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Guide to Higher Education in France

A guide to higher education in France for those who want to choose France for further studies.

Do you want to be a student in France? Every year there are more than a quarter of a million foreign students who choose France as their place of study – the big draws are the competitive tuition fees and of course the opportunity to live in a country which has so much intellectual tradition and history.  In fact in the last 10 years, the number of international students choosing France as their place of study has increased by some 75% making it the world’s 4th most popular destination for foreign students.

If studying in France is what you want to do you will need to plan ahead – whether you are from an EU country or further afield there are certain steps that you need to take and you’ll find there’s a raft of red tape to get through and documents to provide but if France is your choice for study there’s no avoiding it.

Key figures on higher education in France

85 Public universities

224 Engineering schools

220 Business schools

291 Doctoral departments

1,200 Research laboratories

1 out of every 3 French doctoral degrees is awarded to a student from outside France.

How to be a student in France

Schools in France recognize any qualification that enables a student to get into university. The most important bit is the entrance exam and interview.

First of all you’ll need to choose a university. If you’re from outside the EU then you’ll need a visa in order to progress your application but if you’re from an EU country this isn’t required.

If you are a non-EU national you will need to register with the immigration office within 30 days of arriving in France and you will need to undergo a medical examination in order to have your visa validated.

After one year of studying, in order to remain in France you will need to apply for a carte de séjour which is a residency permit for non EU peoples.

The Language

There are many universities which offer bilingual programmes or wholly English languages programmes. French higher education institutions have started internationalizing, so that there are now more than 600 programs – from bachelor to PhD level – taught in English.

If the programme you want is in French you must have at the very least an intermediate level of French and some universities will ask for a certificate of French studies before your application will be accepted.

Degrees in France

French higher education employs the “LMD system”—licence, master, doctorate—now used throughout the European Union. The system is designed to facilitate student mobility within Europe and around the world. Licence, Master and Doctorate levels roughly correspond to Graduate (Bachelor), Post Graduate (Master) and Doctorate degrees.

Degrees are awarded on the basis of the number of years the student has completed since entering higher education and the corresponding number of ECTS credits earned.

The majority of higher education institutions in France are funded by the State and the tuition fee is a nominal amount to the student.

If the programme you want to follow is at a private education establishment, and many business schools fall into this category, then you’ll find the tuition fees rocket – particularly for non EU students.

Popular programmes with students are, quite unsurprisingly, connected with what France is best known for: fine arts, culture, cookery, pastry making and fashion design.

French business schools are also a big draw – the two most famous ones being the top-ranked Insead and HEC Paris. In addition to the usual business programs, they offer courses that are typically French, such as luxury market and fashion design management.

Living in France if you’re a student

If Paris is your study destination it’s not going to be easy to find accommodation at a reasonable price.  The city is incredibly popular with foreign students as well as everyone else and finding somewhere to live that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg is a problem.  There are student residences available in Paris but you’ll need to apply well in advance to stand a chance of getting in – it’s not easy – ask the University that you are interested in to give you details of student residences in their area.

Outside of Paris it might be possible to get a subsidised on-campus residence or close-by student accommodation. CNOUS is the national agency which runs the dormitories and you can get more information from their website.  Note that for the academic year 2012/2013 you need to apply for a scholarship and housing no later than April 30 2012.

Every student, even foreign ones, can apply for a monthly housing subsidy.

Finance and working in France while at University

Each year the French Government offers scholarships to international students – you can check these out  through the French Embassy or Consulate website in your country.

International students have the right to work while studying in France if they are enrolled in an institution which takes part in the national student health-care plan. Students who are not nationals of EU member countries must also hold a valid residency permit.  Under French law students are allowed to work up to 964 hours per annum.  Unless you already have a firm offer of a job, don’t expect finding work to be easy – you must be able to finance your stay without employment.

France is the only country in Europe which has made arrangements to offer housing assistance subsidies to international students – not just French students – based on a means testing system.  You may or may not be eligible – check on the Caisses d’Allocations Familiales (CAF) website – the agency which manages the programme of rental assistance.

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