If you’re hoping to study in France, you’ll want to know which universities are the best.
So what are the top French universities and colleges? According to Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings 2016-2017, 27 French institutions are counted among the top universities in the world.
The ranking includes 10 institutions in Paris – making up more than a third of the best universities in France – and other options scattered around the country.
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Universities in Paris take the top four spots, but institutions in Lyon, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Marseilles and Bordeaux also feature in the top 10.
The best university in France is École Normale Supérieure, one of the country’s most elite institutions and part of the grandes écoles system that admits only high-achieving students, in contrast to France’s other public universities that are open to all who have a high school diploma.
Outside Paris, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, also one of the grandes écoles, is in joint fifth position.
Top 4 universities in France
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Admissions to École Normale Supérieure (ENS) are extremely selective, comprising written and oral exams beyond the national baccalaureate. Candidates are expected to excel in research, science, arts, culture and humanities.
Graduates go on to secure top jobs in government, academia and culture. Among their number are 13 Nobel laureates, 10 Fields Medallists, several prime ministers and philosophers.
The roots of École Normale Supérieure can be traced back to the post-revolutionary National Convention in 1794 and the first course was designed to train secondary school teachers to ensure a consistent national education. But in its current form, École Normale Supérieure was founded in the 19th century and moved to its current site in 1847.
Only 200 students – known as normaliens – are recruited each year, half in science programmes and half in humanities. Students receive a monthly salary of about €1,300 (£1,114) in return for 10 years of service in the public sector on graduation.
International students are welcomed into postgraduate programmes and often receive a scholarship. Foreign students from European Union countries are also treated as civil servants in training, like their French counterparts.
ENS has a sister school in Italy – Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa – and up to half a cohort at each university can undertake an exchange each year. There are also research partnerships with elite institutions around the world, including the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, McGill University and Harvard University.
With a history stretching back as far as that of École Normale Supérieure, École Polytechnique is just as prestigious but focuses specifically on science and technology. The motto of the school is “For the Homeland, Science and Glory”.
There are fewer than 3,000 students at the university, which is based in the small Parisian suburb of Palaiseau, just over 10 miles from the centre of Paris.
Despite the small intake each year, about 30 per cent of the student body is international, with one Spanish student explaining that international students get special attention and preparatory programmes.
École Polytechnique offers an interdisciplinary approach, providing a curriculum that combines undergraduate teaching with graduate research across a broad range of topics and specialisms.
In addition to six different topics within science and engineering, undergraduates are also required to take a humanities subject and sports.
Undergraduate admission requires two years of preparation during high school before a week of written exams and then an oral examination.
French nationals are obliged to do eight months of military service in their first year, since the university is officially still run by the Ministry of Defence.
It is the largest scientific and medical complex in the country, with about 30,000 full-time students around the university’s Jussieu campus in the Latin Quarter of Paris.
The university has eight main teaching hospitals and is also well known for excellence in mathematics.
A number of affiliates of the university have won Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry and medicine since Pierre Curie and Marie Curie won in 1903.
There are 120 different research laboratories across modelling and engineering; living earth and environment; energy, matter and the universe; and life and health. More than 5,000 researchers and professors work in these four divisions.
About 20 per cent of the students are international. In total, there are 3,000 doctoral candidates across 16 doctoral schools.
Another large university, Paris-Sud University has just under 30,000 students across its campuses in the southern Parisian suburbs.
The university, and particularly its Orsay Centre, is noted for its contributions to physics and chemistry research. It is home to some of the most elite laboratories in France, in research fields including nuclear physics, astrophysics, atomic physics, nanoscience and particle physics.
Two Nobel prizes and four Fields Medals have been awarded to affiliates of the university. A number of other leading academics and business people are graduates, including Bertrand Serlet, the former senior vice-president of software engineering at Apple.
There are 4,800 international students at Paris-Sud University hailing from 125 different countries.
Best universities in France 2017
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