Practicalities of living in France
About the Higher Education System
There are 83 public universities in France. Their degrees are accredited centrally by the French Government. Some Universities and specialised institutions are organised into research clusters called PRES. These clusters pool their resources and research to compete internationally.
Students study for a licence which is known on a European level to be equivalent to a Bachelors degree.
Completely separate from the public universities are the Grandes Ecoles. These institutions typically offer courses in management and engineering only although there are also schools in other areas, such as veterinary medicine and political studies. Grandes Ecoles are generally regarded as the best institutes of higher education in France and play a very important role in educating the French elite. Their degrees are essentially equivalent to a Masters level qualification. Class sizes and facilities are usually far better than in the public universities. Grandes Ecoles attract around 30% of state funding for higher education but typically only have about 5% of the total number of students in the country.
There are also numerous business and engineering schools in France, some of which are private or are run by the local Chamber of Commerce. You can also find art and architecture schools.
Each university is free to set its own admission criteria and make its own admission decisions based on each applicant's background and the demands of the program to which the applicant seeks admission. That freedom allows French institutions to compose well-qualified and well-balanced student cohorts, while also protecting the integrity and the reputation of the education offered.
Public French universities are required by law to allow students in a certain geographic area entry to a course of their choosing if they have successfully completed their baccalaureate (the French school leaving certificate). Therefore, generally speaking, A-level passes are all that is required for entry to a public French university. If you are applying for a course that is taught in French you will also need to prove you can speak the language to an acceptable level. Check directly with the French institutions you are interested in to what level of French proficiency they expect from students following their courses. You may may need to take a French proficiency test like the DALF, a course administered by the French Ministry of National Education. There are also other French proficiency tests such as the TCF and the TCF-DAF administered by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research. British students should visit the French Institute in the UK.
Entry to Grandes Ecoles is not possible with only A-levels. Upon completing the baccalaureate French students who wish to enter a Grande Ecole have to take the Classe Préparatoire aux Grandes Ecoles (CPGE). Also commonly known as the Classes prépas or prépas. The CPGE take two years to complete and is a rigorous programme of classes, around 30-35 hours a week with regular examinations. At the end of the two years, students take a highly competitive national exam, the top ranking students from the results can go on to apply to Grandes Ecoles in France.
Depending on the field expertise of the Grande Ecole, you will take different subjects in the CPGEs. For example if you follow a scientific CPGE you’ll take classes in physics, chemistry, maths as well as humanities subjects like foreign languages and philosophy. For more information, visit the www.prepas.org website.
CPGE do not give students a qualification, they are designed to prepare students for entry to the Grandes Ecoles. However, in recent years the CPGE carry European credits (ECTS) which can be transferred to other university courses in Europe.
If you are applying to one of the business or engineering schools such as Skema Business School, you should contact them directly. The deadline for applications can be quite late although we would suggest you apply in good time as there may be a shortage of places.
For French universities teaching courses in French, there is a centralised application process roughly equivalent to UCAS. The admission-postbac is not compulsory for all courses at French universities, you can see the list on the website.
Usually you apply to universities between January and March if you wish to start the following autumn. It can also be possible to apply later and even after you have received your A-level results. Because most university courses do not have any restrictions on numbers, as long as you meet the standard required of local students you will be able to enrol. Some universities coordinate their admissions meaning that if you apply to Université de Paris, Sorbonne, you might be allocated a place at a different university in Paris if it is oversubscribed.
For more information visit the www.admission-postbac.fr website.
How much does it cost?
Public French university tuition fees are €181 per year in 2012-2013. Tuition fees at business and engineering schools and the Grandes Ecoles are usually in the range of €3,000-€10,000 per year.
How do I get a visa?
No visa is required for EU citizens. If you are from outside the EU, you must apply for a residence card at the city’s Préfecture.
Can I work there as a student?
If you have an EU passport you can work while you are a student. The law allows you to work up to 964 hours per year as a student. This corresponds to around 60% of the hours worked full-time per year.
Which are the best universities?
- Ecole Normale Superiere, Paris
- Ecole Polytechnique
- Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris
- Universitié Paris-Sud
- Université Paris Diderot - Paris 7
None of these universities or Grandes Ecoles teaches any Bachelor’s degrees in English.Cost of living
The cost of tuition is pretty low at public universities. France as a country can be quite expensive to live but is comparable to living in the UK.
Accommodation prices are around 400€ a month in rent and then other costs such as bills, food, transport, books and socialising will amount to around 500€ a month. Expect to pay more in Paris.
However, France has a series of measures to support French and foreign students, such as travel reductions, housing benefit and more.
The CNOUS - CROUS is a good place to start. Here you can apply for student accommodation (halls of residence), find out about cheap eateries and student societies to join. They also have information on mutelles to join for students to cover your health costs as the EHIC card may not cover all your healthcare costs especially if you stay for longer than 12 months.
Accommodation and housing benefit for students (CAF)
There are different types of student accommodation options in France, halls of residence, privately owned student blocks and then studios and apartments. Getting into halls of residence is difficult as there is high demand due to being much cheaper than the private sector. To get into Halls of residence, you need to submit a request to the CNOUS between January and April.
Generally, you will need to pay around two months rent in advance as a security deposit on top of your first months rent. You will need to take out a legal liability insurance policy to protect against any accident property damage. This will cost circa 20-50€. You may have to purchase furniture as finding furnished flats/student rooms in France is uncommon.
As a foreign student in France, you may be entitled to some form of housing benefit from the CAF (Caisse d’Allocations Familiales). You will need to be already renting a room/property and be on the lease paperwork and have a French bank account before you can apply for the CAF. You must apply within three months of the start of your lease.
If you are sharing a property with someone, or with a group of other students, all members of the property will need to be included on the paperwork. You can apply online through the CAF website. How much you get depends on the amount of rent you pay and your funding resources.
Opening a bank account
Having a bank account in France is helpful and you can get a carte bleue (like a debit card in the UK) to use for transactions in daily life.
It’s important to look around at the different deals available to you as a foreign student. You may have to pay for your account on a monthly basis, so check out deals that give you a fee-free period if this would be beneficial.
You will need to set up a meeting with the bank to open an account and will need your passport and proof of domicile.
Do not expect an overdraft facility. If you go overdrawn in France, you may be penalised with high overdraft and interest charges.
Travelling to and from France
Depending on where you decide to study, your travel options will become apparent. There are many airports in the France with flights to several UK cities. You will have the option to fly British Airways and Air France and there may also be low-cost airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet that fly to some of the smaller French cities. Bear in mind luggage costs when booking your travel arrangements.
You can also take the Eurostar from London St-Pancras to Paris and beyond. Travel times can be as little as 2 hours 15 minutes to Paris.
Universities in France
- SKEMA Business School
- Grenoble School of Management
- ICN Business School
- IESEG School of Management
- ESC Dijon
- IPAG Business School
- Sciences Po
- Catholic University of Lille
- Parsons Paris School of Art and Design
- Université de Nantes
- International Fashion Academy
- Paris American Academy
- Touro College Paris
- La Rochelle Business School
- American University of Paris
- Brittany Business School
- Paris School of Business