France's system of public higher education and research is keenly attuned to international trends in science and scholarship and wide open to international participation. The extent of the collaboration between French academics and their colleagues around the world is indicated by the fact that almost half of all French scholarly publications are coauthored with at least one foreign colleague.

Research: a major French priority

France devotes more than 2% of its GDP (about €40 billion) to public and private research. The nation is home to some 70,000 doctoral candidates, a third of whom are from outside France, and more than 200,000 scholars and researchers, about half of whom work in public universities, schools, or other institutions.

Prestigious prizes for France's leading researchers

In 2008, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier of the Institut Pasteur received the Nobel prize in medicine for their work leading to the discovery of the retrovirus responsible for AIDS. Also in 2008, Jean-Marie Le Clezio received the Nobel prize for literature. Recent Nobel prizes for physics and chemistry have been bestowed upon Frenchmen Georges Charpak, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Albert Fert, and Yves Chauvin.

Eleven of the 52 Fields medals awarded in mathematics every four years since 1936 have been won by French citizens. Cédric Villiani and Ngo Bao-Chau won in 2010, following awards to Laurent Lafforgue in 2002 and Wendelin Werner in 2006.

The Abel prize in mathematics, created in 2003, already has three French laureates: Jean-Pierre Serre, Jacques Tits, and Misha Gromov.

Doctoral training

In more than 300 French doctoral departments 62,000 faculty members of professorial rank provide training in research in close cooperation with more than 1,200 research laboratories. 

Training takes place within a research team or unit (UR) affiliated with a doctoral department and under the supervision of a dissertation director. Most doctoral departments are found in universities. They organize research teams along thematic lines.  

Some 10,000 doctoral dissertations are defended each year in France. The number of foreign recipients of French doctorates, like their proportion of the pool of doctoral candidates, has risen steadily in recent years. 

Any student holding a master's degree or the equivalent may apply to a doctoral program. After an average of 3 years of study and successful defense of a dissertation, candidates receive a doctoral degree.

Most candidates are required to secure financing for their research as a condition for admission to a doctoral program.

Doctoral departments

Doctoral departments within institutions of higher education provide a home for the research teams in which doctoral candidates are trained.

  • Doctoral departments provide candidates with advanced scientific training, prepare them for a career in research, and expose them to the diversity of research occupations.
  • Doctoral departments support candidates as they prepare and defend their dissertation.

Doctoral candidates who are employed by their host institution benefit from new measures (visas and residency provisions) designed to encourage international students to seek doctoral training in France.