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EDUCATION

Will international students still come to France this year?

The coronavirus pandemic has hampered the plans of many international students wanting to study in France. So how are universities coping with the situation?

Will international students still come to France this year?
Each year, thousands of foreign students come to Paris. Photo: AFP

The traditional la rentrée (the French term for returning to school and work after the summer) has so far been dominated by face masks and hand sanitising gel, but lacking of international students.

With more than 300,000 foreign students coming  every year, France is one of the most popular higher education destinations in the world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put the brakes on this year's arrivals and created difficulties for international students, making both the process of getting a visa and a flight over to France complicated affairs.

Eric, a graduate from Chicago, who was supposed to study tourism at the Sorbonne 1 University in Paris this autumn saw his plans postponed by Covid-19.

“Once the full travel ban was relaxed in July allowing for essential travel, it took over six weeks for an opening visa appointment with VFS Global in Chicago, (the body in charge of issuing visas)” he told The Local. 

“Besides the issues with the pandemic, the two-three month lockdown delayed the acceptance letter which pushed everything back with housing, visas, flights etc. which are all tied together.”

“As it stands it will delay my arrival three to four weeks after classes start,” he said.

READ ALSO: Why 'la rentrée' means so much more in French than a new school year

The Sorbonne in Paris. Photo: Vladislav Bezrukov / Flickr

Plans delayed

Eric is not the only one who saw his plans to come to France delayed.

One hundred students from India enrolled at the French business school ESSEC were unable to attend their semester start at the end of August because they didn’t get their visas on time.

“Universities are flexible and are willing to accept international students even if they arrive after semester start,” Florent Bonnaventure, the head of Communication & Studies Department at Campus France, an organisation that helps foreign students, told the Local.

“Regarding visas, as soon as French consulates reopened, priority was given to international students and researchers,” said Bonnaventure.

 “Since August 15th, they are on the list of exemptions to the travel ban and can come to France. Visa issuing has started again, and while not all of them have been issued, the process is ongoing,” he said.

So will there be a noticeable downturn in the number of international students coming to France?

“We don’t have set figures on a potential drop,” said Bonnaventure from Campus France.

“What we know is that applications have gone up 20 percent and that the number of offers of admission are about the same as last year. Some are still in process, some have delayed their arrival, others defer it for a year. (…) We’ll know more in the autumn, but we hope the decrease will be limited.”

READ ALSO: What international students should know before apartment hunting in Paris

A fall in the number of students

But universities prepare for a scenario where many students won't be able to come at all.

With 85 percent of their students being international students, the American University in Paris said it predicted a drop in campus numbers this autumn despite the travel ban being lifted for students. 

“Some of our students have had trouble securing appointments for their visas or obtaining the necessary PCR test within 72 hours of traveling. Given rapidly evolving legislation that can vary from country to country, on top of the uncertainty of travel in general, we expect fewer students on campus this fall,” AUP's Provost Dr. William Fisher told The Local. 

The University of Poitiers in west-central France, which welcomes many students from Latin America, said it expected at least 20 percent of enrolled foreign students to experience difficulties that may even prevent them for taking up their places.

Sciences Po’s head of international affairs Vanessa Scherrer is on the contrary quite confident.

“There will be more international students than in 2019-2020”, she told Le Figaro.

 

 

According to a survey led by the school, 68 percent of international students said they would be coming despite the ongoing crisis.

Out of the 14,000 students at Sciences Po, 47 percent are international and losing them would have been catastrophic for the university.

READ ALSO: Being an international student in France: What you need to know

A double campus, online and offline

In order to cope with the situation, universities have adapted to be able to teach both on campus and online.

“Our focus this semester is on in-person learning on campus, but we are preparing to teach hybrid classes where some students are on site and some are online”, AUP's Dr. William Fisher told The Local. 

“Classrooms have been fitted with new cameras and microphones to ensure the smooth delivery of content whether a student is in the room or across the globe. Most of our teaching will be in synchronous classes but in instances where many students are remote and in distant time zones some of the work will be asynchronous,” he said. 

Regarding the future, “we continue to expect the unexpected and to plan for multiple scenarios,” he said. 

A student wearing a face mask on the deserted campus of Bordeaux University on April 1, 2020. Photo: AFP.

Students reluctant to come

Practical difficulties aside, some students are simply reluctant to live abroad during the pandemic.

“We have cancellations from students who are scared to come to France because they fear that there will be a second wave and that they will get stuck here. In some cases, it even comes from their universities who forbids them from coming,” said Christine Fernandez, the vice-president in charge of international students at the University of Poitiers to France Info.

The students themselves have expressed concerns about the health issues but also the restrictions on daily life, such as obligatory face mask rules, that may impact their time in France.

“Covid has also made me worry about my health and immune system given the increasing cases and compulsory wearing of masks everywhere. Moving is already stressful enough,” Eric told The Local.   

“In reality, who really wants to explore and enjoy Paris and France masked all the time. Let alone how this will impact teaching, socialising and participating on campus in and outside of the classroom. It is a complete downer,” he said.  

“If they will allow me to defer one year and hold a place for 2021, I'll likely take it,” he said. 

By Olivia Sorrel Dejerine

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MONEY

Revealed: What will you receive from France’s €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

The French parliament has finally passed a massive €65 billion package of measures aimed at helping French residents with the spiralling cost of living. Here's a rundown of the help on offer, who it's available to and when it comes into effect.

Revealed: What will you receive from France's €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

After three weeks of sometimes heated debate, France’s parliament has adopted its multi-part purchasing power package to help mitigate rising cost of living and inflation.

In total, parliament approved a budget of nearly €65 billion for the whole package. 

It includes a raft of measures including price shields, tax rebates and grants. Here’s what is included and who will benefit.

Electricity and gas The government has voted to extend the tariff shield on gas and electricity prices until the end of the year: this means that gas prices will continue to remain frozen and that price hikes for electricity prices will be capped at four percent. 

For who: This applies to everyone who has a gas or electricity account in France.

When: The price freeze is already in effect and will continue until at least December 31st.

Fuel subsidy – The government’s fuel rebate (on petrol/gasoline and diesel) will be increased from €0.18 per litre to €0.30 in September and October, and then in November and December it will fall to €0.10. 

For who: All drivers (including tourists) – this is applied automatically at all fuel stations in France

When: The €0.18 per litre rebate is already in place and remains until August 31st, and rises to €0.30 on September 1st.

Pensions – The index point for pensions will be raised by four percent.

Who: This covers anyone who receives a French pension – roughly 14 million people – it does not affect anyone who gets a pension from another country.

When: From September 9th. 

Abolishing the TV licence fee – The annual TV licence raised €3.7 billion a year for public broadcasting, with the majority having gone toward France Télévisions, but has now been scrapped. It was €138 per household. 

For who: Any household with a television. This equates to about 23 million households in France who will no longer have to pay this yearly tax.

When: The was due to be levied on November 15th, but this year no bills will be sent out.

Tripling the Macron bonus – The maximum annual bonus – which is exempt from income and social security taxes – will be tripled.

It is a one time, tax-free payout that can be given to workers by their employers – if they chose to. Companies will now be able to pay up to €3,000 to their employees (and up to €6,000 for those with a profit-sharing scheme).

Who: This pertains to salariés (employees) whose businesses choose to offer this bonus.

When: The bonus can be paid between August 1st and December 31st.

Rent cap – Rent increases will be limited to 3.5 percent per year for existing tenants. Some cities already have in place their own rent control schemes, but the 3.5 percent cap is nationwide.

Who – This affects anyone who already has a tenancy agreement for a property in France (and also affects all landlords who are banned from making big rent hikes).

When – The 3.5 percent cap concerns annual rent increases that fall between July 2022 and June 2023.

Housing allowance – Those who benefit from personalised assistance for housing (APL) will see that increased by 3.5 percent.

Who: This pertains to those who qualify for governmental financial assistance with rent. Typically, this means low-income households. If you are already on APL – around 3.5 million people – the increase will be automatic, if you think you might qualify, apply through your local CAF.

When: The increase comes in your next payment, with the increased rate backdated to July 1st 2022.

Social benefits – The RSA top-up benefit will be increased by four percent (local authorities, who deal with RSA, will receive €600 million to help them finance and allocate this increase). Additionally, those who benefit from the ‘prime d’activité‘ (activity bonus) will see that value raised by four percent as well.

Who: Unemployed people below the age of 25 can qualify for RSA – this pertains to about 1.9 million people in France. The activity bonus is available to low-income workers – about 4.3 million people.

When: Catch-up payments will be in place from August 18th to September 5th. On September 5th, the updated payment will begin to be paid out.

Student grants – An increase of 4 percent for student grants (bourses) for higher education

Who: Students under the age of 28 who qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants. These students must qualify as ‘financially precarious’ for the school year of 2022-2023.

When: September 2022

Back-to-school grants – Families who meet certain income requirements are eligible for an allowance to help cover back-to-school costs – that grant will increase by four percent this year. There will also be an extra €100 subsidy for eligible families (with an additional €50 per child) paid “to those who need it most” according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with RTL. 

Who: Low-income families with children. You can test your family’s eligibility on the website www.service-public.fr. This aid will impact 10.8 million households.

When: The one time payment will be paid at the start of the school-year in September.

The option to convert overtime days into extra cash – This is encompassed in two measures: increasing the ceiling of tax exempt overtime hours to €7,500 and opening the possibility for companies to buy back RTT days from their employees.

Eligible employees covered by the 35-hour week agreement accrue time in lieu if they work overtime, known as RTT days. Currently this time is taken as extra vacation days, but now employees will have the option to forgo the time off and instead be paid extra.

Who: For the buying back of RTT days, this applies to employees (salariés) who have an RTT agreement with their company.

For the increased cap on non-taxed overtime work, this applies to a range of employees, such as those who have 35-hour per week contracts and have their employer request that they work overtime or those who work beyond their part-time contract amount. You can learn more about whether you have the ability to declare overtime hours HERE

When: The RTT days buyout will run from between January 1st, 2022 to December 31st, 2025. For employees eligible for tax-free overtime compensation, the ceiling of €7,500 will only be in place for the year 2022.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is France’s 35-hour week such a sacred cow?

Pay rise for public sector workers – public sector pay will get a four percent rise in the index.

Who: Anyone employed in France as a fonctionnaire (eg civil servants, teachers, librarians).

When: This will be retroactive to July 1st

Assistance for some self-employed workers – A reduction in health and maternity insurance contributions will be introduced for low-earning self-employed workers. “Microentrepreneurs” will also benefit from a reduction in their flat-rate contributions.

Who: Self-employed workers whose monthly income does not exceed 1.6 times the minimum wage and who are registered as ‘microentrepeneurs’

When: TBC

The biometric carte vitale –  The Senate introduced this into the purchasing power package, but it is not a benefit. It will involve the implementation of a biometric carte vitale health card to “fight against social fraud” by adding an electronic chip with biometric data on it to health insurance cards. You can read more HERE.

Who: Everyone who is registered in the French health system and has a carte vitale (about 60 million people)

When: Lawmakers will begin plans to implement the plans in Autumn 2022, but it’s not clearly exactly what form the rollout will take.

How much will these measures impact inflation?

Some measures will likely be more effective than others. For instance, the extension of the tariff shield and increase of the fuel rebate in the early fall is largely to thank for France’s inflation level being two points lower than the European average, according to INSEE.

On the other hand, the tripling of the ceiling for the (optional) Macron bonus will likely not make a large difference. This is because it will likely not be widely taken advantage of, as last year only 4 million French people received the optional bonus, with the approximate average of the bonus having been only €500.

The pension changes will impact about 14.8 million people in France. However, according to economist Christopher Dembik, the revalorsation values are based on actual inflation and not on inflation expectations. “These revaluation measures will be too weak by the time they will be implemented,” Dembik said to French daily Le Parisien.

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