Public universities and clusters of institutions known as PRES welcome international students throughout France.

France's 85 public universities are funded by the national government, which closely regulates the "national diplomas" granted by the universities. This system allows the universities to offer students an excellent education at a very affordable price. France's universities are comprehensive—that is, they offer training in all disciplines.

The universities enroll 80% of the postsecondary students in France; about 10% of enrollments are international students. Located all across France, the nation's universities offer a wide range of environments.

The primary force for research in France

Most publicly funded research is carried out within the universities, which accounts in part for the high quality of teaching. Recent French recipients of Nobel prizes in science have been members of university faculties.

Under France's national research and innovation strategy research priorities are set every four years, setting new targets for knowledge, technology, and social progress.

The three main themes for 2009–12 are:

  • health, food, and biotechnology
  • urgent environmental challenges and ecotechnologies
  • information, communication, and nanotechnologies

More than 300 doctoral departments staffed by a teaching and research faculty of 62,000 professors provide training in research in close cooperation with more than 1,200 research laboratories and centers.

 The professionalization of university education

Each year university programs become more open to exchanges with the professional world. Internships are an increasingly common part of university curricula, affecting about 30% of all students—and 60% of students in Master 2 programs.

Every university has an internship referral system and a career services office (known as BAIP) that informs students of available internships and job opportunities and helps them take advantage of those opportunities.

Annual tuition charges in France's public universities are set by law. In 2015–16 the charges were as follows:
- €184  for licence programs
- €256 for master's programs
- €391 for doctoral programs
- €610 for students in public engineering schools

 PRES: higher education and research clusters

France's 20 PRES are clusters of universities, specialized schools, and research organizations. The cluster structure enables members of the cluster to combine their activities and resources. 

The first mission of each PRES is to promote the institutions in the cluster. Because French institutions are often smaller than their international competitors, the PRES help them participate more effectively in international science.

The PRES are authorized to coordinate master and doctoral programs. They now confer degrees in their own name, even in the case of programs run by just one or just a few of the members of the cluster. 

In the area of research, the PRES shares credit for all academic and scientific publications emanating from the member institutions of the cluster. Citing the PRES as the authors' affiliation increases the international visibility of the achievements of the cluster's members.

The PRES are also very active in student life, welcoming international students, providing assistance with housing, and helping them adapt quickly to French academic life (e.g., through tutoring or courses in French language).