How does university entrance work in France?

Students attend a lecture
Obtaining your chosen university and study topic can be a lottery in France

Can you explain the university entrance procedure in France? Is it similar to the UK where applicants receive offers before their exams and a place if they make the required grade?

The key point about the French system for the allocation of public university places is that it is completely non-selective.

Having said that, Minister for Further Education Frédérique Vidal has said that the way it works is unfair, unsatisfactory and over-stretched and she is looking to revise it. In mid-July, for example, nearly 87,000 candidates were still waiting to see whether they would have a place, which was unlikely to be their first choice.

A working party is currently looking at avenues for reform.

At present there is no selection procedure related to exam results, school performance or interviews for public universities, the idea being that there should be equal opportunities for all to attend.

Candidates may list up to 24 choices of preferred university and courses in order of priority when they apply on the online Admission Post-Bac internet platform in January to March of the year they will take their baccalauréat (they have up to a date in May to make changes to the order if they wish).

From June onwards there are three admission phases and this year 653,000 were offered a place in the first phase, of whom 61% got their first choice.

However, problems arise when courses are oversubscribed. In which case people are more likely to get a place if the course in question was listed as their first choice or near the top or their list.

There is also usually a priority for people applying within the académie (educational authority area) in which they live or took their Bac (which is the norm). Apart from that it is literally a question of luck as to whether you get a place or not as they are allocated according to a random draw which is computer generated, irrespective of the grade you achieve in your exams.

Students who do not get a place can then wait to see if places on their preferred course are freed up because someone else decides not to take up their offer, or they can, if they have the opportunity, accept a place from further down their list of choices.

However this system only applies to the public university scheme - there are plenty of other further education choices including private schools, grandes écoles (and the prépa courses that lead on to them) etc and they often require rigorous entrance procedures, including exams and interviews.

The most popular university courses where most problems arise are the STAPS sports degree, psychology and law. France 3 television interviewed Titouan, a 17-year-old from Normandy, who had the highest grade Bac (mention très bien) and a sports profile as a handball player but was unable to secure a STAPS place because of the random draw system. He has now been accepted to study physics – which was not what he had set his heart on doing.

It is this system which Mr Vidal has vowed to banish, saying there will be no more tirage au sort lottery system to win a place and that there should be some form of selection for the most popular courses.

The biggest student union, Fage, agrees the draw system must go, but it is against any form of selection. Their national co-ordinator, Kenza Occansey, told Connexion they believe reform must go further to help students make the right choice and to lower the 30% drop-out rate that occurs after the first year. Only 27% of students manage to get their degree in three years, and only 40% in four years: “Our age group has the highest unemployment rate and the right further education increases job chances, so this should be available to everyone.

“However we think lycées should help students plan their education strategy from the first year of Bac studies and teach them exactly what each degree course entails and their related job opportunities and highlight the advantages of professional and technological courses, as well as general degrees.

“That way fewer people will sign up for the so-called popular courses and fewer will drop out because they will be studying something that suits them from the word go.”

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