HIGHER EDUCATION OVERVIEW
Students looking to pursue higher education in France and its terriroties have many options. Students can choose to attend public universities or may attempt to gain admission into specialized schools.
France’s system of higher education enrolls 2.2 million students, two-thirds of whom attend the country’s 88 public universities. In order to be admitted into the university system, students must pass the baccalauréat, or as it is more commonly known, the bac. The bac is a national examination taken after the third year of high school. The universities in France offer academic, technical and professional degree programs in all disciplines, preparing students for careers in research and professional practice in every imaginable field. They offer dozens of different national diplomas.
Short degree programs, generally involving two or three years of study, are concentrated in the fields of manufacturing, trade and services. Most are offered by multidisciplinary institutes affiliated with a university – the so-called university institutes of technology, or IUTs.
Grandes écoles are selective in their admissions and enroll far fewer students than the universities (which can enroll 100,000 students). They train students for careers in engineering, management, art and architecture, to name just a few. They are unique institutions, prestigious and very selective. Their programs are so well attuned to the needs of industry that their graduates are in very high demand. To be admitted into the grandes écoles, students must take two years of preparatory courses or cours préparatoires after they pass the bac, which prepares them for the concours (or entrance examination) to these highly competitive schools.
The system of degrees awarded in French higher education reflects a common European architecture. The LMD system — for licence (bachelor), master and doctorate — is based on the number of semesters completed since leaving secondary school, and their equivalent in European credits under the European Credit Transfer Scheme (ECTS):
Licence = six semesters = 180 ECTS (Baccalauréat + three years)
Master = 10 semesters = 300 ECTS (Baccalauréat + five years)
Doctorat = 16 semesters (Baccalauréat + eight years)
STUDYING AT A FRENCH UNIVERSITY
French universities operate in ways that are quite different from the system with which you are familiar. Understanding the differences will help you plan your program of study in Guadeloupe, use your time effectively while you are there and return with transferable credits. French students follow a highly structured curriculum specific to the degree they are pursuing from day one at the university. They do not take "liberal arts" or general education requirements before focusing on a major or area of study as most U.S. students do. At the end of each year, they must pass a set of required exams before they can move on to the next year's program.
In general, French students have to assume more responsibility for themselves on campus than American students. They do not have as many campus support systems as American students, and they too may experience frustration when they first begin their studies. The amount of information you receive before you leave and during the first days or weeks of your stay abroad may seem overwhelming. However, if you review the material sent to you by ISEP and your host institution carefully, you will be better prepared to meet the challenges of adjusting to a different system, and find your coordinator and professors better equipped to help you.
French professors are not as accessible as their American counterparts. Increasingly, however, professors do have office hours or may be available if you make an appointment. They will also be willing to answer questions and discuss problems before or immediately after class. It would be a good idea to introduce yourself to the professor at the beginning of the year, explaining that you are an international student. Do ask other students in class for advice or assistance if you do not understand something.
In France the academic year begins in September or October and ends in May or June. The exact starting and ending dates vary from institution to institution and from program to program. Often times, the different departments or facultés have different start and end dates, so be sure to consult each departmental calendar to know when courses begin and end.
There are several breaks during the year:
-Two weeks in December-January for Christmas and the New Year
-Two weeks in February for winter break
-Two weeks in late March to early April for the Easter break
Quite a few holidays fall in May: May 1 (Labor Day), May 8 (Victory Day, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe), Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Monday.
Summer vacation stretches over the entire months of July and August, and sometimes includes parts of June and September as well.
STUDYING IN GUADELOUPE
French university courses are of two basic types:
-Lecture courses are given in halls seating from 100 to 1,000 students. These are called cours magistraux (CM). The professor presents the subject; students take notes. Many professors prepare and distribute course outlines or lecture notes that help students prepare for exams.
-Study sections, known as travaux dirigés (TD), consist of small groups of students. In the seminar-style sections, students apply and deepen what the professor has presented in the lecture hall. Attendance is mandatory.
Because French students have very little choice with regard to the courses they take within their area of study, French universities often do not publish detailed course descriptions or course catalogues. Rather, a list of modules or unités d’enseignement with an indication of the number of hours per week or the total number of class hours for the course and the corresponding ECTS credits is provided. This information can often be found online under "formation", "licence (for a certain area of study)" and "programme."
For example, you may see for a course description like such:
L1 semestre 1
UEF « Histoire moderne » / ECTS: 6
Initiation à l’histoire moderne (1h30 CM + 2h TD)
This can be interpreted as follows:
L1 semestre 1 = first year of the license, semester one
UEF: Unité d’enseignement fondamenteaux or a required course for the degree
Introduction to Modern History for six ECTS credits
1h30 CM = 1 hour 30 minutes per week of cours magistraux, or lecture
2 h TD = 2 hours per week of travaux dirigés, or study section
Registration (inscription) is the process of enrollment into the university; you will fill out many forms and hand in several passport-size photos in order to receive the various university cards signifying your enrollment.
As an exchange student, you have greater flexibility in choosing courses than French students do. You do not need to take a complete package of courses at one level. However, if you focus on courses in one or two departments, you will find it easier to put together a schedule, your program of studies will be more cohesive, and you will have a better chance of getting to know French students because you will be seeing the same group on a regular basis.
Selection of courses is done during registration. You should expect to have to go to each building that houses the faculté (department) of the course you wish to take, find the administrative office, ask for a course listing and sign up for the desired course. Students should be aware that the registration process can take several days. French universities are not as "service-oriented" as those in the United States and there are many students for few administrators. Ask questions of your ISEP host coordinator if you have trouble registering. Also, the add-drop process is very informal. You may want to observe several classes before making your final selection and to make sure that you will be able to follow the course and fulfill all course requirements. Remember to consult about any changes in your course selections with your host and home coordinators and advisors. Be sure to keep track of your courses, including course titles, hours, professors, and assignments for after your exchange. In all cases, you must verify all of your course information with your host coordinator to ensure that you have enrolled properly.
The actual number of hours in a class varies according to the department or subject and the amount of work expected of students outside class. Courses usually meet 1-2 hours each week, meaning you will probably be taking a higher number of courses than at home. Most current ISEP students at French universities are taking 24-30 ECTS per semester.
Exams & Grading
Student performance is assessed in two ways:
-Short quizzes given throughout the semester allow instructors to check what their students have learned in each unit.
-Examinations covering all the material presented during the semester are given at the end of each semester, generally just before the February break and again in June, before the summer break.
Some U.S. universities will only award credit if you have an exam grade. Exams may be oral or written. The professor will grade you as he or she does a French student. Although the grading system in France goes from 0 to 20, the grades from 0 to 14 are generally used; 15 and 16 are relatively rare; 17 and 18, very rare; and no one is sure that 19 and 20 really exist. A 10 is about a U.S. "C"; in some courses an eight or nine may be a "C" for a non-native speaker; 12 is good. Above that - bravo!
The atmosphere at a French university may seem low pressure, but even if a class does not require regular assignments, you must keep up with the reading and attend classes. Final examinations are given at the end of each course. ISEP students should check with professors to determine when the exam will be given as most professors do not provide a syllabus at the beginning of a course. As a foreign student, you may not be required to take the final exam. You may be able to substitute written assignments for the exam. Check with the professor to find out whether you are expected to take the exam in order to get a grade (in many instances, the exam might be the only evidence that you have taken the class) or whether you can substitute other assignments. Taking a final does not automatically entitle you to a grade since you must pass your exams to receive a grade. Also, make sure to register for the exam in addition to taking it.
If you make any special arrangements with a professor, obtain the agreement in writing signed by both you and the professor. Provide a copy of the agreement to both your home and host ISEP coordinators and keep a copy for yourself. Without an agreement in writing, it is expected that you will take all final exams. Credit transfer is not guaranteed if you fail to take exams or provide written proof of other arrangements.
At the end of the exchange, the faculté will award you a final average. The grades you receive from the faculté are not contestable. The only way to modify a bad grade is to do supplementary work, the grade for which will be averaged with the bad one.
Before you leave for Guadeloupe check with your home institution about conditions for credit transfer.
Students should be sure to provide a list of course titles and codes, professors, number of hours per week and the professor’s signature to the host ISEP coordinator. Your host coordinator may provide a standard form to assist you with this. In many cases, ISEP students have been able to learn their results and report this to their coordinator before they depart. Final results are very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain if the student has not provided such a list. Students should also bring all exam papers, graded homework and papers, and any other work home to their home institution to assist with credit transfer.
French universities do not generate annual grade reports for students. Exam grades are usually posted on faculté bulletin boards. Transcripts must be requested and are usually not available until a student has completed a diploma. Your ISEP coordinator will provide an official transcript but only if you have given them a complete list of your courses and professors. The average grade for your class assignments may be listed on your transcript, under the heading controle continu. The transcript will be sent from your host coordinator to ISEP Global in Washington, D.C., to be forwarded to your home coordinator.
REMINDER: Credit transfer is not guaranteed if you fail to take exams or provide written proof of other arrangements.