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Types of Higher Education Institutions in France


Higher education institutions in France

The quality of the French higher education system is recognized around the world. Its wide variety of institutions offers excellent opportunities for teaching and research in every subject and at every level. After the USA and England, France is the country that attracts the largest number of international students in the world. International students make up more than 15 percent of the students at French universities and more than 25 percent of France’s prestigious Grandes Écoles'.

There are three main categories of higher education institutions in France, where ELS’s first European partner institution, SKEMA, is located: public universities, the Grandes Écoles (which include France’s prestigious schools of business and management) and schools of art and architecture.


Public Universities

France's 83 public universities offer academic, technical, and professional degree programs in all disciplines, preparing you for careers in research and professional practice in every imaginable field. They are well distributed throughout the nation, from the Sorbonne in Paris (founded in 1257) to the high-tech campus of Nice-Sophia-Antipolis.

Of the 2.2 million students in the French higher education system, 80 percent attend the country’s public universities. France's universities are public institutions, funded by the government. This system allows the universities to offer you an excellent education at a very affordable price. In keeping with the principle of "Egalité," the same tuition fees apply to both domestic and international students, which range from €177 for Licence programs to €372 for doctoral programs (2011-12 academic year).

The universities offer programs in all disciplines, and award degrees at every level, from the Licence (three years), to the Master's (five years), to the Doctorate (eight years).

In addition to traditional academic degrees, the public university system also offers degrees in engineering, business, journalism and communication. Programs in medicine, pharmacy and dentistry are also provided exclusively by the public universities, which operate in close cooperation with major teaching hospitals, known as CHUs (centres hospitaliers universitaires).


Grande Ecoles

These prestigious − and uniquely French − institutions may be either public or private, and their relatively small size gives you ample opportunities to interact with faculty.

There are around 250 Grandes Écoles in France, offering degrees in business, engineering, political science and other specialized fields. Some of the Grandes Écoles are members of the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles (CGE).

In all, the CGE comprises 216 schools, which break down as follows:

  • 143 Schools of Engineering
  • 39 Schools of Management
  • 20 other Schools (ENS, Veterinary, etc.)
  • 14 schools located outside France (mainly in Belgium, Morocco, Spain and Switzerland)

The basic degree offered in the Grandes Écoles is equivalent to a Master's degree, and generally takes five years to complete. It may be a Master of Science (MSc), Master of Business Administration (MBA), or a Mastère Spécialisé (Ms – which requires one additional year of study following the Grandes Écoles degree).

The traditional path through Grandes Écoles requires completing a competitive entrance exam after two years of preparatory classes at a préparatoires aux Grandes Écoles (CPGE), directly after secondary school. After you are accepted, you would then complete three more years of increasingly specialized study. However many schools today offer alternative admission procedures, which allow you, as an international student, to apply at different stages of your academic career. For example, ELS’s partner institution, SKEMA, France's largest Grande École specializing in management, offers international students who have successfully completed a four year bachelor degree abroad to take a one-year Masters of Science: this is equivalent to the fifth and final year of the Grandes Écoles system.

Dependent on whether they are public or private, the Grandes Écoles’ annual tuition fees range on average from €500 to €10,000.


Schools of Business and Management

Perhaps the most popular type of Grandes Écoles are the Schools of Business and Management. There are 71 Schools of Business and Management approved by the French Government, of which 39 are also members of the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles.

Many of France's schools of business and management were established in partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce and, as a result, they have always offered courses and teaching methods that meet the real-world needs of today’s global economy and business environment. Most programs include internships and some form of study abroad, giving students a truly hands-on experience that will enhance their employment prospects.

In 2011, The Financial Times ranked six French schools among the top 10 Master's in Management programs whilst, in 2010, The Economist included six French MBA programs among the top 100 in the world. Both are proof of the high esteem in which France’s Schools of Business and Management are held.