The two-part university landscape in France is unique in its form and shows that the promotion of the elite still occupies an important position within the French university system.
On the one hand, there are the universities (Universités) that are open to the general public and not restricted in admission. On the other hand, there are the elitist, non-university Grandes Écoles. The latter are the most prestigious educational institutions in France and act as a training center for the country’s young leaders. See map of France and Europe on directoryaah.
Universities in France
France has 74 universities, all of which are subordinate to the French Ministry of Education (Ministère de l’Éducation national, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche).
For many years it has been the declared goal of the French government to make the national universities more competitive. In order to give the universities more room for maneuver, they were gradually given greater autonomy rights. This should make them more competitive, not only against the Grandes Écoles, but also in international comparison. Today, for example, universities can manage their overall budget independently, dispose of their staff and pursue their own research strategies.
The state universities in France are traditionally responsible for teaching and research. Accordingly, they offer degrees at bachelor, master and doctoral level. The implementation of the Bologna Process is also known in France under the keyword LMD. The name is derived from the French-language names of the degrees: License (Bachelor), Master and Doctorat (doctorate).
Universities in France are characterized by a wide range of subjects. Similar to German universities, universities in France are divided into faculties (Facultés) and departments (Unités de Formation et de Recherche). Access to bachelor’s and master’s degrees is hardly regulated at public universities.
The so-called Instituts Universitaires de Technologie (IUT) and the Instituts Universitaires Professionalisés (IUP) are affiliated to the state universities. These institutes formally belong to the universities. However, they act largely independently. The IUT and IUP programs have a high level of practical relevance and lead to subject and profession-oriented degrees.
Instituts Universitaires de Technologie
To promote the training of technical managers in France, the first university technology institutes were founded in 1965. The IUT are known to this day for their short technical courses. They mainly offer training in the service and production sector as well as in applied research. The courses are developed in cooperation with companies, training centers and business representatives. This explains the high level of application relevance of the programs. As a rule, internships are integrated into the curriculum.
In addition, the IUT have the following characteristics:
- Type of course: two-year short courses (Filières Courtes)
- Degree: Diplôme Universitaire de Technologie (DUT)
- Perspectives: employment; one-year professional bachelor’s degree (License Professionelle).
A very good knowledge of French is required to study at an IUT (level B2 according to CEFR). In addition, unlike the universities, the IUT includes the subject-related performance of the applicants when selecting students. Job interviews or entrance tests often take place.
Instituts Universitaires Professionalisés
Based on the German universities of applied sciences, the French government established the university institutes for vocational, technological training in 1991. They are intended to represent an alternative to the subject-specific study at a Grande École. The courses offered by the IUP come mainly from the commercial, technical and scientific fields and are developed together with representatives from the various professions. It is therefore also characterized by a high level of practical relevance. Both university lecturers and business representatives are active in teaching.
The IUP programs are accessible to high school graduates with one or two years of study experience. Since the conversion of the study system to the LMD system, students at the IUP have been able to obtain a job-oriented master’s degree. After one year they usually first acquire the license and after another two years the Master Professionel.
The Instituts are catholiques, but not to be confused with the universities. They are sponsored by the Catholic Church, but just like the universities, they are based on the LMD system. Accordingly, they award the same state-recognized degrees. There are a total of five Instituts catholiques in France.
The French Grandes Écoles, also known as Écoles Supérieures, are the cadre forges for the future leadership elite in politics, business, administration, the military and culture. The first “Great Schools” emerged in the course of the French Revolution in response to the closure of the spiritually administered universities. They should serve to train highly qualified specialist civil servants.
The state Grandes Écoles are independent of each other and for the most part are subordinate to individual specialist ministries. This has the advantage that the ministries can train their future managers themselves. In addition to the state Grandes Écoles, there are now a large number of institutions that are privately or publicly sponsored. For example, there are private commercial colleges (Écoles de Commerce) that are responsible for training future managers.
Depending on the subject, different types of grandes écoles can be distinguished. The most popular types of universities include:
- Écoles d’Ingénieurs: engineering schools
- Écoles de Commerce: commercial, management and business schools
- Instituts d’études politiques: Institutes for political and social sciences
- Écoles Normales Supérieures: Elite universities for the training of professors, teachers and researchers
- Écoles vétérinaires: Veterinary schools
What all Grandes Écoles have in common is their strict admission procedure (concours). High school graduates in France prepare for the demanding written and oral entrance exams for two years as part of the often mandatory Classes Préparatoires. For foreign students, the Grandes Écoles sometimes carry out different selection procedures and offer various options for lateral entry.
The French elite universities are generally characterized by low student numbers and close personal support from the lecturers. The course is internationally oriented and the institutions often work together with foreign partner universities. Since they are designed to attract the next generation of management positions, the focus at the Grandes Écoles is on professional practice. In-house research usually plays a subordinate role compared to the universities.
The so-called Écoles Specialisées form a third pillar of the French university landscape. They are comparable to music academies, architecture schools and art colleges and offer subject-specific courses. The courses offered by the Écoles Specialisées also include training in professions in the catering and communication sectors, as well as in health and social care. The duration of study differs depending on the subject and type of study and is usually between two and five years.
Applicants for the Écoles Specialisées are usually selected using a selection process that is similar to the Grandes Écoles Concours. The Écoles Specialisées award state-recognized diplomas, but also some degrees that are not recognized by the Ministry of Education. Prospective students should therefore find out in advance to what extent recognition of their degree is guaranteed in Germany.