FRANCE: Influence more important than income

Foreigners studying in France pay the same fees as local students and, unlike in some other countries, they do not contribute vast sums to the state's exchequer. In fact the opposite is the case: the French government expends thousands of euros on each student, regardless of nationality. Foreign students are even eligible for some benefits, such as housing allowances and subsidised canteens.

Fees are among the lowest in Europe and everyone pays the same although students from abroad might have to pay extra for specific programmes such as French language courses. Annual charges in French universities for bachelor level studies are currently EUR171 (US$248), for masters EUR231 and for doctorates EUR350. Compulsory social security costs are not included.

In addition to the universities, there are the selective grandes écoles. Among these, public engineering schools charge about EUR380 a year. Fees for business schools, which are nearly all private institutions, range between EUR4,500 and EUR7,000.

In 2008-09, Moroccans continued to be the biggest national group of foreigners studying in France, numbering 30,300. Next were the Chinese who, with a total of 27,100, for the first time overtook the Algerians, now in third place and numbering 20,800.

Other nationalities featuring prominently were Tunisians, Senegalese, Germans, Cameroonians, Italians, Vietnamese and Lebanese. Altogether 207,144 foreign students were enrolled in French universities - 43% studying for bachelors degrees, 44% for masters and 12.6% for doctorates.

Low fees are no doubt one of the factors that encourage foreigners to study in France which caters for more foreign students in higher education than any other country after the US and Britain.

But unlike those two countries, and others, France does not gain financially from foreign students' fees. On the contrary, it spends on average more than EUR10,000 (US$14,500) on each student, no matter what their nationality.

So without the financial incentive, why does France make huge efforts to attract students from abroad?

According to Campus France, the government agency that promotes French higher education internationally: "The presence of foreign students contributes to the internationalisation of French higher education institutions. France also benefits from fruitful long-term relations created with foreign students who, in addition, contribute to the spreading of the French language once they have returned to their country. France also wishes to attract doctoral students of a high standard."

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs has produced a 'quality charter' for foreign students awarded French government scholarships to study in France. This says that France needs successful foreign scholar programmes for "cultural, academic, economic and political reasons", including the spread of French influence worldwide.