France: An Ideal Home for International Students

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Quick Take: France is known for welcoming international students to their high standard universities and Grandes Écoles. Now, the government is investing more each year in order to continue providing a remarkable educational experience for French students as well.

Freedom. Equality. Fraternity. More than a motto dating back to the French Revolution, one could say it is also the foundation for education in France. The country is currently listed 25th on the world’s education ranking and is consistently making changes to continue evolving to provide more opportunities for its citizens and international students alike.

France‘s Demographics

France's Demographics - Flag and Map, Atlantic ocean
Illustration France's Demographics - Flag and Map, English Channel and Paris


LANGUAGE French POPULATION 66.83 million BIGGEST INDUSTRIES Engineering / R&D, IT, banking, civil jobs, tourism, national & private security, caregiving, retail, agriculture, English language teaching1,2,3

CURRENCY Euro GENDER 51.09% female, 48.91% male

Top 5 Education Indicators

Great Tourist Destination, Excellent Study Abroad Option

Tourism is one of the strongest industries in France. With tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower, rich museums, Parisian cafes, and the charm and high cuisine of the South of France, to name a few, the country receives 200 million23 visitors every year.

However, many of the foreigners that land in French airports do not come with a return ticket home. This is due to France being the world’s fourth most popular country when it comes to attracting international students. With 310,000 foreign higher education students, France only falls behind countries like the US, the UK and Australia. Most students hail from Morocco, China and Algeria, making up 27% of all international students in the country. Overall, 46% of foreign students in France are working towards their undergraduate degree, with 43% earning a Master’s degree, and 11% a Doctorate degree.24

France’s Education System Explained

As with most European countries, France takes education very seriously. With nursery and kindergarten schools available for children as young as 2 years of age, enrollment is considered compulsory by the age of 6. This is the start of elementary school for young French students. With a free public education system, parents frequently choose to enroll their children in schools located close to home.

Elementary school is divided into Primary School (Primaire), for children between the ages of 6 and 11, and Middle School (Collège), from ages 11 to 15. When students turn 16, they move on to secondary education (Lycée) for three years. This period consists of different cycles: the first one is called de Seconde, followed by de Premier, and ending with de Terminale.  

At Lycée, students receive an education in general subjects such as mathematics, history, arts, geography, sciences and French. The traditional Lycées can be one of two kinds: Lycée General and Lycée Technique. While the first one follows the natural evolution of what students learned in Collége, with a more traditional approach and subject selection (with the addition of philosophy classes), the latter offers more technical studies. Some of the specializations available through Lycée Technique are micro-technologies and aeronautics, among others.

Lycée Professionnel is another option for French students, where they can obtain vocational approach training, specifically for those who intend to work in trades where practical skills are more necessary.25,26

Recent Changes in France’s School System: Emphasis on IT, Better Salaries and More Autonomy for Teachers

Since 2016, changes are being made to France’s educational system, with some of them being quite controversial among the community. In collège, for example, teachers now have more autonomy to organize students’ learning time – a decision that should not be left exclusively up to teachers, as some parents believe. The introduction of interdisciplinary lessons has also been at the center of debates, even provoking strikes and protests after their announcement.

Other changes include alterations to the Brevet exam, which students must take by the end of middle school, the introduction of French and math tests for primary school students between the ages of 8 and 9, and the introduction of a new app called eParents, to keep families informed on school news and updates.

With the changes, teachers are now better compensated with more employment opportunities. The annual compensation rate for child supervisors rose from € 400 (US$ 470) up to € 1,200 (US$ 1,415). In addition, there has been a significant job increase in state schools as a way to fight back the rise of private schools in the country.

Finally, French students are also enjoying more access to computers and other technological gadgets, with computer classes being taught at state schools beginning at the age of 11.27

Changes in Education System Provoke Rise of Private Schools in France
The recent changes in the education system have had a big impact on parents and students, and as a result, more families are now enrolling children in private schools than ever before. Private collèges had an increase of 6,300 students in 2016. During the same time, state collèges numbers went down by 9,900.28

Higher Education: Universities for Future Academics, Écoles for Future Professionals

The main focus of the Lycée is to prepare students for their Baccalauréat exam – a final examination that determines students’ academic future. All students with a Lycée diploma (meaning they passed their Baccalauréat) can enroll into a higher education institution.

The Baccalauréat is considered the gold standard to get into university. However, to be accepted into a Grande École is much more difficult. The ticket to a Grande École is at “bac+2” level – it means students must be at the level of the third year of university studies. In order to do that, many students remain at their Lycée for two extra years after the Baccalauréat.

Also, although most universities in the country are public and heavily subsidized by the government, students have to pay a small tuition fee of around € 184 per year for undergraduate degrees. However, there has been a hefty rise in tuition fees at Grandes Écoles and private institutions, which historically are more affordable compared to other first world countries. These range from € 500 (US$ 590) to € 20,000 (US$ 23,500) per year.

Low tuition cost of is one of the positive aspects of studying in France, as student debt is low, compared to other countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, for instance.

Education is a High Priority for France’s Government

In recent years, France has been continuously working to invest deeply in education and research with education receiving 20% of the country’s annual budget. In fact, in 2014, 45% of people ages 25 to 34 held a higher education qualification, while the average was 41% in the OECD countries.29 This is the result of France’s government long-term efforts.30

It is also important to note that in France, universities are better suited for those looking for a career in academia, while Écoles are focused on shaping future professionals, such as doctors, engineers and journalists, among others.31,32,33

Grandes Écoles: Educational Excellence
The Grandes Écoles are considered the highest quality educational institutions in France. Public and private, these institutions provide degrees in varying fields, such as engineering, business, management, and veterinary medicine, among others. The École Normale Supérieure and École Polytechnique are ranked in QS’s Top 100 World University Ranking. Admission into one of these schools is highly selective.

France and Distance Learning

France is developing a growing interest in distance education. For example, there are more than 100,000 students enrolled in distance courses at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers – CNAM (a Grande École focused in engineering), although most of them offer blended learning. CNAM has 30 regional distance learning centers, providing diplomas or certification for every education levels.

Another great example is the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, where there are over 1,000 young adults enrolled in the courses offered by the Open Distance Learning department. Full degrees and Master degrees are also available. All classes are online, with the exception of exams which must be taken on campus. Also available are eight Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs) and eight Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) within the university’s Information and Communication Technology department.

It’s important to note that students who graduate from any of these programs receive the same diploma as the ones that take the traditional, face-to-face classes.34

5 Highlights on French Culture and Education

1. France is one of the most culturally rich countries in the world, with significant contributions to architecture (Triumphal Arch, Eiffel Tower), fine arts (the works of Manet, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Cézanne, among others), literature (Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir, Jean de la Fontaine, René Descartes, to name a few), music (from Medieval classical music to Édith Piaf), cuisine, cinema, sports and more.

2. 62 Nobel Prize winners, including Marie Curie, the first woman to receive a Nobel. In fact, she was the recipient of two Nobel Prizes – one for Physics in 1903, and one for Chemistry in 1911.

3. France is the world’s biggest wine exporter, with 28.2% of the global market. In 2016, the country exported US$ 9.1 billion worth of wine.35

4. Tuition fees in France are lower than in most first world countries, especially compared to the United States and the United Kingdom.

5. The South of France is a charming region that attracts thousands of tourists every year. High cuisine, ski resorts and breathtaking landscapes are some of the highlights.


TRiiBU Studio


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