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Rentrée à l’université. How the higher education system works in France

Studying in another country is one of the easiest ways to emigrate at first glance, but this is not always the case.

You need to prepare a lot of documents, pass language exams and thoroughly prepare for the move.

One of the countries where Russians, as well as citizens of other countries of the former USSR, go to study, is France. According to Campus France, the French state centre for information on higher education in France, in the spring of 2022, 5,290 students from Russia were studying in this European state.

How does the education system in France work and how does it attract foreign students?

Types of universities and programs

I dreamed of studying in France after graduating from the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University in 2019 and almost immediately began training. I had a good level of French, but still not enough for admission. With the help of a teacher, I began to intensively polish my language skills and in March 2020 I passed an exam and received a certificate. There was no need to hurry, so I began to study the specifics of the French education system and look for what I would like.

There are three types of higher education institutions in France: universities, high schools and specialised schools.. However, when choosing a university, Campus France advises you not to focus on this, but on the specialty that interests you.

I did just that: my field of interest is political science and journalism, so I applied for programs related to them in one way or another. I am currently in my second year of Masters at the University of Lumière Lyon 2, the program is called New Journalistic Practices.

The choice in French universities is extensive: from philology to sports programs. Some specialisations can be mastered in designated schools.

Main training programs:

  • Licence 1, 2, 3. After the third year of study, the student receives a diploma that corresponds to a Russian bachelor's degree.
  • Master 1, Master 2 Recherche (Master in Research) or Master 2 Professionnel (Professional Master), M2 can be combined. Campus France notes that the current trend is not to separate M1 and M2, the diploma can be obtained after studying for two years.
  • Doctorat (obtaining a doctorate degree). Doctoral studies last three years.

Now there are about 70 public universities in France. There is no need to pass entrance exams for admission. In the 2019-2020 academic year, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research increased the registration fees for international students:

  • Licence - 2770 euros per year;
  • Master - 3770 euros per year;
  • Doctorat - 380 euros.

At the same time, a number of universities left the level of contributions unchanged, this also applies to my university. French students pay similar amounts:

  • Licence - 170 euros per year;
  • Master - 243 euros per year;
  • Doctorat - 380 euros.

High schools are very different from universities. They can be either public or private. For admission, you must pass exams. Tuition fees range from 2,770 euros to 20,000 euros per year.

They recruit fewer students, the list of specialties there is not so extensive, but there is an important feature, close co-operation with organisations and enterprises. This category of universities includes the Higher Schools of Engineering, Schools of Business and Higher Veterinary Schools.

Specialised schools stand apart, you can get education in distinct specialties. Specialised schools are also divided into fee paying private and public institutions. These include, for example, schools of art, landscape design, photography, theatre schools and a number of others.

The conditions for admission vary - in some cases, you need to take preparatory courses, and for admission, for example, to an art school, you will need a portfolio.

There are also specialist universities . There are those students who want to get a Phd. These include the École Pratique des Hautes Études and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.

École Pratique des Hautes Études

The Collège de France is located in Paris and does not issue any diplomas.Education there is free, lectures are given by professors in scientific, artistic and literary areas.

Study Schedule

The academic year begins in September or October, depending on the university and faculty. In winter - there is a two-week Christmas holiday, approximately from the third week of December to the beginning of January. Classes after the holidays often begin as early as January 2.

Because of red tape with documents, I arrived in October, although classes began in mid-September. My first lectures were in December - there was a mandatory internship for two months. Because of this delay, I met my classmates only in mid-December.

The head of the program introduced me to everyone during a class where the students defended their projects. During the break, the guys asked me about Russia, about work, about whether I like France and a lot of other things. Later, if I needed any help, they were happy to provide me with it.

Study in French universities are very different from classes in Russian. As a rule, there are lectures, seminars and practical classes. Attendance at lectures may not be controlled in any way, and students can familiarise themselves with their content using handouts. The other two types of classes are compulsory, where students learn to apply their knowledge in practice.

In French universities, constant knowledge assessment is carried out. So, for example, following the results of a block of practical exercises, it may be necessary to prepare a project. Exams are held twice a year at the end of the semester. At the end of the course, students must write and defend a thesis in order to receive a diploma.

However, such a schedule does not exist everywhere, and my program is proof of this. There are only 13 of us in the group, and there are no lectures as such. At seminars, teachers immediately talk about practical things, and then we do projects in an accelerated mode. We recently made our own podcasts, and soon we will need to prepare a project on data journalism.

Lectures start at 9 am and end at 5-6 pm. However, they are not every week - students combine their studies with work and internships. At the end of the academic year, each student must write and defend a thesis.

Above all, I was surprised by the presence of autonomies - these are pairs of students who work independently, without a teacher, for example, on an educational project. The students are given access to equipment if needed, and they can prepare the project. No one controls the attendance of such hours - if you have recorded all the required interviews, then you can safely go home and edit everything there.

In general, students in France have a lot of freedom. You may not come to any autonomies, but if you make a good project and hand it in on time, then there will be no problems.

The topic of the diploma can also and should be selected independently - they will find a supervisor for you, whose area of ​​interest coincides with yours.

There is a lot of emphasis on hands-on activities: have you ever done a podcast? Great, in a little over two weeks you will learn how to record and edit. Not perfect, of course, but you will definitely master the basics.

Language level for admission

Education in France is conducted predominantly in French. Foreign students whose native language is not French must provide the results of a language exam.

The level required for admission varies, as a rule, from B2, according to the common European CEFR system (confident language proficiency), to C1 (advanced level). French universities recognise the DELF/DALF and TCF Tout Public exams. The required level for admission to a particular program must be specified on the website of the selected educational institution.

Passing a language exam does not guarantee that you have mastered the language perfectly. To begin with, if you have never lived in the environment before and you haven't had much practice, it can be difficult.

Despite my rather high level of French, I encountered this problem: it was difficult to perceive speech by ear. But later things got better. I had to leave my comfort zone and communicate a lot with the locals in French, without switching to English at any cost. A month later, my French has improved significantly.

In France, there are programs in English. Their full list on Campus France is here. IELTS, TOEFL or Cambridge Certificates are accepted as proof of language proficiency. The required level depends on the program, for most it is also no lower than B2.

Études en France

Citizens who require a visa must complete the Études en France procedure. All the necessary documents, translations are uploaded to the site, a fee is paid through it, and an interview is also scheduled. After all the stages and enrollment, an entry is made in the same place for applying for a student visa.

Applications to “connected” universities are submitted directly through the Études en France website, to “non-connected” ones - through the websites of educational institutions. In the case of enrolling in an "unconnected" university, you still need to register on the site and go through the procedure - otherwise you cannot get a visa.

All deadlines for submitting documents are given on the websites of Campus France offices in specific countries and depend on the level at which the person is going to enter.

During my enrollment, I constantly monitored Campus France sites and groups in order not to miss deadlines. A delay in sending a package of documents or missing the deadlines might lead to a hold up of at least a year.

By: Maria Efimova

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