An overseas recruitment campaign and simpler entry procedures have helped raise the number of foreigners studying in France, even though the agency set up to attract overseas students has admitted that the enrolment process has made its job difficult.
Nearly 195,000 foreign students were enrolled throughout the French higher education system in the academic year 2001-02, a rise of a third over the past four years, the ministry of foreign affairs said. There were 159,000 in universities - 18,000 more than the previous year - accounting for 11.4 per cent of the student body. Just over half were from Africa; about 26,000 from the European Union; 15,500 from elsewhere in Europe; nearly 24,000 from Asia; and 11,000 from the Americas.
Efforts to reverse a decline in the number of foreigners applying to study in France began in 1998 with the introduction of a student visa, a restructured scholarship programme and the creation of EduFrance, an agency to promote French higher education abroad.
A year ago, the French government introduced other measures, which included cutting red tape and retitling diplomas to make them internationally recognisable.
EduFrance started operating in January 1999. It now has links with 175 French higher education institutions and has set up 75 offices in 36 countries. It has targeted countries that "have a large number of quality students who are inclined to go abroad and to finance their own studies but who rarely spontaneously choose France". These include Mexico, Argentina, India, Japan, Korea, China, Brazil and the US.
It admits that the number of foreign students it can claim to have recruited is "indisputably modest", though this has risen from 913 in 2001 to 1,200 in the first six months of this year. But it says that its contribution towards enrolling the 50,000 more foreigners studying in France than four years ago is "honourable considering the slowness and difficulty of the enrolment process".