FRANCE: Paris offers foreign students one-stop shop

Paris, Europe's biggest university city, has once again opened special reception and advice services for foreign students arriving for the new academic year, who need help to tackle the labyrinthine bureaucracy, find a place to live and look for a job. Last year there were 56,500 international students in the French capital.

After the United States and United Kingdom, France accounts for the largest intake of international students, equal with Germany. Students' most common countries of origin are Morocco, China, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Germany, Italy, Cameroun, Vietnam and Spain.

The total student population in France in 2010-11 was 2,319,000, of whom 284,659 were from other countries, representing 12.5% of all students. Paris is the most popular region for international students, who comprise 17.3% of the city's student population.

A comprehensive 'one-stop' bureau was set up for the start of the academic year by the Cité Internatonale Universitaire de Paris (CIUP), a foundation owned by the Paris universities that provides housing and other services for international students and academics.

Now in its ninth year and financed by Paris City Hall, the centre brings together in one place all the main agencies with which international students must register and which can help them settle in.

They include representatives of the police and immigration authorities, services for student insurance, benefits, housing and employment and RATP, the Paris transport system, which offers students discounted travel. The bureau is open until 10 November.

CIUP's is the bigger of two 'new year' reception services for foreign students in Paris; the other is run by the regional student support centre CROUS de Paris. Last year the two services together helped more than 4,000 students, three-quarters of them at the CIUP. Their combined budget for this year is EUR110,000 (US$149,000).

Last month, 117 assistance-seeking international students went to CIUP on the opening day to consult the multilingual team of advisers, who between them speak nine languages in addition to French.

Inquiries from new arrivals mostly concerned housing and administrative problems, said Roza Ghaleh Dar, a Swedish-Iranian masters student in literature at Paris-8 University, who is one of the volunteer advisers. Nationalities she had dealt with so far included Algerians, Chinese, Brazilians and Mexicans.

Carine Camby, managing director of the CIUP, emphasised that "each student is a unique case; each has his or her own problems, so it is important they are all looked after individually. The advisers have all the skills necessary to help them directly, or to tell them where to go for the right information. There are specialists who can give more detailed information on different issues," she told University World News.