Key Figures 2021 (in French), published this month, acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic had disrupted international student mobility, with “successive lockdowns, difficulty in travel and closed borders”, as well as noting the impact of Brexit and its consequences for mobility in Europe.

“Despite the challenging context, France has asserted itself as a destination of choice. Students have responded, showing a renewed desire to study in France, particularly those from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East and Europe,” said Campus France in a statement.

“Despite the challenging context, France has asserted itself as a destination of choice”

“The moderate decline in the number of international students this year (-25%), compared to that of neighbouring countries, is the result of the voluntary and joint action of the government and institutions.

“However, the data prior to the health crisis showed a pre-pandemic world where France was experiencing a relative loss of appeal. At the time, France was the sixth most popular country to study in, behind Germany and Russia but ahead of Canada. The number of foreign students is still growing, but at a slower rate than the world average and competitors.”

La Conférence des Grandes Écoles, which represents 285 members whose 227 grandes écoles offer master’s degrees in a variety of subjects, told The PIE News it “welcome[s] the efforts that have been made by the government and institutions to maintain France’s attractiveness”, particularly in terms of keeping borders open.

“The effect of Covid is roughly the same for our schools as has been noted more generally but this varies from one school to another… That said, the vast majority of candidates admitted did indeed come and those who have not yet been able to join have begun their courses online while waiting to be able to be physically here,” a spokesperson said.

“We don’t have figures but we are observing a drop in students coming from China and India particularly. We expect however an increase in applicants from Africa, and from Europe due to the exit of the UK [from the EU].”

In 2018, French president Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to double the number of number of Indian students coming to France.

The number of visas issued decreased by 60% in Asia and the Americas for the 2020/21 school year compared to 2019. There was also a 26% decrease among European students and 9% in Sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand, issuance increased 6% for MENA.

While MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa are among the three top markets for France, the report however noted important disparities exist within these regions.

For example, students from Syria and Yemen have increased by 52% and 41% over five years while decreases have been seen from Jordan and Israel. Unsurprisingly, across Africa, France is favoured by students from francophone nations, including Algeria and Morocco.

Campus France additionally predicted that “student mobility, partly interrupted or postponed after a transition year, could resume at the end of the year”.

“Student mobility, partly interrupted or postponed after a transition year, could resume at the end of the year”

“France should see its ties with Africa strengthen and will likely be able to count on a resumption of European mobility in the fall semester,” it explained.

“Indian students seem to be eager to study abroad again, while mobility from China is likely to decrease, both in France and in the world.

“In the medium term, there seems to be an increased interest in more regional study plans, particularly in Asia. While this is of concern to Anglo-Saxon institutions that are often dependent on Chinese mobility, it is also an opportunity for French universities to deepen their ties with their European counterparts and to renew ties with the major emerging countries of Latin America and Asia.”

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