2. French Universities

There are 83 universities in France, including reputably the world’s first university, the Sorbonne in Paris, established in the 13th Century.

Below we look at the admission criteria and information about the qualifications you can study for at a French University.


2.1. Admission to a French University

To gain entry students should normally possess a Baccalauréat (BAC), or commensurate international qualification.

For those not holding the BAC it is also possible to study a foundation course called the Diplôme d’accès aux études universitaires (DAEU) over one year, which gives admission to university. The DAEU has the same educational equivalent as a Baccalauréat.

The course is open to anyone of any age provided they left school at least two years previously. It can be taken on a distance basis, or by directly attending a university over a period of up to four years.

Some universities also admit a small number by recognition of professional experience and personal knowledge, provided candidates can also pass an entrance examination.

Candidates from the EEA area wishing to attend a French university will need a good command of the French language and (if not part of an exchange programme) would need to apply direct to the university of their choice. Preliminary contact with the university is recommended in the first instance, as admission procedures and criteria do vary.

Within Europe a major inter-governmental agreement signed in 1999 called ‘The Bologna Agreement’ governs the general provisions on student mobility.

Further developments of this agreement now make it fairly easy for students in one country to secure access to education in another European country, provided the qualification and language criteria are met.

At the end of the day the decision on admittance to a higher education institution is at the discretion of the receiving institution and admission is not automatic.

However, French higher education institutions are keen to attract international students and will normally make every effort to approve your application.

If you live in France, and you are part of the French secondary education system, the application process can be best commenced at Parcoursup, which permits those in their last year of Lycée to make application for study in a French university. This process is commenced several months before the final Baccalaureate exams.

If you live abroad, the process of applying can best be started at Commencer ses Etudes supérieures en France.

Those from outside the EEA need to apply through the French Embassy in their home country by mid January in the academic year preceding the proposed course of study.

2.2. French University Qualifications

There are a wide variety of higher education qualifications and for the uninitiated the picture is a very confusing one.

Nevertheless, the situation is improving, as a result of agreement at a European level for greater mobility and transparency in higher education across the EEA.

Broadly speaking, it is possible to distinguish between short term studies of two years duration, and more traditional higher education qualification of three or more year’s duration.

2.2.1. Short Term Studies

Universities and the Instituts universitaires professionnalisés (IUT) attached to them offer two year vocationally based courses, following which students can enter employment in their specialist field or continue their studies thanks to the pretty flexible system of ‘parallel admissions’. This system allows for example a student with a relevant qualification to enter a course to get a Licence, without having done the first two years. This is sometimes possible only through an application to explain your motivation and check your academic level.

The main qualifications which are awarded are the Diplôme Universitaire de Technologie (DUT) and the Diplôme d’Edudes Universitaires Scientifiques et Techniques (DEUST).

To this list of short courses we should also add two higher education courses offered through the lycées, the Brevet de Technicien Superieur and the Classes Préparatoires aux Grandes Ecoles (CPGE), both of which are considered in more detail later.

2.2.2. Long Term Studies

Whilst university studies in the UK are categorised as either undergraduate or postgraduate, in France courses are divided into three ‘cycles’ in an attempt to reflect the continuous nature of education and the linkages between the different stages.

The three cycles lead to three levels of qualification often referred to as the LMD – Licence, Master and Doctorat, which correspond to the internationally recognised structure of higher education qualification – bachelor, masters, and PhD system of qualification.

As studies are now broken down into semesters and in teaching units (Unités d'Enseignement), referring to a 'year' is does not always make sense.

The teaching units match the various subjects being taught.

I. Cycle 1

The first cycle of three years (or bac+3) is a broad foundation course leading to the Licence. The old Diplôme d'études universitaires générales (DEUG) corresponded to the first two years of the Licence.

Students can elect to choose from one of three main streams - literature and arts, political and economic science, or science.

Within these main streams, many different diplomas are offered.

The Licence is the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in the United Kingdom.

As an alternative to studying for the general Licence students can study for the Licence Professionnelle, a vocationally based degree, which is often undertaken in collaboration with a Lycée.

II. Cycle 2

The second cycle is more specialist and leads to the award of the Maîtrise (Bac +4) in the fourth year and of the Master (Bac+5) in the fifth year. Many French students elect to continue with five year studies and obtain their Master.

There are also different types of masters degree reflecting the nature of their specialisation, with specialised executive style 'Masters 2' programmes generally requiring a prior 'Masters 1' post-graduate degree.

The Masters have many different names, including Maîtrise de sciences et techniques (MST), Maîtrise de sciences de gestion (MSG), Maîtrise de méthodes informatiques appliquées à la gestion (MIAGE), and Titre d'ingénieur-maître (TIM). The Master itself can be vocational or research based. The latter is ideal for students wishing to take a PhD.

Students from abroad can enter directly into the second cycle, but only on condition that they have already undertaken at least three years course of undergraduate study.

Within the European system any student that can validate 6 semesters in a field is allowed to enter a French Master’s Degree, BUT many universities now organize selective entrance to the Master.

III. Cycle 3

The third cycle courses in the sixth year onwards are akin to PhD research studies with a range of different qualifications ultimately leading to a doctorate.


Next: Grandes Ecoles

Back: Overview of French Higher Education




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