Remapping French higher education: towards a multi-tiered higher education system?

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The global trend of increasing participation rates, coupled with regional goals to increase participation in higher education, such as the European Union’s Europe 2020 Strategy target of 40% of all young people to hold a tertiary education qualification by 2020, has led to a strain on public resources, and a review of funding priorities in mass higher education systems, in some cases prioritising funding towards an elite. Reforms within European higher education systems have been further prompted by the lacklustre performance of European higher education institutions in international university rankings. The paper aims to contextualise French reforms within the broader European Union agenda for the modernisation of higher education, and its focus on greater differentiation, in order to assess how this has been disseminated and translated in the French context, and how it breaks with the French egalitarian tradition. Through a policy document analysis of French and EU strategies for higher education and research and political communications and data extracted from the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation’s Excellence Initiatives scheme, the paper seeks to understand whether France is creating a multi-tiered higher education system for which no precedent has existed before. However, because of the sui generis structure of French higher education that makes it difficult to classify within the various structural models of higher education, policy implications for other countries will not be discussed. The French case will provide insights on the converging trends of globalisation, and the agency of institutional carriers such as the European Commission in interpreting and disseminating particular strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-214
Number of pages16
JournalTertiary Education and Management
Issue number2
Early online date14 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2020


  • France
  • French universities
  • higher education policy
  • Sustainability
  • Public sector


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