Located throughout France, seventy-four degree-granting public universities currently offer high-quality academic programs in a vast array of disciplines, including law, economics, management, humanities, social sciences, languages, arts, physical science, technology, health, etc. They serve 1,713,000 students, i.e. 57% of the students enrolled in the French higher education system.
A public-interest mission
As a public scientific, cultural and professional institution, the University is at the same time an intellectual community, a bearer of a scholarly culture, a human community, and a legal institution.
Governed by article L123-3 (link to the article of the law), its missions are as follows:
- Initial education and continuing education, throughout life;
- Scientific and technological research, including the dissemination and the exploitation of its results for the benefit of society;
- Student guidance, social mobility and professional integration;
- The dissemination of humanistic culture, both through the development of the humanities and social sciences, and through the development of scientific, technical and industrial culture;
- Participation in the construction of the European Higher Education and Research Area;
- International cooperation.
Universities are open to all, including young adults seeking initial university education and adults seeking continuing education.
In 2003, as part of a larger effort to harmonize European higher education systems, the French university curriculum was reorganized to prepare three national degrees: the Licence, the Master and the Doctorat, which respectively correspond to three years, five years and eight years of university-level study. These three degrees are recognized in all universities in the European area. The use of a common credit system for evaluating academic coursework (European Credits Transfer System, or ECTS), has enhanced international recognition of university qualifications, allowed easier recognition of equivalence among diplomas, and improved international mobility.
The Licence is a three-year degree. Admission is not selective. Enrollment is generally accessible to all students who have obtained a baccalaureate or an equivalent diploma.
The second degree in the LMD system, the Master is accessible to students who complete their Licence or an equivalent to the Licence, and who are selected through a competitive admissions process.
Students are selected either for a two-year research curriculum which prepares them for doctoral studies, or a two-year professional curriculum which prepares them for specialized work and which involves their participation in paid internships.
University graduates enjoy very good post-degree employment rates. 90% of graduates with a Master find employment upon completing their degree. The success rate jumps to 92% for graduates who obtained a professional License.
Completed in three years minimum, the Doctorat is the highest degree in the LMD system. Students generally must obtain a Master before gaining access to doctoral studies. Doctoral programs are centered on the writing of a doctoral thesis (une thèse). Doctoral candidates must successfully defend their thesis before a jury. Obtention of a Doctorat opens the door to university teaching and to scientific research careers in the public or private sectors.
University research and teaching are connected
The specificity of universities, and the heart of their identity, is that teaching is linked to research. As such, universities bring together 55,000 research faculty who are engaged in both activities.
Universities laboratories, which are often operated in conjunction with research organizations (CNRS, INSERM, CEA, etc.), are responsible for majority of the county’s research activity, both fundamental and applied, in all fields of knowledge.
Today, there are 75,000 doctoral students doing their research work in the 3,000 university laboratories. And more than 74% of doctoral students receive funding during their studies.
French university research is recognized and regularly rewarded at the international level. Notable examples include the Fields Medal awarded to Hugo Duminil-Copin in 2022, the Nobel Prize in Economics awarded to Jean Tirole in 2014, the Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Serge Haroche in 2012, the Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded to Jules Hoffman in 2011, the Fields Medal awarded to Cédric Villani in 2010, and the Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Albert Fert in 2007.