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Higher Education in France

Higher education in France is world-renowned for its quality and accessibility. The French government pays for tuition and health insurance at public schools. Admission and promotion is through a system of merit-based examinations. Thus, intellectually qualified students are ensured a fair chance of pursuing their educational goals, regardless of their financial or social status.

Higher Education in France offers the following two options:

  1. At Competitive Institutes (Grandes Ecoles) entry is selective. Specialization in engineering, commerce, civil services and teaching are offered. The duration of studies vary from 3 to 5 years.
  2. In State Universities, any student who has completed the secondary school diploma may qualify.

Two categories of courses are offered:

  1. General courses-These are divided into 3 cycles. Each cycle leads to a national diploma. The 1st cycle is of 2 years for undergraduate studies. 2nd cycle is of 2 to 3 years of graduate studies and the 3rd cycle is of l to 3 years of post graduate studies.
  2. Professional courses-These are offered at “Instituts Universitaires Professionnalisés” (IUP). The curriculum consists of 3 years of technical courses with a 6 month vocation training and practice in an international firm. Medical studies which include medicine, dental studies and pharmacology are also offered at the universities at the Faculty of Medical Studies. The duration of these courses are 7 years. Art, Architecture, Agriculture, Law, Public Administration etc. are offered in specialized schools. The duration of these courses varies from 3 to 7 years.
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French public and private post-secondary educational institutions are divided into the following categories:

  • French universities
    France has 87 state universities: 20 in the Paris region, 64 outside Paris, and three in overseas territories.

    University studies are divided into three stages, called the Premier Cycle, Deuxième Cycle, and Troisième Cycles. Each university is divided into departments or UFR (Unités de formation et de recherche) which cover all disciplines, from science to the humanities. Course units in each discipline, which must be passed in order to graduate, are called UV (Unités de valeur). University diplomas are nationally standardised and transferable between institutions.

    A complete description of French higher education, as well as a listing of French universities, is available on the Egide site:

    List of French Universities is available on this

  • Premier Cycle
    The Premier Cycle is two years of undergraduate level university studies leading to the DEUG (diplôme d’études universitaires générales) or the DEUST (diploma of scientific and technical university studies).
    1. DEUG
      This is a multidisciplinary general diploma granting no professional qualification. There are nine categories of DEUGs that require from 6 to 12 elective and compulsory UVs (courses), depending on the university.
    2. DEUST
      This is a professional diploma, with courses tailored to individual needs by instructors. The programmme includes directed studies, practical exercises, professional instruction, and internships.


  • Second cycle
    The Second Cycle consists of the first two years of graduate studies at university, called the License and the Masters Degree (Maitrise):
    1. Licence
      Completing the first year of the Second Cycle (also known as Baccalaureate + three years) leads to a Licence. A Licence continues studies commenced in the DEUG and is a transitional degree. Approved studies or work experience can be credited toward a Licence, which recognizes basic education or professional training.

    2. Masters degree (Maitrise)
      Completing the second and final year of the Second Cycle (also known as the Baccalaureate + 4 years) leads to a Masters Degree. In the Humanities, the Masters Degree year is principally devoted to a thesis written under the guidance of a director of studies. In other fields such as law or economics, the Masters Degree year continues the course studies of the License year.
  • Troisième cycle
    The Troisième Cycle leads either to a DESS (Diploma of Specialized Higher Studies) or DEA (Diploma of Extended Studies).
    1. DESS (Diploma of Specialised Higher Studies)The DESS is a one-year course in a university department, including a minimum compulsory three-month work experience, and many hours of seminars, practical assignments, and directed studies. Admission depends on a competition and interview. Places depend on internship opportunities.
    2. DEA (Diploma of Extended Studies)
      The DEA occupies one year after the masters degree and provides an introduction to research work in a specific discipline. This DEA is mandatory if the student is planning to conduct research. The DEA is awarded after a dissertation has been presented to a jury. This dissertation is usually the first stage in a proposed Doctoral thesis. In practice, however, fewer than 50 percent of students start their thesis immediately after obtaining the DEA.
  • Doctorate
    Equivalent to the American PhD, this diploma is granted after 2-5 years of research and a successful thesis defence. Holders of a doctorate may become university lecturers.
  • Grandes ecoles
    Grandes Ecoles are the very best institutions of French higher education. To be considered as a”Grande Ecole”, a school must be a member of the”Conférence des Grandes Ecoles” (, an association that was created in 1973.

    You can check the list of these establishments and their web sites at the following or, by field of specialization

    To prepare for Grandes Ecoles entrance competitions, students must enrol in corresponding preparatory classes. Courses are held in selected public high schools and private institutions and run from two years to three years.

    Foreign students must contact the Grande Ecole of their choice directly to learn about the registration procedure. Grandes Ecoles usually have a specific entrance competition for foreign students.

  • Mastères
    The mastere is a high level diploma awarded by certain business or engineering schools, following 12 months training including five or six months on practical training. To apply for this diploma, candidates must already hold a diploma equivalent to a master’s degree in the discipline they want to study in the framework of the mastere.

    A list of the masteres offered by the Grandes Ecoles is available at the following

    Main”Grandes Ecoles” accessible to foreign students:Ecoles Normales Supérieures
    Scientific and literary preparatory classes qualify applicants for the entrance competitions for these schools, leading to careers in general and technological teaching, or basic and applied research. Foreign students are able to study one year or more in the framework of exchange programmes organised by various American universities. Contact each GE for further information.

  • Business schools
    These are usually private institutions, often managed by chambers of commerce and industry. French business schools offer many types of masters or MBAs to foreign students. Since every school has different standards for application, you must contact the school of your choice to obtain its admission procedure.
  • Ecole Nationale d’Administration
    Prepares to careers in the high national public service.
  • Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)
    School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences
  • Ecole Supérieure de Journalisme de Lille (ESJ)
    Higher School of Journalism
  • Political Studies Institutes (IEP)
    The eight IEP offer many different”majeures” (concentrations), from communication and political science to finance and international relations. Admission is possible after the baccalaureat, or after two years of undergraduate studies in the U.S. The course of education lasts from one to four years.
  • “Sciences Po” (Paris IEP)
    The Institute of Political Sciences in Paris called”Science Po” offers a large range of programme options to more than 800 foreign students. These include the International Programme in Political and Social Sciences the Research Seminar Programme in the Social Sciences as well as the possibility of direct enrollment in Science’s Po’s centerpiece -the diplôme programme- via the International Graduate Programme.

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