‘Lack of English’ holding back French universities

Only two French universities made it into the top 100 of a new global ranking. A problem with branding and a lack of research in English explains the poor scores, says the man behind the annual league table.

'Lack of English' holding back French universities
French universities have fallen in the global rankings once again. Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot

A new global rankings for the world’s universities was published this week, but French institutions are nowhere near the top of the pile and more worryingly they continue to slide down the scale.

In fact only two universities in France made it into the top 100 of this year’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Although there were seven in the top 200, many of the French institutions including the École Normale Superieure, in Paris and the Pierre and Marie Curie University slipped down the rankings. (SEE TABLE)

Phil Baty, the editor of the annual league table believes France’s institutions still have a problem with branding and have failed to embrace English in the same way that many other countries' universities have done.

“It has been another seriously disappointing year for France in the global rankings, as almost all French universities in the top 400 have fallen down the list,” he said.

“It seems France has a problem with its branding – it has some of the best known university names in the world, but its higher education system and structure is not very well understood around the world.

“Language is also an issue. More and more universities, in Europe and Asia in particular, are increasingly publishing research in English, to ensure the widest possible dissemination and impact, but France is behind here,” Baty adds.

Last year the French government passed a reform bill for higher education, one of the most controversial aspects of which was a relaxation of the rules to allow more courses to be taught in English in a bid to attract more international students.

Baty told The Local that these reforms may help French universities but other problems still remain.

“There’s a general lack of knowledge around the world of the French system, a lack of profile and reputation.

“It’s a fairly complex system and it’s seen as a branch of the civil service," he said.

Baty did however add that there were some positive signs in France that “the government seems to be committed to investing”.

The top of the rankings were, perhaps as expected, dominated by American institutions, with the California Institute of Technology topping the league table, with Harvard in second place.

The US took seven of the top ten places and 15 of the top 20.

The UK’s University of Oxford took third place in the rankings.

In contrast to France, Germany had a strong year, gaining two additional top 200 universities to take its total to 12, putting it third behind the US and UK.

Switzerland also continued to punch above its weight with seven top-200 universities and the number-one ranked university outside of the US and UK, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich, which moved up one place to 13th.

Italy, meanwhile, only had one institution in the top 200, the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (SNS), which was ranked 63rd.

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Who are all these international students in France and where do they study?

France is the fourth most popular country in the world for international students, with thousands of Americans, British and Australians coming here to study. Here's what you need to know about them.

Who are all these international students in France and where do they study?
Photo: AFP
France is continuing to attract foreign students, with 310,000 choosing to study here over 2015, a 7 percent jump compared to 2012.
This is enough to make France the fourth most popular study-abroad country, after the US, the UK, and Australia. 
The stats come courtesy of Campus France, an organisation run by the French government that assists foreign students in their university applications.
Here's a closer look at the international students in France. 
Where do they come from?
In 2015, the most represented country among the foreign students in France was Morocco (37,000), followed by China (28,000), and Algeria (23,000).
Students from these three countries made up 27 percent of the total population of international students (see graph below).  
In Europe, the most popular origins were Italy (11,188), Germany (8,532), and Spain (6,817).
Meanwhile, there were 5,725 who came from the US, which marked a 2.1 percent increase since 2014, and a 22 percent increase since 2010. 
There was also a 10 percent increase in students coming to France from Australasia, bringing to total to around 25,000.
There were a further 4,022 from the UK, a 1.3 percent increase on 2014 and an 18.1 percent increase since 2010. 
Campus France’s director general, Béatrice Khaiat said she expects the number of students coming to France from the UK and the US to increase in the coming years.
“The current situation can be even more favourable to our country: the announcements made in the United States and the United Kingdom to foreign students could encourage students, parents, and even governments in fellowship programs to reorient their choice to France as a study destination,” Khaiat predicted 

While more students are flocking to France every year, France is actually losing its share of the market, as the graph below shows. 
The number of students choosing to study abroad (seen in red below) is soaring at a far higher rate than the number of students coming to France (in blue). 
The numbers below, which are in thousands, highlight how many more students are choosing to study internationally, with Canada and China enjoying particularly large booms in their international student populations, according to Campus France
Where in France do they study?
The most popular places to study for foreign students were Paris at 59,179, followed by Versailles at 26,588, and Lyon at 24,150 (see map below). 
Other notable cities included Creteil at 21,500, Lille at 15,500, and Toulouse at 15,000. 
It was Nice that saw the biggest three-year jump (since 2012), with 25.4 percent more international students choosing the southern city (for a total of 9,202). 

Grenoble, which was named France's best student city late last year, attracted a respectable 11,029 students, up over 12 percent between 2012 and 2015.
Other cities with over 10,000 international students included Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and Montpellier. 
What do they study?
As for what they actually study, the graph below shows that most opt for courses in languages, arts, and humanities. 
The second most popular field was sport sciences, followed by economics, law, and medicine.  
Some 46 percent are in France as part of an undergraduate degree, while 43 percent are here for a Master's degree. Another 11 percent are here for their doctorate. 

So what next?
Well, now you know what you can expect and who you might meet – and you can always click the link below to find out more about visas and student life. But wait, there's more. 
We are making a push to provide more content for our readers who are international students. If you're a foreigner and you're spending this semester studying in France – then we want to hear from you. Especially if you're keen on getting some of your writing published, or feel like letting us know what's going on around campus. 
What are you waiting for? Introduce yourself to us via: [email protected] And best of luck this semester.