The French parliament has passed a raft of immigration measures, which include an increase in tuition fees for non-EU students and the introduction of a ‘return’ deposit for student visa applicants that will be refunded if students leave France when their student residency permit expires, or if they renew their permit.
Higher enrolment fees for international students in France have been in place since 2019. However, the increase was rarely applied by universities who used their right to grant exemptions. According to a report in the French media outlet LeMonde, Campus France reports that “ in 2023, 42 universities (57% of the country’s universities) fully exempted foreign students, and 16 universities (22%) partially exempted students, according to linguistic, geographic or academic criteria. Only 13 universities (18%) charged the higher fees in full.” The new law means that universities will no longer be able to use their discretion to grant exemptions from the higher tuition fees.
The bill also includes measures that will make it more difficult for student visa holders to bring dependents to France. Student visa holders will now have to reside in France for 24 months instead of 18 months before being able to bring their dependents to France. Under the new laws, the minimum age for unmarried partners will also increase – from 18 to 21 years old.
The new measures have been criticised as being discriminatory and unfairly targeting African students, many of whom are from French-speaking African nations and are therefore drawn to the opportunity to study in France as they do not need to navigate language barriers.
According to Campus France figures, there are around 400,000 international students studying in France, with Morocco, Algeria and China the top three sending countries. The latest Project Atlas data shows that in 2023, France had just taken fourth place in terms of the most popular destinations for international students, pushing Australia to fifth place. Campus France has a goal of hosting 500,000 international students by 2027, a figure they state is critical to growing Frances’s academic influence and competitiveness. However, leaders of three of France’s top business schools– ESSEC, ESCP and HEC, have said in a column in Le Parisien that the new bill places this goal in jeopardy. They argue that the new bill has the potential to “seriously threaten” France’s international competitiveness and describe the new measures as “far from solutions”.
In addition, a press release issued by eighteen French universities criticises the bill as being “an attack on the very values which found French universities: universalism, openness and welcoming others” as well as detrimental to international student recruitment:
“Furthermore, introducing a blanket increase in tuition fees for non-EU students, without exception, will have a detrimental effect on the number, geographic origin and social situation of the international students who will be able to study in France. This will also challenge the autonomy of universities in their international hosting and influence strategies.”
According to a 2019 report in the ICEF Monitor, when the new fees for international students were originally announced in 2018/2019, undergraduate tuition fees for international students were set to increase from €170 per year to €2,770 per year. Postgraduate fees were to increase from €400 in 2018 to €3,770 in 2019. It is currently unclear whether the new mandate around international student fees will include a further increase in the cost of tuition for international students. However, as they stand currently, France’s tuition fees for international students are well below those of many other European countries and the UK, and thus, as long as there is not a major increase in tuition fee levels, France is likely to continue to be an affordable destination for international students.