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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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POLITICS

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What’s in France’s 2023 budget?

France's finance minister has unveiled the government's financial plans for the next year, and says that his overall aim is to 'protect' households in France from inflation and rises in the cost of living - here's what he announced.

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What's in France's 2023 budget?

The 2023 Budget was formally presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, before economy minister Bruno Le Maire announced the main details to the press. 

The budget must now be debated in parliament, and more details on certain packages will be revealed in the coming days, but here is the overview;

Inflation – two of the biggest measures to protect households from the rising cost of living had already been announced – gas and electricity prices will remain capped in 2023, albeit at the higher rate of 15 percent, while low-income households will get a €100-200 grant. The energy price cap is expected to cost the government €45 billion in 2023.

EXPLAINED: What your French energy bills will look like in 2023

Property renovations – the MaPrimeRenov scheme, which gives grants to householders for works that make their homes more energy-efficient, will be extended again into 2023, with a budget of €2.5 billion to distribute.

Income tax – the income tax scale will be indexed to inflation in 2023, so that workers who get a pay increase to cope with the rising cost of living don’t find themselves paying more income tax. “Disposable income after tax will remain the same for all households even if their salary increases,” reads the 2023 Budget.

Pay rises –  pay will increase for teachers, judges and other civil servants as inflation is forecast to reach 4.3 percent next year after 5.4 percent in 2022. Around €140 million is assigned to increase the salaries of non-teaching staff in schools. 

New jobs – nearly 11,000 more public employees will be hired, in a stark reversal of President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign promise to slash 120,000 public-sector jobs – 2,000 of these jobs will be in teaching. 

Small business help – firms with fewer than 10 employees and a turnover of less than €2 million will also benefit from the 15 percent price cap on energy bills in 2023. The finance ministry will put in place a simplified process for small businesses to claim this aid. In total €3 billion is available to help small businesses that are suffering because of rising costs. 

Refugees – In the context of the war in Ukraine, the government plans to finance 5,900 accommodation places for refugees and asylum seekers in various reception and emergency accommodation centres. The budget provides for a 6 percent increase in the “immigration, asylum and integration” budget.

Cigarettes – prime minister Elisabeth Borne had already announced that the price of cigarettes will rise “in line with inflation”.

Ministries – Le Maire also announced the budget allocation for the various ministries. The Labour ministry is the big winner with an increase of 42.8 percent compared to last year, coupled with the goal to reach full employment by 2027. Education gets an increase of €60.2 billion (or 6.5 percent more than in 2022), much of which will go on increasing teachers’ salaries, while the justice and environment ministries will also see increased budgets.

Conversely, there was a fall in spending for the finance ministry itself.

Borrowing –  the government will borrow a record €270 billion next year in order to finance the budget. “This is not a restrictive budget, nor an easy one – it’s a responsible and protective budget at a time of great uncertainties,” said Le Maire. 

The government is tabling on growth of one percent, a forecast Le Maire defended as “credible and pro-active” despite an estimate of just 0.5 percent GDP growth by the Bank of France, and 0.6 percent from economists at the OECD.

The public deficit is expected to reach five percent of GDP, as the EU has suspended the rules limiting deficit spending to three percent of GDP because of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Parliament

The budget plans now need to be debated in parliament where they are likely to face fierce opposition. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist LREM party and its allies lost their majority in elections earlier this year.

Macron also plans to push ahead with a pension reform that would gradually start pushing up the official retirement age from 62 currently, setting up a standoff with unions and left-wing opposition parties.

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