Studying in France: How will Covid-19 measures affect students in September?

The pandemic has thrown everyone's plans into chaos, but what's the situation if you were planning to start studying in France in September?

Studying in France: How will Covid-19 measures affect students in September?
Many thousands of students will be starting new courses in September. Photo: AFP

It's clear the disruption caused by coronavirus isn't about to end anytime soon, and for those who'd planned to come to France in September in order to benefit from the top-quality (and relatively affordable) universities here, things may feel somewhat up in the air.

There are usually more than 300,000 foreign students in France, making it one of the most popular higher education destinations in the world.

Here's what you need to know.

Photo: AFP

Can foreign students still come to France?

Yes. Although restrictions on entering the EU are still in effect currently for some countries – including the USA – students are one of a number of exemptions to the travel ban published by the European Commission.

The exemption covers third country nationals (ie non EU citizens) beginning full-time studies in the EU in the 2020/21 academic year in order to obtain a higher education qualification, or to start a preparatory course prior to those studies.

You will need to apply for a France long-stay student visa as usual, or the Schengen study visa if your course is due to last three months or less.

In addition to the EU's exemption, France's foreign minister has also made it clear that foreign students will still be allowed to travel to France.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “In view of the stakes involved in making universities attractive, international students will be allowed to come to France, regardless of their country of origin, and the arrangements for their reception will be facilitated. Their applications for visas and residence permits will be given priority.” 

Travel from Europe is not restricted, so European students can travel to France as normal.

Although the UK has now left the EU, British citizens are still being treated effectively the same as EU citizens until the end of the Brexit transition period – December 31st, 2020. This means that British students who start a course in September will be counted as residents in France by December, and will therefore be covered by the Withdrawal Agreement which allows them to stay.

READ ALSO What is the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and does it cover me?


How will studying be different?

French Higher Education Minister Frédérique Vidal has admitted that studying in pandemic times, just like so much of daily life, might be a little more complex.

French universities closed down at the start of the lockdown and moved all their teaching online, and the majority kept up online learning until the end of the academic year.

While the aim is to restart in-person lessons in September, the minister said that universities will also need to utilise so-called digital learning spaces in order to carry on teaching while respecting social distancing measures. 

“The idea to offer the maximum number of courses in this way in order to provide educational continuity in the event certain establishments are forced to go back into lockdown,” she told Le Parisien

The French government is making preparations for a possible 'second wave' of cases in the autumn, which includes bringing in local lockdown in areas that have a large number of cases.

What about accommodation?

Securing a place to live ahead of your studies can be tricky at the best of times, and the fact you need to provide proof of accommodation as part of your student visa process adds another layer of stress.

Student halls of residence are few and far between so a lot of people end up in private rental market.

Many students living in France are eligible for financial aid for housing depending on your circumstances, which could come in particularly useful during the period of financial hardship prompted by the pandemic. The French government also awards a certain amount of money every year to foreign students, so it's worth finding out what you're entitled to.

The French government has provided a guide for foreign students seeking accommodation, which includes more information on financial aid, which can be found here

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‘It’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's universities minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

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“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

READ ALSO: Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.