From its position as the number three host country in 2011, France dropped by 2017 to fifth place, the Key Figures report noted.
But the country still welcomed 358,000 international students in 2018-19, which is 21% more than five years ago.
“That position remains solid, but France has suffered for several years now from the ever stronger appeal of English as a language of instruction, and from the appearance of new destinations,” states the report.
“France has suffered, for several years now, from the ever stronger appeal of English as a language of instruction”
“In 2017, France attracted 5% of the world’s mobile students, compared with 7% five years previous[ly].”
France nevertheless remains a popular destination, particularly for French-speaking students.
Morocco and Algeria continue to be the most popular source countries, growing faster than international intake as a whole with increases of 23% and 42% between 2013 and 2018.
There were also large increases in students from Côte d’Ivoire (+77%), Italy (+58%) and India (+130%) – although India remains only the sixteenth largest market for France, despite sending large proportions of students to other key destinations.
However, France does benefit from a highly diversified market, something which other countries are trying to work towards. Its top 10 markets account for less than half of the entire international student body, and the top 25 source countries represent 70%.
While the last few years have seen growth in students from Africa and the Middle East, slowing increases and declines have been seen in Europe and Asia.
China, the third-largest source country sent 6% fewer students to France in 2018 compared to 2013. There were also downward trends in the number of Vietnamese and German students.
The French Embassy in London told The PIE News that for the moment the “Bienvenue en France” campaign to attract international students has now been temporarily suspended, although universities are expecting students at the start of the new year – whether in-person or online – and that registration procedures are ongoing.
“France reaffirms its desire to take in international students and ensure they have the best experience,” added Aurélie Bonal, spokesperson for the French Embassy in London.
“Along with our various colleagues from agencies promoting France’s attractiveness in the world, we are currently assessing the effects of the pandemic and especially the predictable reduction in mobility in the short-term, but this does not call our long-term objectives into question.”
However, some stakeholders have pointed out that the increase of tuition fees for non-EEA students is likely to impact student decisions on where to study, an appeal against which is currently going through the French courts.
“Among degree-seeking users on Study.eu, France has dropped from the second most popular destination country in early 2019 to seventh in 2020 so far. The major driver for this shift is the new tuition fees that apply to non-Europeans,” explained Study.eu founder, Gerrit Bruno Blöss.
“France has a lot to offer. French universities just need to reach the right audiences”
Our statistics clearly reflect stable interest from European students, said Blöss, whereas other internationals are increasingly looking at other destinations.
“Removing tuition fees may not be an option politically, but countries like Sweden and Finland have shown that it’s possible to reposition a host country and even grow the number of incoming students in spite of new tuition fees.
“France has a lot to offer. French universities just need to reach the right audiences and shift the focus to how their education and the French student life experience stand out against other countries,” he added.
The country continues to see international students concentrated in certain regions. More than seven out of 10 students study in just five areas, while Île-de-France, with 124,091 students, accounts for more than a third of the total (although the French Embassy noted that the university with the highest number of international applicants is the University of Lorraine).
The vast majority of international students also study at bachelor and masters level.
In 2018-29, 23,474 opted to do their doctorate in France. France has seen a decline in the number of overall doctoral candidates, falling by 8% over five years, “even as doctoral enrolments have risen almost everywhere else in the world”.
More than 90,000 French students did degree courses abroad in 2017. Canada, which the report acknowledges has been “enjoying a wave of popularity”, has taken the top spot from Belgium as their most popular destination.
Morocco has also been flagged as an emerging destination for French students, whose numbers there have increased nine-fold in five years.