The education system in France:
(source: European Union)
I. Information on Community Law
II. Information concerning the national education system
III. Useful addresses
I. Information on Community Law
The fundamental principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality between students studying in a foreign country and national students applies as regards admission to an educational or training establishment. This includes enrolment fee requirements and the conditions governing the award of a grant to cover such fees. In this respect, any Community citizen must be treated in the same way as national citizens. One example of the kind of problem which young people studying another country may encounter would be special requirements on admission, the need to pass tests or supply documentary evidence, or other such conditions which are not required of nationals, and which have no objective justification.
Each Member State’s law provides for financial assistance for students in higher education. Some countries’ laws may make it possible for a grant to be transferred where a student decides to study in another country. In other words, the student may continue to receive financial aid from his/her country of origin while studying in another Member State.
Students covered by the Erasmus chapter of the Socrates programme are treated more favourably than students who have changed countries outside the Community scheme or under an inter-university agreement. It goes without saying that such students are still covered by the principle of equal treatment in terms of admission conditions, with exemption from the requirement to pay any enrolment fee. In addition, though, they continue to receive grants or other forms of financial assistance from their country of origin, regardless of the general rules or any obstacles in the country in question concerning the transferability of grants. As regards recognition of periods of training completed in an establishment in another country, the Community legislation governing the programme requires that this be provided for in the form of agreements between the university of origin and the host university. Such recognition is not necessarily guaranteed where study periods or training periods are not within the scope of the Socrates/Erasmus programme.
The conditions set out in a. above constitute a minimum set of rights which apply to all students who do not enjoy a broader status under Community law. For instance, where a student is classified as a worker or as a child of a Community worker, the principle of equal treatment applies to other aspects of academic life as well, i.e. enrolment and maintenance grants, general academic benefits, and any other measure designed to facilitate the student’s education.
II. Information concerning the national education system
Compulsory education: primary and lower secondary education
Structure and duration
School attendance is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16, and the requirement covers both primary school (ecole elementaire) and lower secondary school (college). Generally, pupils leaving the college (4 years) are 15 years of age; therefore they must still attend school full-time for at least one more year to satisfy the compulsory schooling requirement. Normally, they do so in a general and technological lycee or a vocational lycee. Primary education lasts five years from the age of 6 to the age of 11. It includes five classes divided into two cycles: the basic learning cycle which begins already in the upper section of nursery school (ecole maternelle) and continues in the first two years of primary school; and the consolidation cycle which covers the final three years before admission to the college. Lower secondary education lasts four years – 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd classes – for pupils from the age of 11 to 15. It is divided into three cycles: the 6th class is the cycle of adaptation; the 5th and the 4th classes are the central cycle; and the 3rd is the specialisation cycle.
The school year normally starts at the beginning of September and lasts for 36 weeks.
Attendance at primary school is compulsory for all children from the age of 6. As a rule, parents are required to enrol their children in the school area in which they live, but exceptions are possible. All pupils who have completed the consolidation cycle of primary school are admitted to college at the latest when they are 12 years old.
All compulsory schooling is provided free of charge. The cost of books and other teaching materials is often borne by the municipality in the case of primary schools and by the county councils (Conseils generaux) in the case of colleges.
The teaching of a foreign language in the last two years of the consolidation cycle of primary school has been introduced in certain schools on an experimental basis since 1989. Since 1995, teachers may, on a voluntary basis, give short, daily introductory classes in a foreign language to primary pupils (last year of basic learning cycle and first year of consolidation cycle).
At college, the study of a first foreign language is compulsory from the 6th class, and the study of a second foreign or regional language is possible (compulsory as from September 1998) from the 4th class.
1. Primary education:
Each child has a report book (livret scolaire) which informs parents of the proposal of the Teachers’ Council of the cycle attended concerning the child’s promotion to a higher class or cycle and the final decision taken. According to the pupil’s performance promotion can be delayed or advanced.
Marks are noted in a report which is sent to parents. Only in the 4th and 3rd classes are pupils’ results noted in a school report book and are taken into account for the award of the national certificate.
1. Primary education:
Children who complete normal school attendance or have difficulties that are not covered by special education are promoted automatically from primary school to the first year of secondary school. There is no final examination and each pupil has the right to be admitted in the 6th class of college.
At the end of the 3rd class pupils sit a national examination, and, if successful, are awarded the national certificate (diplome national du brevet). The certificate is awarded on the basis of marks achieved in the examination and of results during the 4th and 3rd classes. This is a general education certificate that does not determine future study options.
State financial assistance can be direct or indirect. Direct allowances are given at the beginning of the school year to pupils from the age of 6 to 16 on the basis of family income. Support for transport is also provided. Indirect allowances are given in the form of books and teaching materials provided free by municipalities and county councils. Sometimes municipalities also offer scholarships to support pupils in their studies.
Post-compulsory education: upper secondary education
Structure and duration
Upper secondary education is provided either in general and technological lycees, or in vocational lycees. The former prepare pupils in three years (2nd, 1st and final classes) for the general or technological Baccalaureat. The latter prepare pupils in two years for the CAP (vocational proficiency certificate) and the BEP (vocational studies certificate); two additional years enable pupils to prepare for the vocational Baccalaureat.
As in compulsory schooling, the school year usually starts in September and lasts 36 weeks.
Pupils’ admission to general and technological or vocational lycees depends on the choice of the pupil based on the advice of the teachers’ council, on his/her parents’ wishes and on the decision of an ad hoc committee.
State secondary education is free of charge.
Study of a foreign language is compulsory in general and technological lycees.
Pupils’ assessment is similar to that carried out in the college. The 2nd class plays an important role in the specialisation of pupils. At the beginning of the year all pupils are assessed in the basic disciplines and during the year they decide which course they want to take in the 1st class. These courses determine the kind of Baccalaureat they will obtain at the end of their studies.
Studies completed in general and/or technological lycees lead to a general or technological Baccalaureat examination. It is the key to admission to higher education and includes both compulsory and optional examinations. Only one examination session is organised each year; in each regional education authority, a selection committee, headed by a recteur, selects the examination subjects. An examination session is organised under the same conditions in September for candidates who were unable, for reasons beyond their control, to sit the examination at the end of the previous school year. Pupils who do not pass the Baccalaureat examination but have, on average, received marks equivalent to at least 8/20 can obtain a secondary school leaving certificate (certificat de fin d’etudes secondaires). This certificate does not entitle them to enter higher education.
For upper secondary education there are direct and indirect State allowances. Direct allowances consist mainly of family allowances and education grants (means-tested on the basis of family income). Indirect allowances consist mainly of tax relief.
University and non-University higher education
Structure and duration
Higher education is characterised by a great variety of institutions. Organisation and admission vary according to the type of institution and the purpose of the education provided. Higher education institutions include:
universities, which offer short courses (Baccalaureat + 2, first cycle) or long courses (Baccalaureat + 3 or more, second and third cycles);
public or private colleges or institutes, which provide higher vocational education under the supervision of various ministries. This takes the form of short courses (technological, commercial or paramedical training, etc.) or long courses of three or more years after the Baccalaureat (political science, engineering, commerce and management, veterinary science, notarial skills, architecture, telecommunications and art).
Post-Baccalaureat courses are offered by general and technological lycees: classes preparatoires aux grandes ecoles (CPGE); higher technical sections (STS), which prepare students in two years for the brevet de technicien superieur (BTS). Long courses are offered by the grandes ecoles, which can be private or public. Most private institutions which are recognised by decree of the Ministry for Higher Education have the right to award official certificates.
As a rule, the academic year runs from the beginning of October until the end of June.
Qualifications: to enroll at a university, applicants must hold a Baccalaureat or a certificate judged equivalent or must have the national diploma providing access to university studies (diplome d’acces aux etudes universitaires – DAEU). To enter a grande ecole, students must, after obtaining the Baccalaureat, prepare for the entry examination in a classe preparatoire aux grandes ecoles (CPGE). European citizens must possess the qualification allowing them to enter higher education in their home country.
Admission: universities are obliged to admit all Baccalaureat candidates to the first year of courses. Applicants to the grandes ecoles have to pass an entry examination, prepared for in a CPGE, admission to which is subject to scrutiny of the applicant’s school record by a committee of teachers in the CPGE itself. The entry examination is organised by the grandes ecoles themselves; admission to these institutions is very selective. Other higher-education establishments apply selection criteria and methods which they decide themselves (entry examinations, scrutiny of applicants’ records, interview, etc.). In addition to an entry examination, each grande ecole can apply its own selection criteria and methods. EU citizens are subject to the same rules as French students, but the registration procedure differs. EU citizens wishing to enroll at a university must apply through the cultural division of the French embassy in their country, and have to go through a procedure of pre-enrolment, unless they belong to special categories. Some of these categories are mentioned in the academic recognition section; those not included are the following:
students coming to France under inter-university agreements;
students who hold a French scholarship or an international organisation scholarship managed by a French institution;
political refugees; etc.
EU citizens wishing to enroll in all the other special institutions recruiting students by entry examination must apply directly to the institution of their choice. It is up to the institution concerned to decide on their admission.
Numerus clausus: no numerus clausus rules are applied by French universities, except the medical faculties. In other subjects, students are admitted according to the institutions capacity. However, students have to pass the two-year degree (DEUG or DEUST) to be admitted to continue for further degrees. Grandes ecoles always apply the numerus clausus rule.
Languages: to enter university, EU citizens must pass a language test to prove their oral and written knowledge of French. Some categories are excluded from this requirement. They are:
citizens of countries where French is the official language;
German students holding the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (general certificate of aptitude for higher education);
students holding the French-German Baccalaureat;
students holding the DALF (diplome approfondi de langue francaise).
Students applying to grandes ecoles have to pass an entry examination and must therefore know French already.
University tuition fees for courses leading to national degrees are fixed each year by a decree of the Minister responsible for higher education. Foreign students from an EU Member State, with the exception of Erasmus students, must pay these fees, unless they are receiving a grant from the Ministry responsible for higher education. The same applies to all public higher-education establishments. Public and private ecole superieure fees are higher and vary.
1.Recognition of certificate of aptitude for higher education:
The holders of a foreign secondary school or higher education certificate wishing to study in France should apply to the establishment of their choice: decisions concerning the recognition of diplomas are taken by the head of the establishment in question. A full or partial academic waiver may be granted by an education committee, which takes its decision on a case-by-case basis. Some courses, however, have different entry requirements (medicine, pharmacy, paramedical training, architecture, agronomy, music, dance, plastic arts, etc.)
2.Recognition of final qualifications:
Information on the recognition of higher education qualifications awarded by other EU countries can be obtained at NARIC centres.
At university level, intermediate and final qualifications are as follows:
first cycle: DEUG (diplome d’etudes universitaires generales) or DEUST (diplome d’etudes universitaires scientifiques et technologiques), lasting two years (Baccalaureat +2);
second cycle: basic and professional education leading to the degree of Licence (DEUG+1) and Maitrise (Licence+1); professional education leading to a technical Maitrise (DEUG+2); three-year study course leading to an engineering degree (Maitrise+1); study courses at IUP (university institutes of vocational education) and IUFM (university institutes for teacher training);
third cycle: professional education leading to a certificate of advanced specialised studies (diplome d’etudes superieures specialisees – DESS, Maitrise+1) or research training leading to an advanced studies certificate (diplome d’etudes approfondies – DEA). The DEA can be followed by the Doctorat. All public and private institutions and grandes ecoles provide a final certificate in their field of specialisation.
Grants: two types of scholarship are available for both French and European citizens: those awarded on social criteria and those awarded to third-cycle students on the basis of academic and social criteria. Social grants are awarded taking account of family income and outgoings and, in some cases, students’ incomes. They apply to students who are under the age of 26 when they submit their first application and who wish to study for a national or other approved degree on a full-time basis. Students in the first or second cycles, students studying engineering, medicine or pharmacy, and students studying for a teaching qualification lose their entitlement to a grant if they have to repeat part of their course.
Eligibility: scholarships are awarded on the basis either of family income and attendance at full-time courses or of students’ performance. Students must be enrolled in the first or second cycle, in technical higher education sections or in preparatory classes for grandes ecoles. They have to be under 26 if starting studies and promoted to the next class if already receiving a grant. University scholarships are awarded by the universities for third-cycle study courses (DESS, DEA and Doctorat). EU citizens are eligible for such aid in accordance with the Community rules explained in Section I.1 above.
III. Useful addresses
Primary and secondary education
The town hall (Mairie) in each municipality in France has an education department which is responsible for registering pupils in primary and pre-primary (nursery) schools.
It also provides parents with the addresses of the regional and district education offices which have all the necessary information on entry to secondary education establishments (first and second cycle).
With regard to pre-university education, parents should first contact the town hall of their municipality.
With regard to higher education, foreign students with the necessary diplomas should apply to the establishment of their choice. The regional education offices can supply details of establishments in the region in which the students will be living.
NARIC (Network of National Academic Recognition Information Centres)
Ministere de l’Education Nationale, de la Recherche et de la Technologie Sous-direction des relations multilaterales Bureau de l’accueil, de la mobilite et de l’information internationale – DRIC B3
110 rue de Grenelle F-75007 Paris
Tel: (+33) 1 126.96.36.199
Other useful addresses, as well as details of other Factsheets, are contained in the Citizens First Guides.
Note: This Citizens First Factsheet is intended to provide guidance on EU law for information purposes only. It has been prepared by the European Commission with the help of national authorities and contains information on the national implementation of EU law. You are advised that the texts of Community legal instruments should be relied upon in case of doubt concerning the extent of a right or obligation arising from EU law.