FRANCE: One-stop advice service for foreign students

A 'one-stop' advisory service has opened in Paris for foreign students arriving for the first time in the French capital. Open until 15 December, it brings together in one location information and advice on all the authorities and administrative agencies with which new students need to register, and services that will help them settle in.

These include the immigration and police authorities, student insurance, benefits, housing and employment agencies, and the Paris transport system, which can offer substantial travel reductions.

The service is based at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris (CIUP), a private-public foundation owned by the universities of Paris that provides accommodation and other services for international students and academics.

The coordinated service for international students has a multilingual team of reception staff who between them speak 11 languages including Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese and Hindi. Although new student arrivals usually speak adequate French, they are likely to need help to penetrate the arcane jargon of French officialese.

Colombian Lillian-Sally Michelin, one of the advisers, said: "I think it is very important when you come from another country to have someone to show you the steps."

This is the sixth year the CIUP and its partner Paris City Hall, which funds the operation, have provided the one-stop service. Last year it advised more than 4,000 international students during the period it was open, from the start of the academic year until mid-December.

Sylviane Tarsot-Gillery, managing director of the CIUP, told University World News the service had evolved and expanded since it began in 2005. "Foreign students' greatest difficulty is the administration. It is important for them to find the answers to all their questions; not just information, but how to apply for legal status, register for student benefits."

France is the third most popular destination for international students after the United States and the United Kingdom. Of its total 2,316,000 students, 214,252 were from abroad in 2009-10.

Nearly half came from Africa - split almost equally between the Maghreb and south of the Sahara - followed by Asia, Middle East and Oceania (24%); the European Union (18%, down from 24% the year before); North and South America (8%); and non-EU Europe (4%).

Nationalities of students most represented were Moroccan, Chinese, Algerian, Tunisian, Senegalese, German, Cameroonian, Italian, Vietnamese and Lebanese.

Paris and the surrounding Ile-de-France was the most popular region where 36.7% of foreign students were studying, according to the Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

Paris is also the biggest university city in Europe, according to the ministry.