Engineering Education in France

(C) CEFI (1995). Web implementation : rm


Foreigners often see the French engineering education system as complicated and difficult to get into. When the system looks at itself, it highlights its particularities, namely non-specialized studies or a highly competitive selection which borders on elitism. Nobody disputes the rather good training level of the French engineers. They can indeed pride themselves upon unarguable industrial or technological successes, particularly in aeronautics, high speed trains or telecommunication systems ... and upon high social consideration.

Students or academic advisors, while reading this paper, will first expect some information and clarification. We thus emphasize the diversity of the engineering training which has been developed in France over the last few years, within universities as well as new practically-oriented engineering schools (NFI) and shorter training cycles (IUP). This widened scope of interests fosters the training of more engineers and high-level technicians, and shapes new graduates to their potential employers needs. Such diversity can have a role in downplaying the traditional picture of French engineering education, often viewed by foreign partners as a conglomerate of very demanding institutions sometimes perceived as restraining exchanges.

However, our leading aim here is to answer the students' or foreign faculty members' practical questions if they want to study in France or enter into cooperative or exchange programs. We are thus trying to provide the following kind of information:

This work has been done by CEFI under a contract with the French Foreign Office, aiming at presenting and diffusing the offers of French technological training programs abroad. We hope it will contribute to a better understanding of the French engineering education system and thus facilitate exchanges between international partners.

Studies before entering Higher Education

Before entering college, a student has to get through three educational cycles : The end of this education is satisfied by a series of exams leading to a diploma (Baccalauréat), ideally obtained at the age of 18 (if no classes were repeated).

The Baccalauréat is a national examination that permits entry into the higher education colleges. There are three kinds of Baccalauréat :

Prerequisites for getting into scientific or technical higher education studies in France are :

Scientific and technical education

Some peculiarities of the French higher education system may first surprise foreign students : Competition among students occurs for the entry into smaller colleges, like IUT (technical institutes), STS (special technical sections), CPGES (preparatory classes for engineering colleges), engineering schools. Competitive examinations are organized at the Baccalauréat level, or two years thereafter when leaving preparatory classes (bac+2 level).

Types of scientific and technical Curricula

To be an engineer in France

Engineer : a title and a job

We stress these two definitions since they sometimes don't overlap within companies : : Only the title of «graduate engineer»(«ingénieur diplômé») is controlled and protected by law

The exercise of an engineering profession is neither controlled nor regulated by French laws. There is no professional organization of engineers like the "Order of Physicians" for medical doctors. Only the title of "graduate engineer" is controlled and protected by law. The usual naming of "engineer" is not.

A higher education college may only deliver an engineering degree if it has been allowed to do so by a special committee controlled by the Minister of Education : the Engineering Title Committee (CTI), created by the law of July 10, 1934.

The Engineering Title Committee :

Through monitoring of the engineering education system, the Engineering Title Committee (CTI) ensures the quality level of engineering education programs and alumni evolution ability.

The high consideration and notoriety which are bound to the French engineering degree, especially when delivered by the best known schools, allows graduates to access high positions. Such fast-paced careers are not available to engineers in many other countries. The CTI appears to be the main basis of the French engineering education system.

Unlike any other degree, the same engineering degree covers a large variety of programs. Each engineering school may exercise a rather large variety of admission modes, programs and methods. But it still has to maintain a high level of quality and a certain educational profile. `

Various educational paths for engineers in France

A diversified landscape with common characteristics

French Engineering Education Program Types

Traditional program types

New Educational Paths for engineers in France

The «NFI's»

NFI (literally : «Nouvelles Formations d'Ingénieurs», New Engineering, Programs), also called «Decomps Programs», were created after 1990 through partnerships with companies in order to train more technologically oriented engineers. Creating these programs was a strong innovation : new programs were designed on the entirely new idea - at that level - of alternating academic periods and long internships within companies. .

Compared to other engineering programs, NFIs have shorter and lighter courses, and much greater periods within companies under the leadership of advisers (alternating education ). They also innovated by introducing apprenticeships at the engineering level.

Studies in (1), internship in (2)

NFI studies organisation

Initial education leads to entering the NFIs at the Baccalauréat level: in this case, studies last 5 years and include 3 years of academic training and 2 years within companies.

Other NFIs may be entered at the bac+2 level, after DUT or BTS graduation ; in this case, studies last 3 years, including 2 years in companies.

Studies in (3), internship in (2)

Training may occur through apprenticeship.

Training curricula in NFIs differ from traditional curricula essentially on three points :

Academical teaching approximately represents 3.200 hours of training after Baccalauréat, or 1.600 hours after bac+2. In a 5-year program, the first two years are usually based upon an existing training cycle (first university cycle, IUT or STS) and aim at consolidating fundamental knowledge (mathematics, physics) and introducing the specialty. In the second cycle (the 3 last school years), courses are mainly focused on the specialization domains, methods, engineering methodology and management training. NFI graduates get an engineering degree recognized by CTI ("Commission des Titres d'Ingenieur").

NFI graduates get an engineering degree recognized by CTI (Commission des Titres d'Ingénieur).

Other higher technical programs

IUP : «Instituts Universitaires Professionnalisés»

IUPs were created in 1991 within universities, according to a general policy aimed at increasing the amount of graduates able to hold leadership positions.

IUPs offer three-year programs beginning at the bac+1 level.

These programs include :

Basic training includes at least 1600 hours and at most 2000 hours of courses.
Complementary training includes teaching in foreign languages (at least one), communication techniques, management techniques (law, economic and financial aspects).
Courses are partly taught by company staff .
Internships last at least 19 weeks. They are either spread over the entire program or organized in the last year.

A degree of «ingénieur-maître» at the level bac + 4

The following degrees are being delivered by IUPs :

The title of "ingenieur-maître" may be delivered by the dean to students, when proposed by a special jury that looks at the exam results.
The title of "ingenieur-maître" may appear confusing. It is not an engineering degree (bac+4 instead of bac+5), even if the quality of education is good.
It may be decided in a near future to allow the "ingenieur-maître" to get a true engineer degree after two years of professional experience.

Specialized «Mastères» («MS»)

MSs first opened their doors in 1986, as complementary, business-oriented, specialized education for engineering school graduates whose initial training was not specialized enough.
These high level programs are being organized within engineering or management "Grandes Ecoles". They have close relationships to companies. Pedagogy is flexible and evolutionary, thanks to the use of small groups of students and quality in teaching.

MS is not a degree; it is a label given by the "Conference des Grandes Ecoles" (CGE) to specific graduate programs organized by engineering or management "Grandes Ecoles". The use of this label is protected by law. The authorization to use the label is given by a special committee, composed of professional and academic representatives.

214 "Mastères" recruit in the year 1994-95, among which 136 in engineering schools (1385 students).

             (Source : Conférence des Grandes Ecoles)

International Dimension of French Engineering Schools

Some general data and trends

Receiving foreign students in France is part of a long tradition of hospitality: France is the European country with the highest percentage of foreign students in higher education. In the last twenty years, foreign students have also come not only from French speaking countries, but from Asia or Latin America under the influence of scientific cooperation agreements (initiated in 1976). More recently, the international overture policy of engineering schools has been strongly oriented towards Europe, under the influence of European Community educational programs.

Almost all French educational institutions offer their students opportunities to stay abroad (mainly in Europe, Canada, USA) for internships lasting several months, or courses lasting one or more years leading sometimes to double degrees when partnerships with European or American universities allow them. Student population interested in such programs ranges between 10 % and 50 %, up to 60 % in some schools (ESIEE, UTC).

What about foreign student registration in French engineering schools ?

Generally speaking, most engineering schools wish to strengthen their international relationships. Thus new, more appropriate structures develop : first European cycle EURINSA, programs reorganization with the introduction of credit hours in institutions such as UTC, ESIEE, INSA (under E.C.T.S. standards), increased flexibility in students' curricula, agreements for double degrees or reciprocal validation of courses, international courses in English and introductory French classes for foreigners.

We give hereafter a few non-exhaustive indications to foreign students who are interested in a French engineering education.

Some indications for foreign students wishing to pursue engineering studies in France

  1. Preparing an engineering degree

    Because of the selective French engineering schools admission system, students need a very good high school level in mathematics and physics, which generally makes it difficult for foreign students to prepare French engineering degrees. However, there are some possible ways which could be interesting to explore.

    See the list of double degrees of engineering schools.

  2. Following specialized engineering studies leading to a degree

    These are graduate studies, thus much easier to enter for foreign students than undergraduate studies.

  3. Preparing a Doctoral Degree in Engineering Sciences

    Obviously, doctoral studies are the most important scientific exchange programs of engineering schools or universities (percentage of foreign doctoral students in ENPC : more than 50 %, in ENST : 43 %, in INSA, the Institut National Polytechnique, UTC... : 40 % ).

    Candidate selection and admission are under the responsibility of a committee which usually meets twice, in June and September.

    Admission may occur at two levels :

    • DEA-level (Ph.D. qualifying year) for foreign students whose degree is at least at a bac+4 level; the DEA is usually considered as a preparatory year for the doctorate thesis, but it may also be a final degree ; in some engineering schools, students registered in the last year of the engineering curriculum may prepare simultaneously the DEA, with some additional research work;
    • thesis preparation level (after exemption from DEA) for foreign students whose degree is at least at the engineering degree or bac+5 level.

    There is no automatic equivalence system for recognizing foreign degrees. The admission committees, when deciding the admission of students in DEA or thesis studies, take into account all previous studies of the candidates, their grades, personal projects ... and their ability to follow the French doctoral studies. Therefore, a good foreign engineering degree does not guarantee exemption from the DEA.

    Before worrying about administrative procedures for registering in doctoral studies, the candidate should get in touch with the faculty member in charge of the program, in order to tell him about his ideas and motivation.

    Theses under joint sponsorship by French and foreign higher education institutions
    In January, 1994, the French Minister for Higher Education and Research decided to authorize French higher education institutions to give doctor titles jointly with their foreign equivalent. This aims at developing scientific cooperation between French and foreign research teams by easing mobility of Ph.D. students.

    These thesis are being alternatively prepared within both institutions under the supervision of both advisers. The thesis has to be written in one of the national languages of both countries, and a summary has to be written in the other language. The thesis is submitted only once to a jury including the same number of scientific representatives of both countries.

    The list of the DEA programs is available :

  4. Staying in an engineering school in the framework of an exchange network to study or pursue research

    Engineering schools most often examine applications coming under the guidance of existing exchange programs with foreign partner institutions, though individual applications are also welcome.

    These partnerships tend to get priority because the schools know the involved colleges of foreign students and their professors, and because they can get some reciprocal priority for foreign trips of French students and financial advantages (for instance, internships for students and mutual remittance of candidates fees within European ERASMUS networks).

    Through the ERASMUS European program, many higher institutions networks now increase student mobility ; each college validates studies accomplished in a foreign college. More than 2/3 of French engineering schools abide by this principle and offer to European students 6 to 12-month courses, in their 2nd or 3rd study year (often the students may choose between courses of different years). Most double-degree partnerships were built within these networks.

    Some networks later tried to structure relationships in order to increase exchanges (the following list is of course not exhaustive) :

    Apart from these very structured European exchange programs, numerous partnerships have been developed with other countries' institutions, e.g. North-American universities.

    Foreign students wishing to study or pursue research in a French engineering school should join partnership programs of the college of origin, which will certainly ease their stay in France.

  5. International Courses and Programs

    Some engineering schools have developed specific courses corresponding to priority needs of foreign candidates. Here are some examples :

    • in English

      • Integrated Reservoir Management, collaborative program organized jointly by Institut Français du Pétrole/ENSPM, Delft University of Technology and Imperial College London, which lasts 6 months (January-June). Graduates will receive a diploma in reservoir management and will be eligible to submit a short dissertation for the «Mastère degree» of the Ecole du Pétrole et des Moteurs

        Applications to be sent before September 15 to Institut Français du Pétrole/ENSPM, IRM Coordinator, BP 311, 92506 Rueil-Malmaison cedex France - Tél : +33-1- 47 52 60 96 - Fax : +33-1- 47 52 67 65.

      • Courses "New Telecommunication Techniques", which lasts 8 weeks (May to July), organized by CESELEC (Centre d'Etudes Supérieures en Electricité, Electronique, Informatique) Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications and Ecole Supérieure d'Electricité in Paris with sponsorship of France Telecom, FIEE and the Union of Telecommunications Industries (SIT).

        Registration fees : 31,000 FF per student. Applications before April 15. Information : CESELEC, 8 Avenue des Minimes, 94300 Vincennes,France. Tel. : +33-1-43 98 38 44 - Fax : +33-1-43 98 12 06

      • "Quality Management in Production Engineering", which lasts 2 months (October and November), organized by CESMECA (Centre d'Etudes Supérieures pour l'Enseignement de la Mécanique) , in partnership with CAST of INSA Lyon.

        Registration fees : 34,000 FF per student. Applications before September 1. Information : CESMECA, 8 Avenue des Minimes, 94300 Vincennes, France. Tel. : +33-1-43 98 29 92 - Fax : +33-1-43 98 12 06

      • "ECATA, European Consortium for Advanced Training in Aeronautics", an international program for young European engineers in the field of aeronautics. This program is being organized jointly by ENSAE, the Cranfield Institute of Technology, the Department of Aerospace Engineering of Pisa University, ETS of Aeronautics Engineers of Madrid, Technical University Delft, and Technical University of Muenchen.

        Contact : ECATA Executive Office, 2 Avenue Edouard Belin, 31055 Toulouse Cedex, France, Tél :+33-61557183

      • Master in International Business (MIB) of Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (ENPC), a specialized 15 months program (october - december) including a 6 month- professional training period in industry, welcomes yearly engineers, scientists and economists from all countries (groups of 60 students per year), with a cosmopolitan faculty team (American, Asian, European, ...).

        Registration fees : 100.000 FF per student. Information : ENPC, Mrs ERERA, Tél : + 33-1.- 44 58 28 52.

    • in French

      • «Gestion Technique du Milieu Urbain «(Technical Management of Urban Areas), organized by the Department for continuous education of UTC Compiègne and which lasts 9 months (march to november + 2 months languague course for non French speaking candidates) ). Groups of 15 participants.

        Registration Fees : 62.800 FF per student. Information : UTC, Mrs Céline FERAMUS, Tél : +33-44 23 45 75

      • - The CESMAT - «Centre d'Etudes Supérieures des Matières Premières» - specialized courses : these high level further training courses, which last one academic year, are proposed by various engineering schools of Mining and Geology and designed for experienced engineers and mining geologists. A preliminary three-month- language course is organized for non French speaking candidates. These courses lead to an engineering degree or a French national diploma

        The different courses are the following :

        1. CESTEMIN - course in Mining Techniques at Ecole des Mines in Nancy;
        2. CESEV - course in Exploration and Valorisation of Mineral Resources - at Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Géologie in Nancy;
        3. C.F.S.G. - specialized course in Geostatistics at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris;
        4. CESECO - course in quarrying and open mines working at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris;
        5. CESPROMIN - course in mines planning at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris (Fontainebleau);
        6. CESSEM - course in mines security and environment at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Techniques Industrielles et des Mines in Alès;
        7. CESAM - course in mines administration at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris (Fontainebleau);
        Information : CESMAT, 60 boulevard Saint. Michel, 75272 Paris Cedex 06 - Tél : + 33-1-46347618, Fax : + 33-1- 43 25 17 99

    Short continuing education courses It is also important to know that a great number of engineering schools offer in the framework of continuous education a large series of short courses and seminars (a few days long) for professionals, centered on very specialized fields. Foreign students coming to France to follow a long study program may so have the possibility to complete their training in a specific subject through this type of short course. The catalogues and programs of theses courses are available in the continuing education departments of the different engineering schools.

  6. Other types of training courses or programs designed for foreign students

    • «Jean Monnet Program» of «Fondation de l'Ecole Polytechnique»

      Thanks to "Fondation de l'Ecole Polytechnique", this program could be offered to students of the best American or Japanese universities. Its aim is to give a European cultural, scientific and industrial vision. The program extends for one year with courses and seminars (4 months), internships in companies (5 months) and study travels. Selected students can get a scholarship of the Fondation.

      Information : Fondation de l'Ecole Polytechnique, 29 Place des Corolles, La Défense 2, 92400 Courbevoie - Tél : + 33-1- 47 75 89 00 - Fax : + 33-1- 46 98 92 29

    • Summer Program of Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine (INPL)

      INPL entered a cooperation and student exchange agreement with the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Kansas State University, and University of Wisconsin at Madison. Thus, INPL has been admitting since 1991 French speaking engineering students from these universities in a Summer Program which starts mid-May and lasts for 10 weeks. Language training and cultural education by INPL's "Centre d'Accueil et de Formation Linguistique" last 6 weeks. 4 other weeks are oriented towards a scientific activity in a lab, in the student's major field, with factory visits. Students write reports about these activities, in French. These reports are validated by the initial American university and give credits to students. This "à la carte" program encounters an increasing popularity among students, and managers of INPL are looking for other American university partnerships.

      For any information : Mme LUCIUS, I.N.P.L. - S.R.I. - 2 Avenue de la Forêt de Haye - BP 3 - 54501 Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy Cedex - Tél : +33- 83 59 59 36 - Fax : +33- 83 59 59 55
      or Miss Kimberley THOMPSON - College of Engineering - Study Abroad Office - 115 International Studies Bldg. - 910 S. Fifth Street - CHAMPAIGN, IL 61820 - Fax (217) 244-0249 - e-mail :

    • COPERNIC - a management program for engineers and economists from Central and Eastern Europe

      COPERNIC recruits young economists and engineers, all French-speaking,, graduated from the most important Central and Eastern European Universities. A minimum level of 4 to 5 years higher education is required, a first professional experience is recommended. The recruitment phase starts every year in February.

      COPERNIC was created in 1990 jointly by Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris and Collège des Ingénieurs. It offers an intensive 7 month training in the field of management and a 5 month internship in a partner or associated company. The internship prepares the students to future responsibility duties in a French company in Central and Eastern Europe..

      The Copernicians follow about 500 compulsory training hours from october to april in the 4 partner institutions. The training intends to give high level undergraduates additional tools in the field of management. The program is centered on economics and political life, financing and accountancy, strategy and marketing, communication and administration of human resources. The internship (may to september) aims at breaking cultural barriers in order to allow a successful professional integration in the French firms present in Central and Eastern Europe.

      For any information , contact the COPERNIC Office : 49 rue de l'Université - 75007 Paris - Tél : + 33-1- 49 54 72 81 - Fax : + 33-1- 49 54 72 68. - e-mail : Knut@cdi.cdi.Fr

    Institutions partnerships leading to double engineering degrees

    (this list is not exhaustive)

    Want to see a picture of the list ?

    French Institution(s)                      Foreign Institution(s)     
    TIME Network                               RWTH Aachen, TH Darmstadt, Fr.Alex U.
    (Top Industrial Managers for Europe) :     Erlangen-Nürnberg, TU München, Univ.
    ECP + EC Lyon, ECLille, ECNantes,          Stuttgart, TU Wien, FP Mons, U Cat.Louvain,
    ENSAE, ENSTA, SUPELEC                      U.L. Bruxelles, DTH Copenhagen, ETSII
                                               Barcelone, ETSII Madrid, ICAI Madrid,
                                               EMPol. Athènes, TU Eindhoven, Politecnico
    50 students graduated in 1993              Milan, Politecnico Torino, IST Lisboa, KTH
    100 graduated since the beginning of the program     Stockholm
    EMN Nancy                                  Escuela Tecnica Superior de Ingenieros de
                                               Minas de Madrid (U.P.M.)
    ENSMP Paris (acces through usual           Escuela Tecnica Superior de Ingenieros de
    procedure «sur titres»in the 2nd yr)       Minas de Madrid (U.P.M.)
    ENPC Paris                                 ETSI de Caminos Madrid, TU Münich, TU
                                               Berlin, Politecnico Torino 
    ENSAM Paris-French-German center in Metz   T.U. Karlsruhe
    (opening in september 1996)
    ENSAM Paris - French-Iberian center in     U. Bilbao, U. San Sebastian, U. Valencia, U.
    Bordeaux (opening in september 1995)       Valladolid, U. Zaragossa, FEUP Porto
    ENST Paris                                 U. Stuttgart, Politecnico of Torino, ETSIT
                                               Madrid, ETSIT Barcelone
    EMSE St. Etienne                           T.U. Berlin
    ENSERG Grenoble                            Politecnico of  Torino
    ENSPG Grenoble                             TU Karlsruhe, Politecnico of Torino
    EPF Sceaux (Production and Automation      FH Münich, Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal
    Engineering Degree)
    ESIM Marseille                             ETSII Madrid, Cranfield Institute of Technology
    ESITI - INP Lorraine                       FH Mannheim
    INSA Rennes - «Two degrees program in      Strathclyde University in  Glasgow
    Electrical Engineering»                    (MEng with European Studies)
    ISTG Grenoble                              T.U. Karlsruhe
    UTC Compiègne                              Cranfield Institute of Technology
    Other partnership types
    E.E.I.G.M. Ecole Européenne en Génie des   U. Sarrebrück, U.P. Barcelone, U. Lulea
    Matériaux de Nancy     
    ESIEE, Diplôme Tripartite (training        T.U. Karlsruhe, U. Southampton, ICAI Madrid
     divided among 3 european institutions),
     exists since 1980,  
     around 200 former graduates).

    An International Comparison

    The degree equivalence dilemma

    Engineering training fields and engineer status differ widely among countries. In Europe for instance, the apparently simple problem of correspondance among degrees, not to speak of equivalence, is far from being solved, and the idea of harmonizing the various systems does not seem realistic. Educational systems specificities are deeply rooted in each country's culture, industry and economy. Large disparities appear in Europe between :
    • kinds of high-school studies and their length before college entrance,
    • means of student recruitment,
    • length of training, in terms of number of years of studies as well as annual credit hours,
    • pedagogical methods (for instance, internships),
    • degree awarding,
    • academic recognition,
    • professional recognition.
    These disparities appear in a few comparative tables, which show some characteristics of various engineering training systems as compared to the French system. In many countries, two engineer profiles coexist : a design engineer with a broad training, and a production and application engineer (trained for instance by Fachhochschulen in Germany or by NFI in France). For each profile, there are nevertheless important national peculiarities.

    With such a diversity one may understand why a foreign candidate admission in a French engineering college does not follow automatic level equivalence rules, but results from various factors : number of study years, major and minor fields of studies, implemented projects, ...

    A specific European directive about professional recognition of engineering training was planned, but never materialized. Therefore, there is only one European general directive in this area, dealing with recognizing degrees obtained after at least three higher education years for entrance in professions having regulated access.

    Because of this definite lack of equivalence standards, Europeans have chosen to develop student and professional mobility by recognizing and validating studies made in colleges of other countries. The ERASMUS program was managed under this principle : student study periods in a European partner college are being validated by the initial college. This process has strongly developed :

    • in some cases through the development of programs leading to double degrees

    • through the E.C.T.S. project (European Credit Transfer System), based on academic credits which are transferable within higher education institutions of the European Union. Institutions wishing to participate in E.C.T.S. - particularly those following non-university framework - must make great efforts to adapt : they have to reorganize the contents of their training programs with credit hours (1 year = 60 credit hours) and they have to use a homogeneous grading scale. The University of Technology of Compiegne (UTC) was the first French engineering school to engage in ECTS in the field of mechanical engineering. Other schools, like INSA of Lyon and ESIEE have more recently adhered.

    Apart from this very structured system, mutual recognition of study periods among institutions from several countries more and more appears to be an essential component of an international opening policy, and is not limited to European exchanges. Partnership agreements exist also with American universities, like the partnership between the Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Kansas State University and University of Wisconsin at Madison. Developing this practice and enlarging student exchanges requires confident relationships between foreign partners. A new, unassuming attitude develops, where one takes notice of differences between systems, without emitting value judgements.

    A Comparison of engineering studies in various European countries

    Comparative schemes leading to the engineering degree in various countries

    Comparative schemes of practice-oriented engineering programs in various countries

    See also the French Ministry of Education's comments on higher education in France