International Education Guide – France

A comparison of the education system in France to education standards in Alberta.

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This is not an official International Qualifications Assessment Service (IQAS) assessment. These credential comparisons represent common educational patterns within each country. They do not take into account the recognition status of the institution through which a credential was obtained, the authenticity of the documentation, or the particular pattern of education followed by an individual.

Country overview

Official country name: French Republic

Location: Western Europe

Capital: Paris

Overseas France: France has several overseas regions across the world:

  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon in the Atlantic Ocean
  • Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy in the Antilles
  • French Polynesia and the special collectivity of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and Clipperton Island in the Pacific Ocean
  • La Reunion Island, Mayotte Island, Kerguelen Islands, Crozet Islands, St. Paul Island, Amsterdam Island and the Scattered Islands in the Indian ocean
  • French Guiana on the South American continent
  • a claimed territory on the continent of Antarctica

Area: 547,190 km2

Population: around 65 million people, based on United Nations estimates of 2018

Ethnicity: It was estimated that 90% of the population of Metropolitan France are of European origin, and 10% are Arab-Africans due to immigration trends, primarily from North and West Africa

Religion: Nearly 40% of the population do not belong to any religion. Slightly more than half (51.1%) identify as Christian, 5.6% identify as Muslim, and under 1% are Jewish.

Languages: French is the official language and the primary language of instruction in France

Administration: France is a presidential republic. The French administrative structure is divided into regions, departments and communes. France has 13 (plus 5 overseas) regions. Each region has several departments. France is divided into 96 metropolitan departments. Paris has special status as both a village and a department. French communes are the smallest unit of democracy in France. There are more than 36,500 of them.

School education

School education in France is twelve years in length, comprising Grades 1 to 12.


Flowchart of France's school education system

Schooling at all levels of the education system is organized by the Ministère de l'Éducation Nationale et de la Jeunesse (Ministry of National Education and Youth). France is divided into 26 regions, each containing an académie, which is responsible for education administration in its region, from preschool through to university level. There are another 4 académies in the French Overseas Departments and Territories.

French is the language of instruction at all levels of education in France.

School is compulsory for children from ages 6 to 16 years.

Preschool education (école maternelle) is free and offered to children aged 3 to 6. In September 2019, France introduced compulsory preschool for children from the age of 3.

Primary education (école élémentaire) is compulsory and free for children from the age of 6. The primary program lasts 5 years (Grades 1 to 5) and focuses on literacy. The core curricular topics are French (at least 9 hours per week) and mathematics (at least 5 hours per week).

Lower secondary education (collège) is free and compulsory. It lasts 4 years (Grades 6 to 9), with a common curriculum for all students. At the end of collège, all students sit brevet examinations. The final credential of lower secondary education is the Diplôme national du brevet or Brevet des collèges.

Upper secondary education (lycée) is 3 years in length. The years are numbered as follows: seconde (Grade 10), première (Grade 11) and terminale (Grade 12). In Grade 10, students take the same core curriculum. At the end of Grade 10, students select a baccalaureat type:

  • Baccalauréat général (General Baccalaureate): academic stream that prepares students for higher education at a university
  • Baccalauréat technologique (Technological Baccalaureate): technical stream that offers both general academic knowledge and technological training
  • Baccalauréat professionnel (Vocational Baccalaureate): industry training stream that offers general knowledge and competencies necessary for an occupation in the labour market

The baccalauréat général has 3 different streams (séries):

  • Baccalauréat scientifique (Scientific Baccalaureate - BS)
  • Baccalauréat sciences économiques et sociales (Economics and Social Sciences Baccalaureate - BES)
  • Baccalauréat littéraire (Literary Baccalaureate - BL)

Upon successful completion, students receive a Diplôme du baccalauréat général (Diploma of General Baccalaureate).

The baccalauréat technologique has 8 streams:

  • Sciences et technologies du management et de la gestion (STMG) (Science and Technology of Management and Business)
  • Sciences et technologies du design et des arts appliqués (STD2A) (Science and Technology of Design and Applied Arts)
  • Sciences et technologies de l'industrie et du développement durable (STI2D) (Science and Technology of Industry and Sustainable Development)
  • Sciences et technologies de laboratoire (STL) (Laboratory Science and Technology)
  • Sciences et technologies de la santé et du social (ST2S) (Socio-Medical Sciences and Technologies)
  • Sciences et technologies de l'hôtellerie et de la restauration (STHR) (Hotel and Restaurant Science and Technology)
  • Techniques de la musique et de la danse (TMD) (Techniques of Music and Dance)
  • Sciences et technologies de l'agronomie et du vivant (STAV) (Science and Technology in Agronomy and Life)

Upon successful completion of baccalauréat exams, students receive a Diplôme du baccalauréat technologique (Diploma of Technological Baccalaureate).

The baccalauréat professionnel stream was established in 1985. The stream may be completed in 2 or 3 years: 2-year programs lead to a Certificate d’aptitude professionnelle (CAP) and three-year programs lead to a Diplôme du baccalauréat professionnel. The holders of the Professional Baccalaureate Diploma are able to work in their occupation and can also pursue further studies as higher technicians (section de technicien supérieur, STS) that lead to a Certificate of Higher Technician (Brevet de technicien supérieur, BTS).

Grading is on a 0 to 20 scale with a minimum passing grade of 10. The final diploma includes the following grade classifications:

  • 20-16 – mention très bien (very good)
  • 15-14 – mention bien (good)
  • 13-12 – mention assez bien (quite good)
  • 11-10 – passable (pass)

Higher education overview

Higher education programs in France are regulated by the Ministère de lʼEnseignement supérieur, de la Recherche et de lʼInnovation (Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation). Administrative responsibility for higher education at a regional level is undertaken through académies.

The medium of instruction at all higher education institutions is French.


Flow chart of Post 2002 Bologna system of education

Following the European framework launched in Bologna in 1999, the French higher education system was restructured in 2002 in 3 levels: Licence – Master – Doctorate.

Studies leading to a Licence comprise 3 years or 180 ECTS credits. Licentiate degrees in certain specialisations may also be conferred as the Diplôme de comptabilité et de gestion (Diploma in accounting and management), Diplôme d'études en architecture (Diploma of studies in architecture), Diplôme d'État d'infirmier (State diploma in nursing) or Diplôme d'État d'ergothérapeute (State diploma in occupational therapy).

Several vocationally oriented post-secondary programs have been transformed into a Licence professionnelle (Professional Bachelor), which were introduced in 2000. Programs last for one year or 60 ECTS credits after the completion of a 2-year degree like BTS, DUT or DEUST in a field that is compatible with that of the licence professionnelle. The BTS, DUT and DEUST require two years of intermediate level study of 120 ECTS credits. The licence professionnelle does not give access to a master-level program.

Two-year Master programs consist of 120 ECTS credits and give access to Doctorate programs. The Maîtrise (M1) (‘master’) diploma may be conferred after obtaining the first 60 ECTS credits of a Master (M2) program. The Maîtrise does not give access to a doctorate program.

Doctorate programs last 3 to 4 years depending on the discipline. Candidates write and defend a thesis.

Before the implementation of the Bologna process in 2002, the higher education system was based on 3 cycles:

  1. The first cycle was 2 years in length and led to the following university diplomas:

    • Diplôme d’études universitaires générales (DEUG) (Diploma of General University Studies)
    • Diplôme d’études universitaires scientifiques et techniques (DEUST) (Diploma in Scientific and Technical University Studies)

    There were also 2 types of short 2-year tertiary education programs offered by Instituts Universitaires de Technologie (IUT) and Sections de Techniciens Supérieurs (STS):

    • Diplôme universitaire de technologie (DUT) (University Diploma in Technology)
    • Brevet de technicien supérieur (BTS) (Certificate of Higher Technician)
  2. The second cycle consisted of a one-year Licence, followed by a one-year Maîtrise.

    The very selective grandes écoles in the fields of engineering and management conferred their Diplôme de grande école after 5 years of study following the baccalauréat.

  3. The third cycle offered 2  pathways:

    • a one-year professional pathway leading to the Diplôme d’études supérieures spécialisées (DESS) (Diploma of Specialized Graduate Studies) and the labour market
    • a one-year academic pathway leading to the Diplôme d’études approfondies (DEA) (Diploma of Advanced Studies). The DEA was a prerequisite for the preparation of a doctorate thesis. In a technical field, this level degree was called a Diplôme de recherche technologique (DRT) (Diploma of Technological Research)

    The Doctorat was conferred after 3 or 4 years of in-depth research after the DEA. Types of doctorat included:

    • Doctorat d'État
    • Doctorat de l'Université
    • Doctorat de Troisième Cycle
    • Docteur-Ingénieur

    The highest qualification awarded by French universities was a Habilitation à diriger des recherches (Habilitation). Entry was based on the doctorat. Scholars were required to present a portfolio of their contribution to the field, in particular individual research work and publications.

Technical education

At the secondary level, a vocational pathway leads to the Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle (CAP) or Baccalauréat professionnel. Preparation for CAP programs lasts for 2 years. The Baccalauréat professionnel programs require 3 years of study, or 2 years after the CAP. Until 2012, a Brevet d’études professionnelles (BEP) was also awarded after 2 years of study. It was an intermediate certification between the CAP and the Baccalauréat professionnel.

Vocational and technical tertiary education consists of the 2-year Diplôme universitaire de technologie (DUT) and Brevet de technicien supérieur (BTS). In 1999, one-year or 60 ECTS licences professionnelles programs were also introduced. Students seeking admission to a professional licentiate program must hold a 2-year BTS or DUT in a related field. 2-year professional master programs were created to replace the one-year maîtrise followed by the Diplôme d’études supérieures spécialisées (DESS). Professional master programs comprise 120 ECTS credits and do not require a thesis.


Higher education is offered through universités, grandes écoles, and specialized institutions, such as research institutes, art and architecture schools, colleges of fashion, film, performing arts, journalism, social work and others. A higher education institution might be recognized and allowed to offer programs, but that does not mean that all its programs are nationally recognized.

Universities confer 2 types of diplomas:

  • national diplomas are the responsibility of theMinistère de l'Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche et de l'Innovation, are conferred nationwide, ensure a recognized level of the French qualification framework, and are issued in an official state format
  • university diplomas are the responsibility of the university and are issued in the school’s own format

In order to be recognized, a private institution may be authorized by a ministerial decree. This authorization is referred to as a diplôme visé. By law, a private institution cannot call itself a université. Many grandes écoles issue only one recognized diploma in a particular field. The rest of their diplomas are not of the same status as national diplomas or diplomas issued with a diplôme visé. Official approval of a diploma or a school maybe checked at the Ministry’s website Onisep.

Credential comparison

CredentialEntrance requirementsLength of studyIQAS comparison
Diplôme du Baccalauréat GénéralCompletion of Grade 9: Diplôme National du Brevet3 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a High School Diploma
Diplôme du Baccalauréat TechnologiqueCompletion of Grade 9: Diplôme National du Brevet3 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a High School Diploma, including technical training
Diplôme du Baccalauréat ProfessionnelCompletion of Grade 9: Diplôme National du Brevet

3 years


2 years (after Certificate d'Aptitude Professionelle

Brevet d'Etudes Professionelles)

Generally compares to the completion of a High School Diploma, including vocational training
Diplôme d’enseignement supérieur [from 1979 to 1989]

Diplôme du Baccalauréat Général (until 1983)

Diplôme d'Études Universitaires Générales (from 1983)

3 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a post-secondary Diploma

Diplôme Universitaire de Technologie

Brevet de Technicien Supérieur

Diplôme d'Études Universitaires Générales [pre-Bologna; used until 2006]

Diplôme d'Études Universitaire Scientifiques et Techniques]

Baccalauréat2 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a post-secondary Diploma
Diplôme de Licence / Grade de Licence

Diplôme du Baccalauréat Général

Diplôme du Baccalauréat Technologique

3 years


1 year (after DEUG, DEUST, DUT, BTS)

Generally compares to the completion of a 3-year Bachelor's degree
Diplôme de Licence Professionnelle / Grade de Licence Professionnelle

Diplôme Universitaire de Technologie

Brevet de Technicien Supérieur

1 yearGenerally compares to the completion of a 3-year Bachelor's degree
Diplôme de [name of the school]

Diplôme du Baccalauréat Général

Diplôme du Baccalauréat Technologique

3 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a 3-year Bachelor's degree
Diplôme d'État de DocteurDiplôme du Baccalauréat Généralat least 5 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a a first professional university degree
Diplôme de Maîtrise [pre Bologna]Diplôme de Licence / Grade de Licence

1 year


2 years (after DEUG, DEUST)

Generally compares to the completion of a 4-year Bachelor's degree
Diplôme de Master / Grade de MasterDiplôme de Licence / Grade de Licence2 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a Master's degree
Diplôme d'IngénieurDiplôme du Baccalauréat Général5 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a Master's degree
Master Métiers de l'enseignement, de l'éducation et de la formation) [since 2013]Diplôme de Licence / Grade de Licence2 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a Master of Education degree

Diplôme d'Études Supérieures Spécialisées [pre-Bologna; used until 2006]

Diplôme d'Études Approfondies [pre-Bologna; used until 2006]

Diplôme de Maîtrise1 yearGenerally compares to the completion of a graduate Diploma
Diplome de Docteur / Grade de Docteur

Diplôme de Master / Grade de Master

Diplôme d'Études Approfondies

3 yearsGenerally compares to the completion of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree


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