Higher education system in France

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In France, the higher education system is regulated by the Ministry in charge of the Higher Education. Other ministries (the Technical Ministries) such as the ministries of Industry, Defence, Agriculture, ... are often responsible of institutions in their technical domain. The provinces (« Régions ») have no direct competencies in higher education, although they support the institutions and laboratories in their area.

Higher education covers all studies after the baccalauréat (‘A’ level equivalent). Two systems exist side by side:

  • An open system in the universities.
    Most students study under this system. All baccalauréat holders have the right to enter this system without any prior selection procedure. The universities offer an extremely wide range of studies;
  • A selective system with a limited number of places.
    Admission is based on a competitive examination. This is the system in use in the grandes écoles (top graduate schools such as the Ecole Nationale d’Administration – French Senior Civil Service School – Ecole Nationale Supérieure – national post-graduate school – the « Ecoles d'ingénieurs » and top business schools), the instituts universitaires de technologie (IUTs – university institutes of technology). These establishments train mainly public-sector and private-sector senior and middle managers.

Types of institutions

In France, there is by law the freedom to set up and run higher education institutions. However, the « student status » (access to grants, special social security regime, student visa, ...) is given only to the students of the higher education institutions that are recognised as such by the French authorities (i.e a special visa from the State).

There are two main categories of 'recognised' institutions:

  • institutions (private or mainly public) which are allowed by law to deliver national degrees (such as Bachelor, Master, «Titre d'ingénieur », Doctorate, ... These institutions receive public funding for their education and scientific research.
  • institutions which can only deliver their own degrees.

Higher education is offered by a variety of institutions : universities, colleges, « grandes écoles », university institutes of technology, ...

Tuition and fees are usually low in public institutions (a few hundreds euros including social security) and are much higher in private schools (ranging from € 4 000 to € 15 000)

Types of programmes

France has a three cycle degree structure which is in line with the European Higher Education Area.

France uses the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). One credit corresponding to the student workload required to successfully complete a course module. These credits can be accumulated and transferred. The curriculum of a programme is organised into six-month periods and teaching units (modules).

  • Licence degree (Bachelor's degree)
    A Bachelor's programme takes 180 ECTS.
    • « Licence » : Bachelor's degree with academic orientation gives access to master's programmes.
    • « Licence professionnelle» : Bachelor's degree with a professional orientation gives access to the labour market.
  • Master degree (Master's degree)
    A Master's programme takes in total 300 ECTS: 180 ECTS at Bachelor's level and 120 ECTS at Master's level.
    • «Master » : master's degree
      The master's programme has either a professional or an academic orientation. Access is open to the holders of a Bachelor's degree or equivalent. This master's programme takes 120 ECTS.
    • « Titre d'ingénieur » qualified master's degree in science and engineering.
      This is a fully integrated curriculum of 300 ECTS, delivered by institutions accredited by the Commission des Titres d'ingénieurs (CTI).
  • PhD degreesDoctorate programme

Overview degree structure

Degree structure-FR.gif