The number of Arab students at French universities and higher institutes has been increasing. Al-Fanar Media asked number of education experts and Arab students who chose to study in France what explained this trend.
Most put it down to the continuing widespread use of French in the countries of the Maghreb, the competitive tuition fees in France compared to other popular study-abroad destinations, and the fact that foreign students in France are allowed to work.
Judith Azema, communications director at Campus France, France’s agency for promoting French higher education to international students, believes that the large numbers of students from the Middle East and North Africa can be attributed to cultural and linguistic affinity, and historical ties between France and countries in the region.
She also thinks the fact that a large Maghrebi community already exists in France plays a part.
According to a report issued by Campus France in June, North African and Middle Eastern students represent France’s largest body of international students, with a one-year increase of 10 percent last year and a 32-percent increase over five years, bringing their share to 29 percent overall.
“Quality education is one of the reasons why students prefer enrolling in French universities. Another is that France allows students to work while studying and has relatively low tuition fees.”Judith Azema, Director of communications at Campus France
Over the past five years Moroccan and Algerian students were the two highest groups of international students, with 46,000 Moroccans and 31,000 Algerians studying in French universities and other institutions of higher education last year. These two nations accounted for 21 percent of all international students in France in 2020-2021. There were also more than 13,000 Tunisian students, 8,000 Lebanese, 2,685 Egyptians, and 2,288 Syrians in French universities.
“The Maghreb is a significant region,” Azema told Al-Fanar Media. “Algeria and Morocco represent the third and fourth most-French-speaking countries in the world.”
Despite the fierce competition from universities in the United States, Britain, and Australia, Campus France’s report shows that French universities have attracted 365,000 international students of a total of six million, putting France seventh among countries that host international students, after the United States, Britain, Australia, Germany, Russia, and Canada.
“Quality education is one of the reasons why students prefer enrolling in French universities,” said Azema. France came in third in the latest “Shanghai” ranking of world universities, according to Campus France.
Another advantage “is that France allows students to work while studying and has relatively low tuition fees,” Azema added.
Factors Favouring France
The Moroccan scholar Jauad El Kharraz told Al-Fanar Media that the fact that classes are in French is a major factor in attracting Moroccan students to France, since many Moroccans use French as a second language.
El Kharraz is the executive director of the Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, an intergovernmental organization and the official technical arm institution of both the League of Arab States’ Energy Department and the Arab Ministerial Council for Electricity.
“Students who excel in sciences and mathematics in Morroco try to enroll in French higher institutes, which are world-renowned as the best schools for engineering and medicine,” he said. “Other local reasons include that most Moroccan government officials are graduates of French schools. This creates a tradition of enrolling in these schools in preparation to advance to senior positions” In Morocco.
“Students who excel in sciences and mathematics in Morroco try to enroll in French higher institutes, which are world-renowned as the best schools for engineering and medicine. … Most Moroccan government officials are graduates of French schools.”Jauad El Kharraz, Executive director of the Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
“Tunisian students see France as a bridge to the free world,” Hamdouni told Al-Fanar Media. “French universities and educational institutions are among the most recognised by Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education, which regards studying in French universities as a ladder to progress in Tunisia’s administration.”
Noor Ass’ad, a Jordanian student in France, said that “studying in France focuses on critical thinking, which better prepares students to use what they learn in their lives than memorisation.”
Ass’ad is a master’s degree student in cultural communication management at the University of Burgundy. She praised the low tuition fees in France, but said she found living costs like food and accommodation very high.
Ass’ad found her French university through a scholarship provided by the French Embassy in Jordan and Campus France.
Abdelilah Chentouf, an Algerian physics student at the same university, said he bears the expenses of his studies himself. He spends more than 600 euros per month, including university housing and food. He told Al-Fanar Media that he had 20 hours of work per week, which covered the bulk of his expenses.
Renato Bustamante, who is in charge of communications at Campus France, explains that France’s public universities charge low fees for European students, at 170 euros annually for bachelor’s degree students, 243 euros for master’s students, and 380 euros for doctoral students.
Non-European students’ fees are €2,770 per year for a bachelor’s degree, €3,770 for a master’s degree, and €380 per year for a doctorate. “Candidates for a doctorate from outside the European Union are not subject to higher tuition fees than their European counterparts,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
“Studying in France focuses on critical thinking, which better prepares students to use what they learn in their lives than memorisation.”Noor Ass’ad, A master’s degree student from Jordan at the University of Burgundy
Narimane Lilas, an Algerian civil engineering student at the University of Angers, said cost and the high quality of French education were key factors in choosing her country of study. “Studying in France does not cost more than 9,000 euros annually, which is five times less than any comparable country,” she told Al-Fanar Media.
France also awards scholarships in the Middle East and North Africa region. In 2019/2020, it provided 2,731 scholarships and it is trying to increase that figure, Azema said.
Challenges for Arab Students
In contrast to the low tuition fees and high-quality education in French universities, there are some drawbacks. Some Arab students worry about the high cost of living, and sometimes fear they will experience racism.
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“The rise of the right in France raises fears of waves of racism against Arabs, and those who pay their own expenses face financial difficulties, unlike those on scholarships,” Hamdouni said.
Ass’ad, who does not speak French, also complained about the language barrier. “I get help from my Algerian friends to overcome the problem,” she said.
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