A popular destination for international students, France has historically welcomed over 300,000 students from abroad looking to build their higher education experience in the country. The go-to for French-speaking students, Morocco and Algeria top the list for source countries, with increases of 23% and 42% between 2013 and 2018. However, that was then and we are in the now– or as it’s most commonly known as ‘the new normal’. COVID-19 halted the global international higher education industry overnight. The big question is whether France remains a mecca for international study? Let’s start by taking a look at the story so far.
Pricing, Paperwork, and Practicality
Behind the scenes, France has been working away to build its allure for international students. From providing over 10,000 government scholarships and internships to the 14,000 tuition fee exemptions for non-European Union students, – and not forgetting the robust Erasmus+ program. That said, the basics of pricing, paperwork, and practicality are key stumbling blocks experienced by international students. Pricing remains a sticking point, with student accommodation pricing rising steadily in larger French cities – such as Paris. This can often price out some international students who are looking for a higher education experience without the high price tag due to self– funding their studies. Paperwork, well paper in general, seems to be a nemesis for generation Z who is a mobile-first cohort. A staple for accommodation rental agreements, the volume of paperwork can present a daunting challenge for some students in France with unique tenancy laws compared to the rest of Europe. This has been such a challenge historically that a plan – named ‘Welcome to France’ – has been put in place by Campus France as part of its 2027 commitment plan to boost international student mobility in France.
“Speaking the language of students remains the challenge, and opportunity, for France as a destination.”
A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved
Finding ways to manage international study on a tighter budget, international students look to book flatshares – individual rooms in a room cluster of three to six. Beating the budget restraints, and also providing an instant international community, flatshares are a practical option for students studying in France from abroad with 63% of students picking that option when studying in France according to Student.com data. So much so that despite COVID-19, international students are continuing to express a preference in flatsharing, only 3% down YoY in 2020 compared to 2019. That said, we aren’t looking at the larger flatshare model seen in other European countries, – such as the UK, where four to six students is an average flatshare. Looking at Student.com data, in France the most common student accommodation type is a studio, one or two-bedroom options, counting for two-thirds of all bookings as a destination.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Whilst COVID-19 hasn’t dramatically changed the preferences of international students looking to study in France, there is still room for caution and preparation from student accommodation providers in the region. Five out of the top 10 countries that supply France’s mixed international student cohort have seen numbers drop into minus figures due to the impact of COVID-19 – amongst those China, Greece, and Italy (see figure). Before the global pandemic students already had a spotlight on every detail of student accommodation on offer in the country. With barriers such as price and paperwork a pain point, layering on top concerns about safety and flexibility of contracts isn’t something that the regional industry needs right now. Clear communication on social distancing guidelines, enforcements of those guidelines, and clarity around cancellation policies can all provide that reassurance for international students heading to France to study.
As the world continues to open up, and life returns to the ‘new normal’, it’s important that safety and security aren’t added to France’s pain point list for international students as the hunger for international education is still there.
Join the Discussion
On October 20th, The Class of 2020 will be hosting its Virtual Summit France. During the summit, representatives from Student.com, AXA-IM, CBRE, BONARD, Campus France, and Ivanhoé Cambridge will discuss the current state of the region and its growth potential for the future. Registration is free for partners of The Class of 2020 and for Higher Education Institutions.