Where do all the foreign students in France come from?

France has long been a popular destination for foreign students, a reputation the government wants to encourage with an ambitious target of 500,000 overseas students by 2027 - but where are they all coming from?

Where do all the foreign students in France come from?
Photo: AFP

New data has been released from Campus France that gives a breakdown of the most popular countries of origin for students in France.

And it shows some interesting trends as France become less popular with students on the European Erasmus programme, but better at attracting people from Africa and Asia – giving the country's universities a truly international feel.


France is the fourth most popular country for foreign students – and the top non-English speaking country- with 340,000 coming in the academic year 2017/18 – more than double the number that studied in France 15 years ago. 

Unsurprisingly, countries that have French as one of their official languages score highly, with the two biggest groups of foreign students – by quite some margin – Morocco and Algeria, which in the 2017/18 academic year sent 39,855 and 30,521 students respectively.

Also in the top 10 are Tunisia (12,842), Senegel (10,974), Côte d'Ivoire (8,085) and Cameroon (6,872) all of which, having been colonised by France at some point in their history, have French as one the the country's official languages.

The third biggest group of foreign students are Chinese – 30,072 students came to France from China in the academic year 2017/18.

Of the European nations Italy sent the most students with 13,341 followed by Germany (8,459), Spain (7,826) Portugal (5,091) and Belgium (4,798).

France, or more specifically Paris, has long been seen as an attractive destination for American students, particularly with the American University of Paris which teaches in English, but in fact American students are only the 11th most common in France, with 6,264 making the trip last year.

The highly popular Erasmus programme for European students continues to attract big numbers, but France has been steadily slipping in the rankings of places that Erasmus students want to come to. The lack of classes taught in English and a shortage of student accommodation have been blamed for putting off international students. 

As to what people come to France to study, science is the most popular topic among most of the foreign students.  French universities are regarded as world leaders in several areas including astrophysics, which attracts many people for further and post-graduate study.

The full top 20 countries are:

1. Morocco – 39,855
2. Algeria – 30,521
3. China – 30,072
4. Italy – 13,341
5. Tunisia – 12,842
6. Senegal – 10,974
7. Germany – 8,459
8. Côte d'Ivoire – 8085
9. Spain – 7,826
10. Cameroon – 6,878
11. USA – 6,264
12. Portugal – ,5901
13. Libya – 5,665
14. Vietnam – 5,589
15. Brasil – 5,423
16. Russia – 5,337
17. Congo – 4,875
18. Belgium – 4,798
19. Gabon – 4,549
20. Madagascar – 4,282

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France to make period products free for students

The French government said on Tuesday it would make period products free for students, joining a global drive to end "period poverty" - the inability to pay for menstrual protection.

France to make period products free for students
Last year, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free universal access to period products. Photo: Andy Buchanan / AFP

Higher Education Minister Frederique Vidal said that machines containing free tampons, sanitary towels and other period products would be installed in student residences and university health services in the coming weeks.

She added that the government aimed to make period protection “completely free of charge” for all by the start of the next academic year in September.

In November, Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free for all, blazing a trail that inspired feminists and anti-poverty campaigners around the world to also take up the issue of period poverty.

In England, free period products are available in all primary and secondary schools – a move New Zealand said last week it too would implement.

In December, President Emmanuel Macron had promised to also address the issue of period poverty.

Commenting on the plight of homeless women, he noted that “the fact of having your period in the street and to not be able to buy something to protect yourself and preserve your dignity” added to the humiliation they suffered.

The move to make sanitary protection free for students comes amid a growing focus on youth poverty following shock images of food banks being swamped by hard-up students due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many students say they are struggling to make ends meet after losing part-time jobs in cafes and restaurants which have been closed for months due to the health crisis.