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A simple guide to higher education in France

What is the difference between a Lycee and a Grande Ecole? Are all degrees taught only in French? Which subjects are popular among international students? Here is your simple guide to French higher education.
BY Cherry Chauhan |   05-12-2017
Study in France

Your guide to the higher education system in France
In 2016, an estimated 2.6 million students were enrolled in higher education programs in France. Of these, approximately 310,000 foreign students were pursuing higher education (Source – IIE). 4,200 of the international students were from India - a remarkable rise of almost 50% since 2010. A diverse society, quality higher education, and a culture that the world aspires to emulate – all these factors are attracting an increasing number of international students.

What do international students study in France?
Programmes in languages, arts, and humanities are the most sought-after by international students. These are followed by subjects such as sports sciences, economics, law, and medicine.

According to The Local, 46% of the international students are pursuing undergraduate degrees, 43% are pursuing graduate studies, and the remaining 11% are pursuing their doctoral studies. Paris hosts the highest number of international students.

Why study in France?
As opposed to common belief, the French are a welcoming people. The French government has stated that it wants to increase the number of Indian students in France to 10,000 by 2020.

French history, culture, and countryside are a decided lure for international students. Added to that are the affordable tuition fees at most state-funded universities, and the increasing number of programs taught in English.

Not only is Paris the number one tourist spot in the world, it is also the second favourite student city in the world. It is has produced a total of 62 Nobel Laureates including Marie Curie (the only laureate to win two Nobel Prizes ever).

France can also boast of their industrial and economic presence on the global front with more than 31 companies in the Fortune Global 500 leading in their respective business sectors.

The education system in France
Home to some of the oldest universities in existence, France has a diverse system of education that sets it apart from many a counterpart. They follow the Licence- Master-Doctorate (LMD) system of education, based on European Credits Transfer System (ECTS) that facilitates students with transferable credits to study abroad. France has more than 3,500 public or private higher education institutions divided into three categories:

  1. State-funded - Universities:
    Over 70% of France’s international student body is enrolled in universities. The universities in France are state-funded and provide degrees leading to national diplomas holding similar academic value. These national diplomas can either be Licenses (or an undergraduate degree), Masters, or Doctorates. A total of 82 state universities are currently in operation in France.
  2. Private institutions - The Grandes Écoles:
    Almost 20% international students study at The Grandes Écoles in France, which are public or private higher education institutions recognized by the state. Although many Catholic institutions have adopted the title of ‘university’, an old French law states that no private institution can call itself a ‘university’. The Grandes Écoles are highly selective and often referred to as the Ivy Leagues of France.
  3. Schools and specialised institutes - Lycees:
    The most distinguishing attribute of the higher education system in France is the Lycées. Somewhat similar to a high school, Lycées have three years of education,which can lead either to university education or to a career
    Lycees offer courses such as journalism, fashion and design, communication etc. The schools or specialized institutes issue diplomas and certificates which are usually recognised by the government.

Admission requirements
The academic year in France kicks off September or October. While the admission requirements vary according to the institute of higher education, a few are given below:

If the student is following a programme that is taught in English, fluency in French is not required. However, if a student wishes to pursue a programme taught in French, a document attesting fluency is required. TCF and TEF are the standardized tests required for assessment of fluency.

Standardized test scores
Scores of the standardized tests such as TOEFL and IELTS need to be submitted alongside the university application for validating fluency in English.

Many French universities do accept general exam scores such as GMAT and GRE, but the number is limited due to France’s peculiar education system, and disparity amongst those institutions.

Bursaries, scholarships, and funding
Each academic year, the French government rolls out tons of scholarships and fee-waivers to a large chunk of bright and meritorious students. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers numerous scholarships for foreign students based on merit and need. Scholarships are also available through local authorities who provide fee-waivers and regional hospitality grants to students undergoing training in their territory.

To extend and cultivate symbiotic foreign relations with India, the French government annually awards more than €1 million to over 500 Indian students, for pursuing higher education in France. This includes the Charpak and Raman Charpak programme that is run jointly by the Embassy of France in India as well as the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

For a complete list of scholarships, click here and here.

Applying for visa
To apply for a student visa, foreign students need to acquire the long-stay visa which is granted for students planning to pursue higher education at any French institute of higher education. The Indian wing of Campus France, a national agency promoting French education abroad, can also guide prospective students through the visa application procedure.

Working after graduation
Foreign students are eligible to apply for most jobs in France, although a fluency in French might be a necessity for some organizations. Unlike the placement system in India, to secure a job in France, students need to apply through career services cells in their respective institutions.

The provision of 2-year visa extension can be easily availed by Indian students who wish to extend their stay in the country after the completion of their studies to gain practical work experience. The French laws also permit students to do a total 964 hours of part-time work whilst being enrolled in any degree programme in the country.

Seeking reliable information? To find out more about studying in France, see here and here. Also check out the links below -

7 reasons to study in France
The application process to study in France, explained in one simple chart
7 great European scholarships for international students
5 Cheapest Universities in the World
Brexit getting you down? You may be able to get an Oxford degree in Paris soon!
How to Qualify for a Five-Year Schengen Visa
Scholarship to Study for a Masters Degree in France  
Study and Work Life in France


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