Higher education in France [fr]

Aiming for Excellence

France is a key player in the world of higher education, research and innovation.

France has 83 universities, 224 engineering schools, 220 business schools and hundreds of specialized schools and institutes.

France attracts the 3rd largest number of international students in the world (265 000 in 2009), after the United States and Great Britain.

Although France’s higher education system has a centuries-long history (the Sorbonne was created in 1262!), it is nonetheless resolutely forward-looking.
Higher education is currently undergoing a number of extensive changes through European and national reforms. These reforms are supported by massive public investments.

Interview of Jean-Charles Pomerol, President of Paris VI University

A Major Reform of Higher Education and Research in France and in Europe

France is one of the major actors in the reform of the European higher education system, known as the “Bologna process”.
Launched in 1999, the Bologna process now involves 47 countries and aims at establishing the “European Higher Education Area”.

The main reforms introduced by the Bologna process are:

  • Implementation of the common “LMD” (licence, master, doctorate) degree system
  • Application of the system of cumulative and transferable credit “ECTS” (European Credit Transfer System)
  • Introduction of the “diploma supplement” that describes the learning outcomes, i.e. the skills and knowledge acquired by the student during the course of the education program
  • Development of quality assurance
  • Promotion of students and faculty international mobility.

You can also download the "Bologna process" booklet below to get more information:

PDF - 97.6 kb
"Bologna process" booklet
(PDF - 97.6 kb)

In this European framework, a major reform of higher education and research has been ongoing in France since 2007:

  • Reform of the universities: In 2007, a new law awarded universities greater autonomy to manage their own policies and to get greater international visibility.
  • Research reform places universities at the core of the system and allows the implementation of the national research strategy, focused on key priorities (health and ageing, environmental emergency and green technologies, information, communication and nanotechnologies).
  • Reform of the research funding introduces new funding for proposals, in addition to the annual funding already made available to universities and research institutions.
  • Conglomeration of universities, “grandes écoles” and research institutions in PRES (Research and Higher Education Centres), which create a new and more accessible landscape of French higher education and research.

The PRES Consortium

What is PRES?

A PRES centre is a pluridisciplinary research and education organization which brings together a number of independent establishments in one particular geographic area (city or region). A PRES centre groups higher education institutes (universities, grandes écoles), research organizations, as well as private companies and associations as “associate members.” Currently, there are 17 PRES centres in France. They bring together 51 universities and 51 establishments (engineering schools, business schools, hospital centres, major research institutes, etc.).
Due to their interdisciplinary and interinstitution dimension, PRES centres have for the objective to coordinate the responses to the national calls for proposals, to benefit from the new funding opportunities offered by the French government.

What are the goals and advantages of PRES centres?

  • Relationship-building

The creation of PRES centres changes the landscape of higher education and research in France . Each city or region enjoys a unique structure which, similarly to major Canadian universities, federates all the education and research activities. This, in turn, facilitates the building of international partnerships at the highest level of the structure.

  • Mutualization

Members of a PRES can, depending on their interests and strategy, join a part of their financial and human resources. In numerous cases, international relations and doctoral studies are from now in the domain of a PRES for all the members.

  • Decompartmentalization

The grouping of a number of establishments within a single structure allows for a coherent scientific policy and encourages interdisciplinary research projects.

  • Toward mergers??

The rationalization of the French university landscape may lead to merging of a number of establishments. In this manner, three Strasbourg universities were merged into one large university, making it more visible on the international scene. More merging initiatives are planned for Montpellier and Bordeaux. In other cases, PRES member establishments may wish to preserve their independence and to act according to a confederal logic, such as at the University Paris-Est, for example.

Interview of Jacques Samarut, President of the "Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon", explaining the advantages of the restructuration of the French Higher Education and Research System into PRES centres.

Massive Investments

12 Campuses for the 21st century: France builds world-class university facilities

Launched in 2007 with a budget of €5 billion (CAD $6.75 billion), the Campus Plan has for the objective to provide France with world-class university campuses.
These campuses will bring together universities, “grandes écoles,” as well as public and private research institutions.
The selected projects focus on architectural and environmental quality in order to enhance work and life conditions, bringing them to the level found at some of the best universities in the world.

After a call for proposals and an evaluation by an international jury, 12 “21st century campuses” have been selected.

46 universities, 40 “grandes écoles” and research centres, 760 000 students and 24 000 researchers are now part of the project.

Examples :

  • The Plateau de Saclay, south of Paris, will be the world’s largest concentration of mathematicians and physicists who will benefit from high-level research facilities (Synchrotron Soleil, Neurospin, CEA) and higher education institutions (Ecole polytechnique-Paristech, Ecole Centrale, University Paris-sud).
  • Toulouse, as an industrial and scientific centre, will be reinforced around its strong points: aeronautics (Airbus, Institut supérieur de l’aéronautique et de l’Espace), earth and universe sciences (observatory with 1000 researchers), climate sciences (Météo France) and health (Pôle Cancer).

The Campus Plan (€5 billion) is part of a larger and unprecedented investment program for the development of higher education and research.

Altogether, the “investments for the future,” under the program launched by the French President for higher education and research, amount to €22 billion (CAD $29.7 billion).

For more information:

Please find below the "Higher Education System in France" booklet realized by the Office for Science and Technology of the Embassy of France in Canada:

PDF - 4.5 Mb
Higher Education System in France" booklet
(PDF - 4.5 Mb)

October 31, 2011


Last modified on 31/10/2011

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