France’s tertiary education and university tradition is several centuries old. How would you feel to study in one of the first university built in the world? The well-known La Sorbonne was founded in 1253 and has seen generations of students since centuries.
Both this legacy and degrees certification makes a reputation for quality for French tertiary education institutions. All degrees have the same value, whatever the university. France carries out an elite policy in the tertiary education industry to increase its attractiveness. Its academic system is ranked 7th in the world, according to Times Higher Education. The best management Masters in the world is French and five French institutions are in the top 10 according to the Financial Times. France has also 6 of the best MBA’s in the world.
Moreover, France owes its economic success to its research capacity and to its achievements in the fields of space, transportation, electronics, telecommunications, chemistry, biotechnology, health, and mathematics. The establishment of a new network of research and higher education clusters reaffirms the country’s determination to maintain its high profile as a knowledge economy. Known as PRES (for pôles de recherche et d’enseignement supérieur), the clusters represent a new way for France’s academic and scientific communities to cooperate and share knowledge. France has the fifth-largest economy in the world and welcomes foreign investment.
France Higher Education System
A French specificity: University and Grandes Ecoles
France’s system of higher education enrolls 2.2 million students, two-thirds of whom attend the country’s 83 public universities.
France’s 83 publicly financed universities are well distributed around the nation. They award national diplomas, which provide the assurance of a uniformly high level of educational quality regardless of where they are earned—from the famous Sorbonne to the alpine campuses of the universities of Grenoble and Chambéry and the island campus of the University of Corsica.
The universities offer programs in all disciplines, including the sciences (mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology), technology (computer science, engineering, electrotechnics, materials), literature, languages, the arts, the social sciences, law, economics, business, health and medicine, and physical education. All of the nation’s universities are public. The universities offer programs at every level; their graduates receive nationally regulated degrees known as national diplomas: the licence (3 years), master (5 years), and doctorate (8 years).
Deeply committed to their corporate, academic, and research partners in France and abroad, the nation’s universities daily demonstrate their dynamism and their ability to respond to change.
In parallel with the traditional academic degree ladder, the universities have been able to accommodate new educational needs:
- University-based engineering programs now confer 60% of the engineering degrees awarded in France each year.
- More than 2.000 career-oriented licence degrees, known as licences professionnelles, are available.
- Technical programs are offered in 24 specialty areas in university-based institutes of technology (IUTs, instituts universitaires de technologie).
- Management programs are available in university-based institutes of business administration (IAE, instituts d’administration des entreprises).
- Programs in political science and economics are based in university based institutes of politics (IEP, instituts d’études politiques) and Science Po Paris.
- Journalism and communication are taught in specialized institutes in several universities. Examples include CELSA at the University of Paris- Sorbonne and the Centre Universitaire d’Enseignement du Journalisme at the University of Strasbourg.
Unique to France, the first Grandes Écoles were established in the early 19th century to operate in parallel with the universities. Their distinction then, as now, lay in offering professional education at a very high level. The Grandes Écoles remain very selective. Together they enrol about 226,000 students.
All Grandes Écoles offer five-year diplomas recognized by the government to be equivalent to the European master. They may also offer intermediate degrees and specialized diplomas, among them the bachelor (in three or four years), the Master of Science (MSc) (in four or five years), the master of business administration (MBA), and the specialized mastère (MS) (six years). The traditional path into the Grandes Écoles was by examination following two years of preparatory classes. Students then earned their degree in three more years of increasingly specialized study. However many schools offer admission to a 5-year curriculum directly from secondary school.
To accommodate international students, many Grandes Écoles offer admission on the strength of the applicant’s academic record. The degree may be earned in two to five years, depending on the amount of credit the applicant receives for his or her prior academic work.
School of Engineering
More than 200 schools of engineering, public and private, run the gamut of engineering sciences. But they also have some common characteristics, emblematic of the solid quality of the diplome d’ingénieur, a venerable French degree that is fully equivalent to the European master.
The diplôme d’ingénieur is a national graduation that entitles its holder to apply to a doctoral program. Public schools of engineering charge tuition fees of approximately 550euros per year.
Business and management
France’s Grandes Écoles of business and management, about 200 in number, are recognized by the national government and may boast other distinctions as well, such as membership in the management section of the Conférence des Grandes Écoles. Operating at a variety of levels, France’s many schools of business and management offer programs geared to economic requirements and new management practices. Internships and international exchanges play a large role in many programs. The great majority of schools have come together to offer common entrance exams. About 190 schools admit students directly from secondary school. Most of France’s business schools are private; many are affiliated with local chambers of commerce and industry. The annual tuition varies widely but is generally between €2,000 and €30,000.
More than 3,000 educational institutions, public and private, known as écoles spécialisées, extend the French system of higher education into specific areas such health, paramedical
specialties, architecture, arts, audiovisual arts, communication, journalism, social work, fashion, design, tourism, culinary arts, hotel management, agriculture, and agronomy.
These institutions offer government-accredited degrees as well as other credentials specific to the institution that confers them. Programs demand from two to five years of study. Admission is by examination or on the basis of the applicant’s academic record.