“Being a student in France means paying little for your studies, but also having little money to live on”


First-year students from Paris-Est Créteil University, September 1, 2022.

In France, the State relies on families to financially help young adults who pursue studies and only intervenes in the event of default: this is what characterizes the system of financing higher education in France, according to sociologist Nicolas Charles. A policy that runs counter to the choices made in other European countries which give more autonomy to students. Lecturer in sociology at the University of Bordeaux, Nicolas Charles has studied the different modes of financing higher education in Europe, and highlights the limits of the French model with regard to the English and Swedish systems.

Are the recurring debates on the method of financing higher education a French specificity?

These subjects are the subject of debate in other countries, with questions of macroeconomics often at their source. This is the case in the United States, for example, where the ability of students to repay their loans, which reach astronomical sums, regularly worries because of the risks for the economy, or in Great Britain, where the costs high registration fees go hand in hand with government loans, a large part of which is in fact never reimbursed. In France, the greater sensitivity of the population to inequalities, compared to that of other countries, and the more heterogeneous organization of the higher education system make these debates revolve more around social justice and precariousness than elsewhere. .

What characterizes the financing system for higher education in France?

Historically, France is distinguished from other countries by the low cost of its tuition fees in higher education, but also by the low resources granted to students. In other words, in the majority of cases, being a student in France means paying little for your studies, but also having little money to live on. At the university, the State supports a very large part of the students' tuition fees. And to make their daily life easier, the most disadvantaged have access to Crous housing, but also, for 38% of them, in 2020-2021, to grants based on social criteria, the amount of which depends on the parents' financial situation. . That is to say that the State relies on families to financially help young people who have become adults, and it only intervenes in the event of their default.

What vision of social justice does this policy reveal?

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