France has announced plans to simplify visa procedures, reform tuition fees and boost English courses at French universities in an effort to more than double the number of foreign students over the next decade.
Unveiling the new measures on Monday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said increasing the number of foreigners studying in the country would help build French influence overseas.
Home to centuries-old universities such as the Sorbonne in Paris and some leading business schools, France is the world's top non-English speaking student destination, but it ranks behind the United States, Britain and Australia.
The number of foreign students at French universities fell by 8.5 percent between 2011 and 2016 and the country has seen increased competition from Germany, Russia, Canada and China, the prime minister's office said.
"Many countries are already building global attractivity strategies, linking studies, the job market, tourism, which explains the influence of Asia or monarchies in the Gulf," Philippe told reporters as he presented the government’s “Welcome to France” plan.
"In this field just as in other economic ones, the world's balance of power is shifting. That's why we need to welcome more foreign students," he added
Philippe said the number of courses taught in English, which have been increased fivefold since 2004, would be further boosted.
More French classes will also be on offer for foreign students and student visa applications will be made available online.
Under the plan, France will simplify student visa regulations but will also increase tuition fees for students outside the European Economic Area in order to be able to provide better facilities. Despite the increase, fees will still be much lower than in Britain and other neighboring countries.
From March 2019, foreign graduates with a French master's degree will be able to get a residence visa to look for work or set up a business in France.
"We are constantly compared, audited, judged among 10 other possible destinations. In an age of social media, no one can rest on its reputation only," Philippe said.
French officials said current fees of around €170 a year for a bachelor's degree in France or €243 for a master's – the same as those paid by French students.
From September 2019, non-European students will be charged €2,770 annually to study for a bachelor's degree and €3,770 a year for a master's and PhDs.
"That means France will still subsidize two thirds of the cost of their studies," Philippe said. "And the fees will remain well below the €8,000 to €13,000 charged by the Dutch or the tens of thousands of pounds paid in Britain," he added.