FRANCE: Record number of students from abroad

The number of foreign students enrolled in French higher education in 2008-09 was 266,400, the highest ever and an increase of 2.3% over the previous year, according to research from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research. Moroccans remained the biggest national group, though the number of Chinese students continued to rise rapidly.

Students from abroad represented almost 12% of France's total student population of 1,410,000. Three-quarters of the foreigners were studying in universities and more than a third were in institutions in Paris or the surrounding Ile-de-France region (compared with only a quarter of French students).

Foreign enrolments have risen sharply since 1998 when they numbered 152,000 and accounted for 7% of all students. After annual increases until 2005-06, the following two years showed a slight fall in numbers before picking up again in 2008-09.

Nearly one foreign student in two - 44% - was from Africa, with a quarter from the Maghreb and a fifth from the rest of the continent. Only 22.6% were from Europe, including 18% from the European Union, 24% came from Asia and 8% from the Americas.

Half the students were nationals of the 10 countries most represented. Moroccans accounted for 30,000, still the largest group despite a decline of 5.7% compared with 2006. Chinese, the second largest, numbered 27,100, a sharp increase of almost 21% since 2006.

The other countries sending most students were Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Germany, Cameroon, Italy, Vietnam and Lebanon.

The Moroccans and Chinese were proportionately less likely to attend a university than students of other nationalities. Moroccans were more likely to study disciplines such as engineering, science and technology at selective institutions.

Chinese students were "well represented" in engineering and business schools, and colleges specialising in the arts and cultural subjects, said the Ministry.

Just over half of all foreign students were women but the proportion rose to two-thirds for those from Europe, and to 70% for non-EU Europeans. More than three-quarters of students from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Slovakia were women, as were more than 70% from the five Scandinavian countries.

The proportion of students from abroad rose as the level of studies advanced. Only 11% were studying for a licence (bachelor's equivalent), while 20% were taking masters courses and 40% doctorates.