French students turn to the international stage
French higher-education institutions have developed relationships with their counterparts in other countries and more and more students are moving abroad for all or part of their studies. A considerable asset in the business world, which now has a clearly international focus.
Young people may have been slow to come round to the idea, but mobility amongst European students is now increasingly popular, particularly in France. Between now and 2020, 20% of graduates are expected to have completed part of their studies abroad, according to an estimate produced by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research.
In 2009-2010, almost 100,000 French students were studying abroad, an increase of 6.9% according to a survey by the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. North America attracted 18,743 students. Asia and the Middle East have also proved popular, with a total of 12,074 students. Next come Latin America and Africa. Again in 2009-2010, according to the Ministry of Higher Education, 66,216 young French men and women studied in one of the 34 countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, compared with 62,264 in 2007-2008.
Europe remains by far the most popular destination, with 61,234 students. In 2008-2009, 28,283 young French students took part in an Erasmus exchange programme, which lasts an average of seven months; this was an increase of 9% compared with the previous year and 35% compared with 2003. Spain, which has been made popular by Cédric Klapish’s famous film L’Auberge espagnole (Pot Luck), is still the favourite choice: more than 22% opted for a university in the Iberian peninsula. The United Kingdom and Germany attracted 18.7% and 12% of students respectively. Next came Italy and Sweden, each taking 6.7% of French students. It is interesting to note the increasing enthusiasm for the Scandinavian countries, particularly Norway, and the countries of Eastern Europe: Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Romania. The work placement element of the Erasmus programme has been running for two years and is proving increasingly popular, attracting 39% more students than in 2007-2008. As a result, almost 4,800 French students have been placed in European Union businesses.
Students in social sciences, business and law are the most mobile, representing 41% of those who opt to study abroad. On average, international studies on a management course last around six months and almost 21% of young managers begin their career abroad. Next come humanities and arts students (21%), engineers (17%) and scientists, mathematicians and computer scientists (13%).
Several sources of funding are available for students wishing to study abroad. The international mobility subsidy, for students who are already in receipt of a grant, is set at €400 a month in addition to the normal grant. It is paid by the Centres régionaux des œuvres universitaires et scolaires to beneficiaries identified by their own institutions. A student taking part in an Erasmus exchange can be awarded an average of €200 a month and is not charged an additional enrolment fee. An Erasmus grant can also be allocated for work placements (over €400 a month). Selected students can be given Erasmus Mundus grants to prepare a master’s or doctorate. The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs offers grants to students heading for the Collège d’Europe in Bruges and Natolin. Other ministries, organisations, foundations and associations in France and abroad, as well as local authorities, also provide funding.
Some students, particularly those living in border regions, organise their own projects, but most of the time, and increasingly so, courses, further training and placements abroad are run as part of an organised exchange programme. France was one of the first countries to adopt the so-called LMD (licence-master-doctorat or bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate) system to tackle the difficulty of gaining recognition for qualifications earned abroad. Many countries have now introduced reforms to standardise training programmes and qualifications.
More and more of France’s elite grandes écoles and other universities are developing international partnerships to create integrated courses not only in Europe but also in the United States. Bachelor’s and master’s courses delivered in partnership and joint tutoring of theses resulting in double or joint degrees are excellent drivers of student mobility. Organising partnerships is often a complex and costly business, however institutions can approach the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs for methodological support and financial assistance. One example is the Alliance programme, supported by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Ile-de-France Regional Council, which brings together three major French universities and Columbia University in the United States for joint bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral courses. The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs is also involved in US university foundations as an equal partner with Berkeley, Stanford and Chicago universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to support bilateral educational projects. It also manages the Curie database of higher education systems in foreign countries based on information provided by the French embassies there.
International cooperation in higher education has therefore changed in many ways and institutions are now well aware of its importance in stimulating research and developing a better multidisciplinary approach. The experience of studying abroad not only gives French students an excellent opportunity to study the language of their host country, but also helps them to be more independent, adaptable and open to the world. Enhancing their university studies in this way can only be an advantage when it comes to attracting the attention of employers.
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