The quality of the French higher education system is recognized around the world. Its wide variety of institutions offer excellent opportunities for teaching and research in every subject and at every level.

There are four main categories of higher education institutions in France: the public universities and research institutions, the grandes écoles (which include France’s prestigious schools of business and engineering), the schools of art and architecture, and the specialized schools.

1. Public Universities

Of the 2.2 million students in the French higher education system, 80 percent attend the country’s public universities, which are funded by the national government and well distributed across the nation. These universities include some of France’s oldest and most prestigious institutions, and offer academic, technical and professional degree programs in all disciplines and at all levels.

Unlike in the major English-speaking countries, private institutions account for a relatively small share of postsecondary enrolments in France (less than 17%). In France, the publicly financed universities are evenly distributed around the nation. They award national diplomas, which provide the assurance of a uniformly level of educational quality regardless of where they are earned.

The universities offer programs in all disciplines, including the sciences (mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology), technology (computer science, engineering, electrotechnics, materials), literature, languages, the arts, the social sciences, law, economics, business, health and medicine, and physical education. All of the nation’s universities are public.

The universities offer programs at every level; their graduate receive nationally regulated degrees known as national diplomas: the licence (3 years), master (5 years), and doctorate (8 years).

Research, a key function of the universities

As the primary locus of research and training in the basic sciences, the universities ensure that their degrees programs stay abreast of progress in basic knowledge and technology.

The international recognition as Fields Medals and Nobel Prizes, accorded French researchers attests to the universities’ devotion to knowledge.

More than 250 Doctoral departments staffed by 100,000 scholars and researchers provide research training in close cooperation with more than 1,200 research laboratories. The departments confer more than 11,000 doctorates each year.

French Doctoral departments have always been open to the world. 42% of doctoral candidates are from outside France.

2. Grandes Écoles

France's renowned grandes écoles are very selective, specialized schools, which are much smaller than the large public universities. They train students for careers in engineering, management, higher education and research, and public administration, among other fields. 

Unique to France, the system of Grandes Ecoles was set up in parallel with the university system at the beginning of the 19th century. The Grandes Ecoles offer top-quality education oriented toward practical problems. The Grandes Ecoles are highly selective; their degrees signify the completion of a rigorous program. 

The two largest groups of grandes écoles are schools of engineering and schools of management, but there are also the écoles normales supérieures (ENS), the institutes of political studies (IEP), veterinary schools, and other schools in a variety of fields.

All Grandes Ecoles offer five-year diplomas recognized by the government to be equivalent to the European master

3. Schools of Art, Design and Architecture 

France has been home to many of the world’s greatest international artists, designers, and architects, and its 60 public art schools and 20 schools of architecture offer many exciting opportunities to take courses or earn a degree in art or architecture in France.

Each year, you can apply online for Art and Architecture higher schools in France via Campus Art.

4. Specialized schools

France has more than 3,000 public and private specialized schools that offer training and degrees in fields such as nursing, journalism, social work, fashion, design, tourism, culinary arts, hotel management and more.

These institutions offer government-accredited degrees as well as other credentials specific to the institution that confers them. Programs demand from 2 to 5 years of study. Admission is by examination or on the basis of the applicant’s academic record. 


The global CampusFrance site holds a catalogue of detailed PDF documents describing each kind of higher education institution.