DD thinking of studying French at a French uni

(58 Posts)
NigellasGuest Sun 09-Dec-12 11:29:35

DD is in her final GCSE year and thinking ahead to A'levels - so this isn't an urgent query, just preliminary investigation!

She likes French and is good at it - and has said that if she ends up doing well enough in it, she might like to study it at Uni. And if she studies it at Uni, she would like that to be a French uni.

Is this a common thing to do? It sounds like a nice idea to me, but how would one go about finding out about suitable universities in France - and is their system totally different to ours here in the UK?

If anyone has any first hand experience or is considering something similar I would love to read your comments!

Pooka Sun 09-Dec-12 11:32:01

My brother did french at university and the course (4 year) included a year in France. He was in Paris, teaching at a French Lycee.

So that's an option - French degree at UK university with a sandwich year.

He was at Glasgow university btw.

creamteas Sun 09-Dec-12 11:35:30

If she can get into a one of Les Grandes Ecoles then she will probably have a great time.

But I wouldn't consider any of the other universities as they are usually considrably under resourced and she could end up in massive classes with little support.

BreconBeBuggered Sun 09-Dec-12 13:05:06

I spent a year at a French university as part of my degree and, unless things have changed dramatically since, I'd agree with creamteas. Plus the social life was pretty poor compared to university life in the UK, even when students were actually there. (There was a mass exodus at weekends when virtually the only students left on site were the foreign ones.)

onthemetro Sun 09-Dec-12 13:19:45

There's a uni in the UK that has a campus in Paris - I think it might be Kent. That might be an option if she's keen to be in France but also means that the system for applying is the same.

Greythorne Sun 09-Dec-12 13:38:36


Why would she want to do this?

If you study French in England, you are studying it as a second language. Therefore, marked accordingly.

If you study in France, you have to have native level, otherwise you Are going to do very badly indeed. Unless she is very gifted at French, already reading novels in French, I would think this a very poor idea!

When students do a year abroad (when studying at an English uni), they usually work as a 'lecteur' in an English department of a French uni, they don't study French alongside French students doing in DEUG or licence.

There are Erasmus programmes where students at English unis do go abroad and study French and have to pass the exams in France as a course requirement. The pass rate is patchy because it is a very tall order.

Your DD needs to think this through very carefully.

And that's without the social aspect (or lack thereof) at French universities.

There aren't loads of grandes écoles to study French. They tend to be engineering and maths.

AnnaBegins Sun 09-Dec-12 13:40:15

French unis (except the grandes ecoles) are lower standard than in the UK, but, there is a lot of choice in what you do module-wise, I found there to be a great social life, though French students go home at the weekends, and it is much much cheaper than UK unis - around €200 a year. If you can find one with a good international/erasmus scene that would be a plus. She could study French Literature, or English, as that would include English lit/culture and translation as well, or something completely different, other languages, history, psychology etc as they would all be in French! Most French unis specialise in either Humanities or Science, so that's something to look at.

Good on her for thinking of something so adventurous!

LadyMargolotta Sun 09-Dec-12 13:40:47

Maybe look at the belgian french speaking universities? It is relatively cheap to study in Belgium and the standard of university teaching is very high.

LoopsInHoops Sun 09-Dec-12 13:42:45

All language courses in UK require a year abroad (ERASMUS).

French unis not all great, and studying French would be a poor idea for a non-native speaker. However, I'd be considering Germany or Holland, and studying French as a MFL. Lots of German/Dutch unis now have courses in English to cater for the university tourism heading that way - much cheaper on fees.

AnnaBegins Sun 09-Dec-12 13:43:00

Oh and Greythorne I agree about the standard of French definitely! But I disagree about the year abroad, most people I know studied at French unis with French students at the same standard, in fact, I was top of my class (stealth boast lol!) as the standard was so much lower than in the UK - not hard to get the pass rate at all, for all the British students!

gallicgirl Sun 09-Dec-12 13:47:22

I did a French degree at a UK uni then spent a year in a French uni as a sandwich year. It is very hard work even with support from a compulsory grammar class.
The degree subjects are not comparable to UK degrees. I found a lot of lectures used literature as their source material which is understandable for history options but weird for politics.
Lectures were 3 hours long and there were no tutorials so no option to question the lecturer or debate the content. In fact, questioning anything was positively discouraged.
Having said that, it's an amazing experience and does wonders for your language skills.

As seceral have pointde out, French at French universities works on the premise that you are a native speaker to kick off with, like English at an English uni. I did French a level and French degree at a uk university and boy when I did my year abroad, did I realize how much I had to learn about actually speaking French like a native rather than a foreigner. Btw I spent my year abroad translating for the French government, they employed me when I graduated so it was a pretty high powered course focusing on translation rather than literature (although we did that too), but it was still tough.

I worked for 2 weeks in paris during my a levels too (living with a French family) and there was no way I would have been ready after a levels to study French from a native speaker perspective.

TooMuchRain Sun 09-Dec-12 13:48:59

It's a great idea but it she wouldn't be able to do French Studies as such if she goes to a French university because a lot of the stuff that she would learn on that degree in the UK (at first year anyway) would have been covered at school in France. She would have to be proficient enough to do another degree in French.

Bonsoir Sun 09-Dec-12 13:50:11

She wants to study French Literature at a French university? She would have a really tough time getting in unless she has the French bac, and she would find it very strenuous. Plus there are no employment prospects.

If she really loves French, there is an excellent course at the Sorbonne for foreign adults, eminently suitable for a gap year: Sorbonne

Greythorne Sun 09-Dec-12 14:06:20


Sorry, yes, all MFL students do a year abroad...but most don't study with native level students. But there are some Erasmus programmes which allow you to do just that and emerge with a double degree from the UK uni and the French uni. But it is not an option open to all students as the standard is so high for non native speakers.

OP - you need to ask your DD why she wants to do this. At a UK uni studying French, she would still get a year in France as standard.

And a degree worth much more than a licence from a fac.

Pooka Sun 09-Dec-12 18:05:41

my brother also had a month in Paris at the Sorbonne during his A' Levels.

Went to state comp, but was very good at French and they encouraged him to apply. I think it was an excellent opportunity for him.

AuldAlliance Sun 09-Dec-12 18:25:23

Maybe she should look at the syllabus for a degree in Lettres Modernes in a French university; she'd probably be expected to do some linguistics, using technical vocab in French. The literature would be quite theory-based.
Hard if it's not your mother tongue.

Since there is no selection at entrance, French universities select as they go along (c.30% pass rate - yep, 70% failure rate - in 1st year). Marking is tough. Unless she is really fluent, it would be hard and no concessions whatever would be made to her status as a non-native speaker.

French universities are underfunded and overstretched. I work in a leading (provincial) university in my (Arts) field, and at the start of the year we ran out of paper. No photocopies or printing were available for 5 weeks. We don't know if overtime will be paid this year, even though we all have to do lots because there are not enough staff. We are not even sure our salaries will be paid for very much longer because the previous government "gave" universities their autonomy, making them responsible for paying salaries, but increased the financial burden on them without providing any actual increased funding.
The buildings are often decrepit, the social life isn't that great and working conditions are far, far below what you'd find in a UK university. A "tutorial" in Lettres Modernes will have around 35-45 people in it.

FWIW most people I work with hope fervently that their kids won't study an Arts/Humanities subject at a French university because things are so grim and unfair on the students. My colleagues are in the vast majority highly competent, having undergone a drastically selective recruitment process, and highly dedicated. But morale is very low.

IME, a good degree from a good UK university would be worth just as much as a degree from a French one. The atmosphere at Ecole Normale Supérieure (the only selective institute for Arts/Humanities) is notoriously unpleasant. And she'd have an Erasmus year (you can't be a lecteur/lectrice until you have a degree) to experience the joys of French university.

Sorry to be so negative, but the reality of French universities is a well-kept secret beyond the country's borders...

hattymattie Sun 09-Dec-12 18:37:41

I agree with the comments about the French Universities- also the Grandes Ecoles are usually engineering or business schools - not where you could study french. I'd do a literature degree with a UK uni plus a year abroad.

NigellasGuest Sun 09-Dec-12 18:43:53

thank you all for your very useful comments - ESPECIALLY AuldAlliance - there's nothing so useful as a little insider info! Your comments are an eye opener.

As I mentioned, this is just a vague notion of DD's ATM. She clearly has not thought it through - and I now have more of a grasp of some of the issues, at least. For example, I didn't even know that when studying MFL in this country you get to spend time abroad as part of the course. (wasn't like that in my day - and seems like an eminently sensible idea)! And thank you all for pointing out that studying French in France is obviously like studying English in England.... it's not taught as a foreign language and you need to be pretty fluent to start with.

Plenty of food for thought here. Sorbonne for a gap year sounds good!

CelticPromise Sun 09-Dec-12 18:47:11

University of London has a college in Paris. My cousin is studying there, she loves it.

mathanxiety Sun 09-Dec-12 23:58:26

DD1 did a 3 month stint in Paris with her American university but it had its own campus there. It was her final year and she is pretty fluent (though her degree is in economics) so she really enjoyed herself. That sort of experience is priceless imo. I think the erasmus programme is the best way to go.

Most of the people I knew who did French (in university in Dublin in the early 80s) sent their summers in France, picking grapes, washing dishes, au pairing. No mandatory year in France studying at that time. Maybe summer work there would be an option?

NigellasGuest Mon 10-Dec-12 11:49:58

I've googled University of London's college in Paris - looks interesting, thank you.

I know need to find out what is meant by "erasmus"
<oldest child only doing GCSEs so don't know anything about H.E. yet emotcion>

NigellasGuest Mon 10-Dec-12 11:50:37

not know

BrianButterfield Mon 10-Dec-12 11:56:26

I did an Englist lit degree and did an Erasmus year in Liege in Belgium. I studied English there and the teaching and assessment was in English, but obviously the admin side was all in French and I was immersed in the language (not many people in Wallonia speak good English so I needed French in my daily life). It was great fun, hard work but not too hard and made me fluent in French.

AuldAlliance Mon 10-Dec-12 12:21:44

Erasmus is a European exchange system, whereby partner universities accept students from each other on a reciprocal basis, either for a semester or one year. The students remain enrolled at their university (i.e. students from an British, university will pay that year's fees at their home university, not the 200 euros registration in the French partner university), but should have access to most courses in the partner university. The marks they get are converted into marks at their home university. They don't get a qualification per se from the partner university.
Some British universities stipulate that their students at partner universities on Erasmus exchanges must follow and pass the courses therein. These students work hard, enjoy themselves nonetheless and their French improves dramatically. IME students from the British universities which merely say their students have to "spend a year/semester at a French university," without demanding any more that than, doss off classes, hang around together and don't learn anything much useful, especially not French.

Primrose123 Mon 10-Dec-12 12:47:59

I studied languages and spent a year abroad in Germany. I then spent 3 weeks at summer school in Boulogne, on a course run by the university of Lille. I stayed with a French family and it was fantastic! Your DD could do this in the summer holidays, but its not cheap!

Beamur Mon 10-Dec-12 13:04:13

I don't know the details, but a colleague of mine has a daughter studying in Paris, her whole degree will be done there. Financially I don't know how it works, but she is doing some part time work speaking English with a French family to help them with their language skills too. She certainly seems to be enjoying it and her french is fluent.

Greythorne Mon 10-Dec-12 17:09:15

AuldAlliance Mon 10-Dec-12 12:21:44
Erasmus is a European exchange system, whereby partner universities accept students from each other on a reciprocal basis, either for a semester or one year. The students remain enrolled at their university (i.e. students from an British, university will pay that year's fees at their home university, not the 200 euros registration in the French partner university), but should have access to most courses in the partner university. The marks they get are converted into marks at their home university. They don't get a qualification per se from the partner university.

In my Day, we did indeed get a licence fom the French university on completion of of degree in the UK, it was a double degree. Might have changed now, through, that was (cough) some years ago.

AuldAlliance Mon 10-Dec-12 19:41:33

None of the 5 exchanges I am or have been involved in allow UK students to obtain a licence or other qualification after a year/semester here.
One incoming student 3 or 4 years ago tried very hard to convince the university here to let him enroll both as Erasmus exchange student and as regular licence student, paying the enrollment fees here over and above his UK enrollment, but in vain.

fraktion Mon 10-Dec-12 19:51:49

The only double one I know of is Kings/Sorbonne for law.

I wouldn't really want to have my only university experience in a French university. It would be pretty miserable. Although I would pick studying over an assistantship in a school, not because the assistantship itself is bad - I am one at the moment - but because the lack if support from the schools and the home university is usually terrible. You become no-one's problem really and the Academie I'm in has had 5 resignations this year.

If she wants to go abroad I'd be thinking Netherlands with an Erasmus year in France!

fraktion Mon 10-Dec-12 19:56:30

DH tells me Science Po do one with LSE and Leicester and Essex also do a law/French law so there are some out there.

winnybella Mon 10-Dec-12 20:05:30

AuldAlliance What do you mean by saying that there is no selection at the entrance? Is it on first come, first served basis? They can't possibly accept everyone who wants to do particular degree? confused

creamteas Mon 10-Dec-12 20:56:33

I think it used to be the case that everyone with a Bac was entitled to a place, hence the massive classes......

AuldAlliance Mon 10-Dec-12 22:49:44

Everyone who has passed the bac, be it général, technique or pro, is entitled to attend university, irrespective of whether their bac subjects correspond to their field of study. I have taught a few people with a bac pro in hairdressing and in building who were in first year of Business Studies some who were in Law. It was grim for them and me.

The failure rate is huge, but as the university is now the only section of higher education that is not allowed to operate selection at entry, bacheliers pro who have been turned down at IUT or haven't got an apprenticeship in their field end up at the university for want of other options.

There is selection for medicine as there is the numerus clausus, and Paris Dauphine notoriously twists the law and selects, but there is no limit elsewhere to student numbers; there were so many people enrolled in 1st year LEA at my university last year that there were 90 students per "tutorial" group and we didn't have rooms big enough to teach them in.

You cannot refuse entry to someone who has a bac, you can merely try and point out gently that they might be better off choosing another field of study or type of HE institute. Since it was decreed that 80% of bacheliers should pass the bac, and they now do so in most académies although the level has been shown to have dropped considerably, the result is indeed huge student numbers, many of whom have no hope of passing.

There is selection at M2 level, but not usually at M1.
No political party is prepared to take on the hot potato of introducing selection as it would lose them votes and send youth unemployment figures through the roof.

AuldAlliance Mon 10-Dec-12 22:53:37

Article here about bacheliers pro, some of whom have never written an essay or read anything other than a magazine, who enroll in 1st year history or French.

winnybella Mon 10-Dec-12 23:11:22

Very interesting, thank you smile I was just researching lycees for DS yesterday (still 4 years away!) and I can't believe I had no idea about the no selection rule for universities. Perhaps because where I come from there are some degree courses with 20 or more candidates for one place and so I can't imagine how would a university manage to accommodate such numbers of students were they to admit them all confused So anyone who wants to study at, say, Sci Po gets in? Really?

Greythorne Mon 10-Dec-12 23:22:26

Sciences Po is not a fac, winnybella so it is highly selective!

winnybella Mon 10-Dec-12 23:22:44

'lire, ce n’est pas mon truc, sauf Closer. Mais on ne fait pas toujours ce qu’on aime dans la vie' Oh, Lord, poor girl, doing lettres modernes. But then there were no places left for gestation administrative...so there are limits, yes? And with the lack of funds, how terrible for the staff.

winnybella Mon 10-Dec-12 23:25:12

Okaaaay...Jesus, how come I don't know any of this? What's the difference between fac and Sci Po, pretty please? Oh, do they do just post grad?

Hope your DD is doing ok with the poem.

boomting Tue 11-Dec-12 00:36:49

If she is interested in politics, then this might be an option www.cardiff.ac.uk/europ/degreeprogrammes/undergraduate/bordeaux/index.html

AuldAlliance Tue 11-Dec-12 08:11:42

Sciences Po is a grande école, not a university.

Grandes écoles select at entrance.

You usually do prépa before entering a grande école: there is selection at entrance to prépa and then again for the grande école.

University in France is, TBH the sub-standard section of HE (except for Law and some sciences) ; if you look at most countries in the world, their leaders and the governing classes will have studied at university (albeit elite ones). In France, Sarkozy was probably one of the first presidents in a long time to have gone to university rather than a grande école (and he isn't exactly renowned for his vast culture and cutting intellect).

One reason the universities are in such parlous condition is that the elite in France doesn't attend university, doesn't send its kids there, and doesn't give much of a stuff about it until the Shanghai ranking yet again places French universities far below those of many other countries and then it gets all agitated for a while, wrings it hands, but does nothing to address any of the real problems.

(Sorry, once you get me started on this I can rant for hours!)

AuldAlliance Tue 11-Dec-12 08:12:49

winnybella, IIRC the girl in that article wanted to do gestion administrative at an IUT (where they select), but she didn't get a place, so has had to resort to university instead.

mathanxiety Tue 11-Dec-12 16:05:00

'Sciences Po people'

Sarkozy is the exception that proves the rule. He attended but didn't graduate due to failing English iirc.

'Ministers (N.B. This is a small selection given almost every minister since the inception of the Fifth Republic studied at the Institute.)'

'Diplomats (N.B. This is a small selection given almost every diplomat since the inception of the Fifth Republic studied at the Institute.)'

mummytime Tue 11-Dec-12 16:12:33

NigellaGuest all MFL courses in my day (a very long time ago it seems) involved a year abroad, so I'm very surprised you find that revolutionary. Some did a year at a Uni, others worked (a lot as Language assistants).

bachsingingmum Wed 12-Dec-12 14:08:36

Both my DD and my niece are currently studying for MFL degrees at UK universities and won Erasmus places. DD spent last year in Germany and spent it learning Arabic ab initio. She loved it, did well comparatively (pehaps because everyong was learning from scratch) and now has near native German. She made a point of getting accommodation and socialising with Germans rather than other Brits to help her German. My niece is in France and I think finding it a lot harder. What folk have said about the place being deserted at weekends is true and because she has been doing French courses the standards required are much higher. The French students have not been as friendly either.

NigellasGuest Wed 12-Dec-12 14:36:29

Boomting thank you for that - my DD has in fact expressed an interest in "Politics and Government" A'level, (plus French, Spanish and English). You are all so helpful and full of informed advice - thank you thanks

Mindingalongtime Wed 12-Dec-12 19:10:30

nigellasguest My DD went to ULIP, thoroughly recommend it and if you need homestay, I can help

Mindingalongtime Wed 12-Dec-12 19:11:37

Ulip - University of London (in Paris)

prettybird Wed 12-Dec-12 19:22:57

At my (Scottish) Uni, a term abroad was compulsory, not a year. If you could get a job as an assistant(e) (or whatever the equivalents were in Germany), then you could do a year in addition to (in the middle of) your 4 year degree.

If you did the year, then the term was not compulsory - particularly useful if you were doing a joint degree as otherwise it meant lots of catching up.

TrazzleMISTLEtoes Wed 12-Dec-12 19:35:01

I've not read the thread so this may have been covered but I spent a year at university in France studying Law. I was at a good university but it is a completely different mindset.

I'm assuming all subjects are taught the same, which they may not be, but lectures were just that. Lectures. 4 hours of dictation, on the trot, every morning with 5 minutes break every hour. Even some of the French students struggled to keep up. We had no chance.

Possibly because law is popular, but the system is brutal. They took 2000 law students in the first year and then every year failed half the course so the number kept decreasing by half.

I only passed the year because we only had to do a written exam in 1 subject (which I failed) and had oral exams in all the rest. The French students obviously had all written exams. In our oral exams we were marked as foreign students so they took the pass mark of 50% as a baseline. I only know of one person who failed an oral exam and she really didn't know what she was talking about.

Studying abroad in a foreign language is bloody hard.

Also, and this is by no means a reflection on all French cities, we got a lot of flack on the street for being foreign. A friend got punched in the face for being English. I know of one foreign student with us who was raped. People got groped on the metro. And the verbal abuse...

I adore France and I would gladly go back to that city (and probably will as I still have friends there). I do go back to France regularly. It is just not necessarily as romantic and idealistic as she may hope.

TrazzleMISTLEtoes Wed 12-Dec-12 19:40:19

By the way, several unis do law and French law (including Essex and uea), several also do French and law - more of those as French law lecturers are few and far between in the uk.

Despite my experiences, I would still do it again and would highly recommend anyone the opportunity to spend some time abroad.

DeckTheHallsWithBartimaeus Wed 12-Dec-12 19:46:56

I studied french and German at a UK uni. Included 3 months in France and a year in Germany.

Then I passed the 'concours' (entrance exams) for a grande ecole business school in France. Got my masters and have worked here ever since. Am now bilingual. I would not have been able to do a French degree in France aged 18.

A brilliant experience was working for haven europe campsites in France in the summer. Meant I got some French experience but in a very fun setting !

PattyPenguin Thu 13-Dec-12 02:40:50

Something else to ponder is how you finance the course fees (usually smaller than in the UK) and living expenses (which vary, but would be steep in Paris, for instance) for a child undertaking a whole degree course abroad. You can't get a UK student loan for that.

Mindingalongtime Thu 13-Dec-12 12:49:09

Patty If you can't get a UK student loan for a degree in France I wonder why DD owes £10K on her student loan? But the ULIP is University of London. She did also earn roughly £100+ a week as a nou nou, we didn't give her any money, bar the occasional Eurostar ticket. She had a very nice lifestyle and rented a lovely little studio flat in the 7th, next to Uni.

DD did 3 years in Paris, and absolutely loved it, It was a huge learning curve, it was scary at first, filling in everything in French, bank account, rental agreements, calling out the plumber, but delighted to find the pompiers ( firemen) came instead etc. It was total immersion at Uni, no English, all admin in French

She is fluent, and now works in a French speaking country in a highly paid job with a big 4 Accountancy company and makes presentations in French and has been commended on her English accent!

fraktion Thu 13-Dec-12 19:43:09

Because it's a UK degree, not a French one, issued by a UK institution. A UK student loan wouldn't be granted for a degree studied at a Gremch institution. You'd need a bourse bit I don't know how easy that is for students not resident in France.

The Ditch used to give out bursaries like sweeties though.

examtaxi Fri 14-Dec-12 19:25:02

Just marking my place as I was about to start a thread on this very subject. smile

homeaway Tue 18-Dec-12 14:21:27

Here is my pennies worth : It can be done but I dont think I would push any of my kids to do it. I am very glad that my dd decided to go to the Uk and study French and she is totally bilingual and could have gone to any French uni . Many courses in the UK offer a year abroad and that is for me a better option. Belgium might be another option for you to look at , I think that Liege has generally a good reputation, but it is hard . This has been mentioned before but there is no selection process at the start so everybody gets in but they weed the weakest out. I know of kids who have struggled with the system. English universities I think tend to view the student as a whole and from what i have seen it is easier for them to get help if they need it. The" French" way of teaching is not the same as the "English " way and it does not suit everybody, ask any ES student which teachers were more lenient and they would probably all say the English teachers smile.
I think you have to apply to French unis by the end of March, for the Belgian universities you need to get a certificat d'equivalence and you have to start the ball rolling before the summer. You have to consider that the level of French at a French speaking university will be very very high and they wont make allowances for a non fluent French speaker. My ds who is in his last year of school is studying homere in French, the French teachers don't like it and neither do the kids , French is their second language ,but kids who come from a French school and do their bac will be studying that .
Another thing is that in the UK if you are studying French you have the choice at least in the first year to write your essays in French or English , in France the choice does not exist so every spelling mistake, grammatical mistake willl count...
Good luck with your choices.

creamteas Tue 18-Dec-12 18:20:17

Another thing is that in the UK if you are studying French you have the choice at least in the first year to write your essays in French or English

not at my uni grin

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