to be included in the latest rankings are Aarhus University (117th), Aalborg University (=374th) and the University of Southern Denmark (=390th).

3. Iceland


Iceland may be the third-happiest country in the world, but no Icelandic universities feature in the latest World University Rankings. Iceland has seven universities in total, of which the largest are the University of Iceland and Reykjavík University. Both of these universities are located in the capital city.

4. Switzerland


If Scandinavia isn't your thing, maybe a university in the fourth-happiest country in the world is the ideal place for you to study. Switzerland may be an expensive place to live, but tuition fees are at least relatively inexpensive. The exact sum varies, but at most leading Swiss universities, international fees are with the range of CHF1,266-2,200 per year (~US$1,265-2,195), which isn't significantly different to the fees domestic students pay.

Eight different Swiss universities are included in the latest World University Rankings, with two achieving an impressive top 20 position. As well as ETH Zurich (The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), the eighth best university in the world, Switzerland is also home to 14th-placed Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Also included in the global top 100 are the University of Zurich (80th) and the University of Geneva (=95th). 

The other four top Swiss universities are the University of Lausanne (ranked 138th), the University of Basel (=141st), the University of Bern (181st) and the University of St Gallen (=288th).

5. Finland


A fourth Nordic country rounds out the top five happiest countries in the world, with Finland falling in behind their near-neighbours. Although most university courses here are taught in Finnish or Swedish, there will be some English language courses available so it pays to look around. Tuition has been completely free for everyone in Finland until very recently, when plans were announced to introduce fees for non-EU/EEA students. 

There are 10 Finnish universities in the most-recent World University Rankings. Of these, the highest-ranked is the capital's University of Helsinki in 91st place. Helsinki is also home to the second-best university in Finland, Aalto University, which is ranked joint 133rd. The historic Turku is home to Finland's third best-performing university, the University of Turku, ranked 234th in the world.

Of the remaining universities from Finland to feature in the latest ranking, three more are in the global top 400: Tampere University of Technology (319th), University of Jyväskylä (=338th) and the University of Eastern Finland (=382nd).

Image credits: Moyan Brenn (Norway & Denmark) Helgi Halldórsson (Iceland), Pedro Szekely (Switerland), Wikimedia Commons (Finland)

This article was originally published in March 2017 . It was last updated in September 2022

Written by

As editor of TopUniversities.com, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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