Education minister Jack Lang and foreign affairs minister Hubert Védrine have set up a council to improve support for foreigners coming to study in France.
The Conseil National pour L'accueil des Étudiants Étrangers en France will monitor the systems affecting foreign students and propose improvements. It will also coordinate activities between the various ministries and other relevant administrative bodies and try to increase the influence of French higher education abroad. Its 34 members include representatives from the two ministries, universities and the bodies that deal with the enrolment and support of students from abroad.
At its launch ceremony, Mr Lang said the council would ensure priority for a "high-quality education for students coming from different regions of the world, set out all the measures already implemented to achieve this, and affirm the importance of opening up French higher education internationally".
After nearly 20 years of university expansion, the number of French students is falling because of demographic reasons. The government hopes that attracting more foreign students will increase the educational, cultural and technological influence of France abroad.
There were 174,000 foreigners studying in France in the academic year 2000-01, about 10 per cent of the university population. They represented a rise of about 25,000 since 1998, when measures were introduced to reverse a decade of declining numbers. The measures included a student visa, a restructured grants and scholarship programme and the creation of Edufrance, an agency to promote French higher education abroad.
About half of France's foreign students come from Africa, nearly a third from Europe, 14 per cent from Asia and 7 per cent from the Americas.