The Lycée Times Newsfeed

Sunday, March 20, 2011

England or France for university?

The big dilemma in our lives at the moment is helping older daughter decide where to go to university, and so far we’ve not been much use.

The first decision is whether England or France is the ‘best’ option and there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer…each have their own merits, and expats with university level children all have a different story to tell. Whatever the reasons, a great deal of expat children return to the UK to go to university.

I’ve tried to list the advantages of each below, as I understand them. Since these are based as much on gossip and hearsay as factual information, all useful input and guidance is very welcome, especially where what I’ve been told is completely wrong!

Benefits and disadvantages of going to university in England

There is said to be more ‘open discussion’ between lecturers and students in UK universities

Better student environment and more extra-curricular activities  – many students in France go to university close to home and go home at weekends, which means university social life is less exciting.

It will ensure that her level of written and spoke English is comparable with any other UK based student

Benefits and disadvantages of going to university in France

Universities in France are much cheaper, and students don’t leave university with a large debt. Bourses are also sometimes available (but means-tested). Undoubtedly it will be much cheaper for us as well as her if she stays in France, but I’m trying to ignore that for the moment!

Learning tends to be by rote in French universities, more like an extension of school, with lecturers less open to discussion and criticism. Although this sounds like a disadvantage, getting down to actual ‘learning’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s a question of degree!

Large class sizes – in France universities tend to use success in courses as selection criteria rather than interviews etc., so it’s generally easier to get in – but there is a higher dropout rate, especially in the first year.

It will ensure complete fluency in French at all levels


I’m guessing that a degree from a respectable French university carries the same weight for future career prospects as a degree from a similar quality university in Britain, and the subjects will be taught to a reasonably similar level…

…but it is also often said that because the UK school system is quite poor, despite A grade exams being awarded to a high percentage of students, universities need to spend the first year ‘catching up’ to the level that schools used to reach. Presumably if true this means that the degree also ends up being lower quality.

…and I also suspect it will be easier to get a job in an English company with a degree from France than vice-versa – the French are quite protective about their job market and I have a feeling they will often tend to opt for someone with a degree from France, whereas English companies will just choose the best candidate, regardless of which country the degree comes from. So might a degree from England be ruling out future job prospects in France?

In recent discussions about university choices in her class at lycée, our daughter was startled by how many people said they were going to a nearby university so they didn’t have to be away from home too much. (Sounds a bit unimaginative perhaps, but also shows how important family is in French society, much more so than in the UK, which is no bad thing.)

Of course, the real answer is perhaps for a student to just go where they like, according to the course on offer. Things usually turn out OK anyway, but it would be interesting to hear any experiences that might help me sound like a more useful and knowledgeable parent!

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