France - higher education system

French Flag  is a tricolour featuring three vertical bands coloured royal blue, white and red
Country: France
Population (mln): 65,07
Official language/s: French
Internet TLD: .fr
Calling code: +33
Member of the EU from: 25th March 1957
Unemployment rate Sep 2011 (%): 9,6
Unemployment rate under 25 years Sep 2011 (%): 22,2
Unemployment rate Sep 2012 (%): 10,8
Unemployment rate under 25 years Sep 2012 (%): 25,7
Population statistics 20-29 age group 2011 (%): 12,6
Country codes in education system: FR
Expected duration of education (years): 16,4

The French higher education system is characterised by the coexistence of several types of institution. They belong to different legal categories, defined in the Education Code. There are: universities; grands établissements publics (major public institutions); grandes écoles (elite schools); administrative public institutions; private higher institutions or schools.

The first cycle programmes is represented by : Bachelors (3-year-course) and some Short-cycle course (2 years of studies), corresponding to a first cycle level, mainly concern the industrial, service and paramedical sectors.

Bachelor - branches of Study

The "licence" (or bachelor degree) in the LMD system replaced the former university first cycle of studies leading to a " diplôme d'études universitaires générales " (DEUG) prepared in two years and followed by a "licence" (or bachelor degree) prepared in one year. University studies leading to the "licence" (LMD) are structured into six semesters (3 university years). They are organised into domains, in the form of standard initial and continuing training courses. These courses lead to the awarding of various "licences" that confirm a validated level by obtaining 180 European credits. They allow the awarding, on the intermediate level, of various types of national diplomas validating a level corresponding to 120 European credits. The courses in particular pursue the goals defined for the diplôme d'études universitaires générales (DEUG), multidisciplinary "licences", the public administration "licence", the diplôme universitaire de technologie (DUT - university technological diploma); the diplôme d'études universitaires et techniques (DEUST - university and technical studies diploma) and the national guide-interpreter's diploma.

Universities can also organise courses targeting new objectives, either in terms of the "licence" or an intermediate level.

One of the objectives of the Minister's policy is to reduce the "licence" failure rate. To do so, the multiannual plan for success in "licence" (for the period 2008-2012) was launched in 2007. It involves considerable investments to achieve three major objectives:
  • Making the "licence" a national qualification, both for professional integration and further studies;
  • Strongly reducing the failure rate in the first year of "licence";
  • Contributing to achieving the objective aimed at ensuring that 50% of an age category gains a higher education diploma.

Short-Cycle Higher Education - Branches of Study

These two-year courses, corresponding to a first cycle level, mainly concern the industrial, service and paramedical sectors.

Courses leading to the following diplomas may be cited:

  • Diplôme universitaire de technologie (DUT - technology university diploma) prepared in two years in instituts universitaires de technologie (IUT - technological university institutes). There are currently 25 specialisms (including one experimental) 15 of which are in production and 10 in services. Teaching units (UEs) acquired by students can now be added up and lead to the attribution of European credits (ECTS). It takes 120 credits to obtain the DUT, at a rate of 30 European credits per validated semester. Moreover, decree no. 84-1004 of 12 November 1984 relating to technological university institutes states that admission is automatic for students having received the "bien" (good) or "très bien" (very good) grade in the technological baccalauréat whose professional field is consistent with the university institute department to which the student has applied.
  • Diplôme national de technologie spécialisée (DNTS - national specialised technological diploma), created in 1994, obtained after a specialised technological course, alternating between university training and placement in a company. It corresponds to year's training after a DUT or BTS and specifically meets the requirements of professional sectors. DNTS courses are currently being phased out in favour of professional "licences".
  • Diplôme d'études universitaires scientifiques et techniques (DEUST - university and technical studies diploma), prepared in two years, allows students to enter professional life directly. The number of these courses has tended to drop owing to the development of IUTs and STS (advanced technical institutions). Some universities, as well as schools supervised by the Department of Social Affairs, also run paramedical courses leading to a diploma qualifying for the following professions: speech therapist, orthoptist, hearing aid specialist, midwife, social worker, etc. Some of these courses are jointly organised with the Department of Health: masseurs - physiotherapists, nurses. This diploma will be phased out with the introduction of the new university diploma structure, LMD.
  • Brevet de technicien supérieur (BTS - Advanced Technician's Diploma), prepared in advanced technician sections (STS) open in more than 2,000 lycées (public, private under contract and private non-contract). The course lasts two years, is more specialised than courses leading to the DUT (see above) and corresponds to precise functions. BTS specialisms are broken down into domains: Art and applied art, Agriculture-food processing, mechanics, chemistry, electronics, electricity, Services/Business… The integration of BTS courses within the framework of the European higher education area was confirmed by decree 2007-540 of 11 April 2007. The BTS has thus been integrated within courses leading to the "licence" (bachelor degree) and it has been confirmed that passing the diploma earns the holder 120 ECTS credits. The same decree stipulates that admission is automatic for pupils and apprentices having obtained in the same year a "bien" (good) or "très bien" (very good) grade in the technological baccalauréat whose professional field is consistent with the DUT to which the student has applied.
  • The Professional "Licence" (professional bachelor degree) satisfies European commitments to set up a course to obtain a diploma adapted to the requirements of the European employment market as well as demand for new qualifications between the advanced technician and engineer-executive manager. It should enable students to rapidly acquire a professional qualification satisfying clearly identified requirements and professions. In initial training, the course is open to diversified groups of students coming from STS or IUT but also second year of general "licence". Differentiated courses lead young people from different backgrounds to the same qualifications. The professional "licence" is prepared in one year (or two semesters) after the DUT, BTS or 2 years of general "licence" (bachelor degree) and leads to the awarding of 18 European credits (ECST). It is also open to continuing training and thus offers working technicians the possibility of developing their career. It also accepts the validation of experience acquisition (VAE).

Second Cycle Programmes - Branches of Study

Courses offered at the master's degree level satisfy a dual objective of preparing students for research and providing courses leading them to high level professional integration. The master's degree is awarded after acquisition of 120 credits after the "licence" (bachelor degree) on the basis of training organised in four semesters.

The first 60 credits (M1) can, by request of the student, receive an intermediate level national "maîtrise" diploma.

The remaining credits lead to the awarding of the national "master" diploma.

Universities are now bound by the Bologna process and have integrated their old courses into these new ones.

Decree no. 2005-450 of 11 May 2005 stipulates that the national "licence" (bachelor), master and "doctorat" (PhD) diplomas can be issued within the framework of international partnerships. International partnerships are organised by an agreement signed between one or several French high education institutions and one or several foreign higher education institutions. The agreement in particular defines the training methods, constitution of teaching teams, testing of knowledge and aptitudes and certification methods.

Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes - Organisation of Doctoral Studies

The "doctorat" (PhD) is prepared in six semesters (it corresponds to a baccalauréatdiploma + 8 years of study). The diploma is awarded after presentation of a thesis.

Eurypedia - The European Encyclopedia on National Education Systems

Source: Eurydice,
Eurypedia - The European Encyclopedia on National Education Systems , Eurosta,, Agency for Science and Higher Education Croatia, Department of Education and Skills Irelan,  Ministry of Education and Culture - FINLAND
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