France's Conseil constitutionnel (constitutional court) ruled on Friday that free access to public higher education is a constitutional right in France.
The ruling appears to strike a blow to the French government's plans to significantly hike tuition fees to anyone from outside the EU who attends university in France.
At present, overseas students from outside the EU (which will of course include the UK after Brexit) pay the same tuition fees as French students – €170 a year for a bachelor’s degree and €243 for a master’s.
The low tuition fees have over the years made France an attractive place for overseas students to study, particularly in contrast to the USA where tuition fees regularly run into tens of thousands of dollars.
In the academic year 2017/18 340,000 foreign students came to France to study, making it the leading non-English speaking destination for overseas students.
But the French government wants to increase fees for foreign students to €2,770 for a bachelor's degree and €3,770 for a master's, new measures which officially came into force last month, although many French universities have so far not implemented them.
The decision was met with fury by students and education leaders, and as well as public protests, one group of students and professional associations brought the case to the Conseil constitutionnel, France's highest court that rules on constitutional matters.
However, although the ruling is a victory for the students group, there are still some unanswered questions, including a caveat in the court's ruling that “modest” fees can still be levied.
Bosses at French universities, who have in general been against the proposed hikes, are now demanding greater clarity from the government over what this ruling means.