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Foreign students: France returns to its pre-crisis level

Posted Nov 18, 2021, 10:00 AM

It’s a page that turns and as many worries that dissipate for universities and colleges. In 2020, the pandemic had led to a sharp drop in the number of foreign students. According to figures from the Ministry of the Interior, arrested at the end of October, France granted 79,000 visas to foreign students this year, a figure up 3% compared to 2019.

But the health crisis has changed the landscape. “Students do not necessarily come from the same areas, because Asia is still largely closed”, indicates Béatrice Khaiat, director general of Campus France, in an interview with “Echos”. According to the agency for the promotion abroad of higher education, the number of students from the Asia-Pacific zone fell by 35% compared to 2019. Latin America and non-French-speaking Africa are , also down. Conversely, France welcomes more students from the Maghreb (+16% compared to 2019), French-speaking Africa (+17%), Lebanon (+50%), the United States (+43% ) or Turkey (+30%).

Chinese and Australian uncertainties

Something to “redesign” the landscape of international student mobility, continues Béatrice Khaiat. “After Trump, the United States, which has never lost its first place, will recover and its attractiveness will be reinforced,” she predicts, while she wonders about the effects of the strategy. of China which “has closed its borders in both directions”.

Over the last ten years, China is in fact the country which has sent the most students beyond its borders, underlines the Campus France agency in a study which it has just published on the occasion of its ten years of existence. The evolution of Australia, which still occupies the third place in the world but which has closed itself to the many Chinese and Indian students it welcomed, could allow France to “go up” in the world ranking of mobility, suggests Beatrice Khaiat.

In the ongoing recomposition, we will also have to take into account Brexit: “Even if we do not know the real impact because the United Kingdom does not distinguish between the share of distance learning students and the share of those who are face-to-face, the Brexit has already had a strong impact on the number of European students,” underlines Béatrice Khaiat.

No “stall”

In ten years, international mobility has increased by 57%, while it has only increased by 30% in France, which has gone from 4th to 6th place in the world, overtaken by Germany in 2017 and then by France. Russia in 2018. At the end of 2018, Matignon had also spoken of a risk of “dropping out”.

What about three years later? “I would not speak of dropping out, retorts Béatrice Khaiat. In ten years, competition has increased and the number of French students going abroad has increased. The relative share of France has fallen, but by occupying 6th place, France remains a great host country,” she adds. The world now has 5.6 million international students, up from 3.5 million ten years ago.

More lessons in English

At the end of 2018, the executive had undertaken to welcome 500,000 foreign students by 2027. There were 324,000 at the time, compared to 367,000 today, recently recalled the Minister of Higher Education, Frédérique Vidal. Béatrice Khaiat considers the objective tenable. “France is the country that sends the largest number of Erasmus students, at the rate of 50,000 per year, she underlines. When we send students, we receive more, it’s a logic of reciprocity”.

However, to “attract talent from all over the world”, “it is absolutely necessary to develop teaching in English from the first cycle, she insists, because some students will not learn French before coming to France”. France only offers 1,700 courses in English, mainly at the masters and doctorate levels and in a few bachelor’s degrees from management schools.

“We want more foreign students”

“First of all, we have to say that we want more foreign students, because not everyone is on this line”, slips the general manager of Campus France who has just launched a global communication campaign called “Rendez- you in France”.

“I want to halve the immigration of students who come to France,” said right-wing primary candidate Xavier Bertrand last Sunday. If this were the case, “France would be behind all the major countries that want to weigh in on the global strategy, we would come out of the top 10 and we would place ourselves between Malaysia and Argentina, reacts Béatrice Khaiat. Above all, French students could no longer go abroad, because the exchanges proceed from a logic of reciprocity”.

Two-thirds of foreign students enrolled in university

France welcomes 365,000 foreign students, according to Campus France figures for 2021, an increase of 30% since 2010. Two-thirds (66%) are enrolled in university, 13% in management schools, 8% in schools engineering, 5.5% in upper secondary school courses and about 3% in art or architecture schools.

At university, half of foreign students are enrolled in a bachelor’s degree, and the other half in a master’s and doctorate (41% in a master’s and 9% in a doctorate). In universities, the sciences (31%, including 23% in basic sciences) and the humanities bring together the majority of these students (62%). Next come economics and management (16%), humanities and social sciences (12%), law and political science (11%) and health (8%).

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