Foreign students contribute €1.6 billion

Nearly 300,000 foreign students study in France every year and are not only ‘excellent ambassadors’ who promote the country when they leave – they also contribute a net €1.6 billion (nearly US$2 billion) to the state exchequer, according to a new inquiry.

The report Au-delà de l’Influence: l’Apport economique des etudiants etrangers en France, the first of its kind in France, examined the economic effects of foreign students studying here. It was carried out by the Institut BVA for the government agency Campus France and was based on a representative survey of 4,200 students.

France ranks as the third country globally in numbers of foreign students and is the leading non-Anglophone country in the world, according to the report. In 2013-14, 295,084 foreign students from 190 countries were enrolled in French institutions, an increase of 11% in five years.

The biggest regional group, 43%, came from Africa, followed by 26% from Europe, 19% from Asia, 8% from America and 4% from the Middle East.

The highest concentration of foreign students, 28%, was in Paris and the surrounding Ile-de-France region, followed by the south-east (26%); while the east, south-west and west regions catered for less than 20% each. Nearly three-quarters of the total were attending universities, half of them on masters or doctoral courses, and 14% were enrolled in engineering or business schools.

Campus France found that while students from abroad cost the state €3 billion (US$3.7 billion), they contributed €4.65 billion during their stay through daily living expenses, university fees, flights on French airlines to and from their home countries, and money spent by their families and friends during visits to France.

On average the students’ study periods lasted 22 months and they spent €920 a month, with housing accounting for 40% and food 26% of their costs.

More than four in five considered the cost of living high, and half of them said they or their families had made heavy financial sacrifices. But at the end of their stay nearly 70% considered that the experience had been worth it.

Most left with a positive image of the country and people, and said they would buy French food and other products, work with French businesses and nationals, and return to France as tourists, the inquiry found.

“The foreign students who come to France for periods of study are excellent ambassadors, including more than 250,000 new students every year who are prepared to promote France in all fields (studies, tourism, business exchanges…),” said the report.

Campus France said the inquiry confirmed findings on international mobility from around the world that hosting foreign students was a durable investment with a strong return for many sectors of the economy.

The report concluded with summaries of reports from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and a German comparative study of six European countries. They showed the economic benefits of catering for foreign students, including financial returns to the state, increased employment, international business partnerships and tourism, and extra funding for universities.

* Former students who have studied in France are invited to join France Alumni, a Campus France initiative launched in November by Laurent Fabius, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development, and Geneviève Fioraso, State Secretary for Higher Education and Research. The aims are to keep former international students in touch with each other and with events in France, and to provide opportunities for them to enter economic or academic partnerships with French institutions and companies.

* Video interview about the Campus France report with Geneviève Fioraso, State Secretary for Higher Education and Research, broadcast by Talk Orange-Le Figaro.