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Foreign enrolment in France returns to pre-pandemic levels with 365,000 students in 2021

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • In 2021, 25% more international students were awarded study visas for higher education in France than the previous year
  • 365,000 international students were studying in France in 2020/21, with most enrolled in universities
  • The grandes écoles (elite institutions specialising in commerce, engineering, art, or architecture) are becoming more popular among international students choosing France

New data from Campus France indicates that following a 17% pandemic-related reduction in the number of study visas French immigration officials issued to foreign students in 2020, 25% more visas were issued to international students coming to study in France in 2021. This amounts to a 3% increase over the number of visas issued before the pandemic, in 2019/20.

In 2020/21, there were 365,000 foreign students enrolled in France, a marginal 1% decrease from numbers in 2019/20. Taking a longer-term view, there has been an overall increase of 18% in foreign student numbers in France over the past five years.

Growth in many sending markets but not China

The following table shows the top source markets for French educators in 2021. As you can see, France’s international enrolments are quite diversified by nationality. Morocco remains the top sending country, with Algeria and China next. As per a global trend, Chinese enrolments did not increase for France last year.

By contrast, many other countries are sending more students. Students from the important African markets of Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Republic of Congo, Benin, Gabon, and Cameroon are increasingly deciding to enrol in French institutions.

Top 25 student markets for France for the 2020/21 academic year. Source: Campus France

Focus on Europe

French institutions are also seeing some nice growth from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Turkey. France has a new scholarship programme, “France Excellence Europa,” devoted to encouraging European students to choose France for master’s-level studies.

Eligible area of study for scholarship candidates are:

  • Culture & Heritage
  • Education, Pedagogy
  • French Language and Civilization, Foreign Languages and Civilizations and European Studies
  • Law and political sciences
  • Health
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Computer Science and Digital

Africa rising

Campus France notes that despite falling enrolments from Asia (other than India), other regions with highly promising market characteristics are contributing impressive numbers of students. Compared with five years ago, North Africa now sends 24% more students, as does the Middle East. There are 41% more students from Sub-Saharan Africa and 11% more students from Europe. Together, African and European students compose more than three-quarters of students in France’s education institutions.

Africa was the main driver of growth in French enrolments in 2021. Source: Campus France

Certain types of education have become more popular among international students in the past few years. As you can see from the table below, institutions devoted to commerce (business) have seen the most growth, while universities have seen more modest growth compared to those schools as well as engineering and arts and architecture schools. Many of these specialised schools are known as “grandes écoles.”

Whereas in 2016/17, 71% of foreign students in France were enrolled in universities, in 2020/21 this had fallen to 66%. By contrast, France’s prestigious business schools received only 8% of all international students in the country in 2016/17 – but 13% in 2020/21.

International student enrolment growth in France by category of institution, 2015–2020. Source: Campus France

For additional background, please see:

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