26 Jul 2018

Culture and quality: France’s appeal to students



With a young new president making headlines and a recent World Cup victory, France has enjoyed its fair share of the limelight lately. For international students, this prominent place of French culture in the global consciousness is often a major influencing factor in choosing la République for a home abroad, according to the 2017 Kantar Sofres survey of international students.

This quantitative study on the image and appeal of France to international postsecondary students, commissioned by Campus France and conducted by Kantar Sofres, was the third in six years. As in the previous surveys conducted in 2011 and 2013, the 2017 survey covers questions about students’ decision processes, their level of satisfaction with their stay and the benefits of the experience. Additionally, the 2017 survey measured students’ awareness of and interest in the France Alumni network, as well as the impact of political shifts like Brexit and the election of Emmanuel Macron as President, on international students’ decision-making in choosing a location to study abroad.

The results of this study provide insights not only into what is working for France at a national level to attract international students, but also what factors appear to be most relevant across the board for students when selecting an international study destination.

Overall results of the survey

The survey was administered online between 10 July and 26 October 2017, to a sample of 14,245 international students, of whom 2528 were preparing to come to France imminently to begin their studies (cohort 1); 4876 were already studying in France (cohort 2); and 6841 had completed a period of study in France (cohort 3).

The quality of education is the top reason international students choose France as their study abroad destination.

According to the 2017 survey, students’ views of France and French higher education have held steady and even improved compared to previous years.

  • Nine out of 10 international students would recommend France as a study destination;
  • Nine out of 10 international students are satisfied with their stay in France – 52% completely so;
  • Nine out of 10 students expressed their satisfaction with the value of their degrees and the quality of the education they received;
  • Nine out of 10 students affirm the cultural and touristic appeal of France; and
  • Eight out of 10 students have a good perception of academic support in France and reported regular contact with instructors.

Why do students choose France?

The quality of education is the top reason international students choose France as their study abroad destination. According to the 2017 survey, students’ top five reasons for choosing France are:

  • The quality of education: 46%
  • Gaining proficiency in French: 41%
  • France’s cultural appeal: 38%
  • The reputation of institutions and faculty members: 34%
  • The value of degrees: 32%

Globally, France is perceived as having a major cultural and artistic influence (94%); great intellectual and scientific value (90%) and a rich history (90%). Even students’ perceptions of France’s economy improved in 2017, recovering their 2011 level: 76% of the students sampled believe that France has a strong and stable economy (78% in 2011; 64% in 2013).

Some room for improvement

The major concerns expressed by both students currently studying in France and those who had already completed a period of study in the country were about the cost of living, the administrative requirements, the cost of housing and the lack of opportunities to work in France after graduation.

The survey helped identify room for improvement in welcoming international students through the France Alumni network, the social network for former students and graduates of French higher education. The network was known to only 39% of the students sampled, but according to the survey generated strong interest: 83% of survey respondents affirmed their interest in this type of network, including 50% expressing intense interest. The results also show that just one in four students is able to gain initial work experience in France upon completion of their studies, another potential area for improvement in attracting international students.

France gaining ground on other popular host countries

Respondents were first asked to evaluate the changes of their perception of several of the most popular host countries, including the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, Russia, Germany, Canada and China. The survey proceeded to focus on France, the UK, the USA and Canada. The political context of President Trump and Macron’s elections, Brexit, and the fact that Canada can be seen as a direct competitive country to France as it is a French-speaking country with a young prime minister, were some of the reasons Campus France specifically questioned students’ perception of these countries.

France is perceived as having major cultural and artistic influence (94%); great intellectual and scientific value (90%) and a rich history (90%).

Regarding the change of perception, France was judged to be more attractive than previously for 64% of the respondents, which means it scored better than all countries except Canada. The score was 51% for Germany, 48% for the USA, 45% for the UK, 42% for Australia, 31% for China and 14% for Russia. Only Canada got a better score: 69% of the respondents judged the country more attractive than previously.

When focusing on France, the UK, the USA and Canada, France scored quite well on most questions, as can be seen in Table 1. For respondents, France’s reputation for culture turned out to be the chief reason behind its increased appeal in recent years (78% of mentions). Economic and political considerations appear to be secondary in respondents’ eyes: 33% mentioned the country’s current economic situation; 31%, the political situation and the current government; 29%, safety and security; 29%, the cost of living; and 24%, the country’s visa policies.

The impact of the political situation in the USA and the UK

Political developments appear to have played a part in the eroding appeal of some countries. Among students who feel that the USA has become a less attractive destination, 76% cite the political situation and current government as a reason. Brexit is similarly prominent among students who believe that the UK has lost appeal: 54% of respondents who feel that way cite politics and the current government as one of their reasons.

Table 1. Top reasons given for the increased appeal of France, the UK, the USA and Canada (in percentages of mentions among those who answered)


The many factors in choosing a study abroad location

While the top reason overall for choosing France as a study abroad destination appears to be the perceived quality of French education, it is notable that France’s improved image is also linked to the political situations of some of the other popular host countries.

The results of the Kantar Sofres survey suggest that, in addition to the quality of education, France’s cultural appeal, language and lifestyle can be leveraged in order to recruit more international students in an increasingly competitive field. In any case, the survey offers an insight into the complex and varied motivations of students in choosing a destination for international study.