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Higher education in France - statistics & facts

In 2021, France had more than 2.7 million students. A figure that has been constantly increasing since 1980, when there were half as many people studying after their baccalaureate. This democratization of higher education is due in part to a change in the French economy over the last few decades. Formerly very agricultural and industrialized, the French economy is now primarily a service economy, with jobs to be filled which require increased specialization and therefore an increase in the length of study.

French students are still going to public universities

Higher education in France is fragmented among several institutions: the public university, private schools (business, engineering) and short professional courses. The university was the institution that received the most students during the 2020-2021 academic year, representing more than half of the student population. They were therefore far ahead of business and engineering schools, which registered between 170,000 and 220,000 students. Although universities are popular among the majority of French people, it is the business schools that have the wind in their sails. The number of students enrolled in these private schools has not stopped increasing since 2000, going from 63,400 to nearly 220,000 in 2021.

Private and public education and social inequalities

The principle of free or quasi-free education is a fundamental principle of European and French education. In a French university in 2019, the tuition cost 685 U.S. dollars, compared to more than 11,213 U.S. dollars in England. In addition, some students are exempt from paying tuition fees. Scholarships based on social criteria are awarded to students with low family incomes. The differences in scholarships granted and their recipients vary significantly depending on the field chosen. In 2020, more than half of students in higher technician training were eligible for a grant, and therefore came from a low-income family, compared to only 12 percent of business school students. The inequalities continue in the working world as well. More than 20 percent of French people who did not study after obtaining their baccalaureate were looking for work, compared with 12.5 percent of those who had completed a short term course of higher education, and less than ten percent of those who had completed a long term program.

Academic research in France

Since 2009, the French government's investment in research and development has not increased. In 2009, 2.2 percent of GDP was spent on research, in 2019, the rate was similar. In addition, the number of PhDs in France has stagnated over the same period at about 13,000 per year. However, the number of researchers has increased year after year since 2008, reaching more than 305,000 in 2018.


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