Best universities in France 2021

Find the best universities in France through Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data

September 2 2020
Paris Eiffel Tower

If you’re hoping to study in France, you’ll want to know which universities are the best.

So what are the top French universities and colleges? According to?Times Higher Education’s?World University Rankings 2021, 41 French institutions are counted among the top universities in the world.

The ranking includes 10 institutions in Paris?– the most represented city in France – and other options scattered around the country.

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Universities in Paris take the top five spots, but institutions in Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier also feature in the top 10.

The best university in France is Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris, a collegiate university formed of 25 research and higher education institutions in the Paris area and three national research institutions.?

Outside Paris,?école Normale Supérieure de Lyon?is in?equal seventh position.

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Top 5 universities in France

1. Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris

Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris is?made up of 25 higher education institutions and research centres in the Paris area. It was?formed in April 2010?by five prominent French institutions: the?école Normale Supérieure, the?Collège de France, the?Paris Observatory,?Chimie ParisTech?and?ESPCI ParisTech.

The institutions under the umbrella of the university are a mixture of older institutions established during the Enlightenment period and new institutions.?

The university’s main aim is to establish itself as one of the top research institutions in the world. The institution has also developed links with other top-ranking institutions around the world, including the University of Cambridge,?UCL, Peking University and National Taiwan University.?

A total of 28 Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry, literature, physiology and medicine, and economics have been awarded to researchers from the university.

2. école Polytechnique

école Polytechnique focuses specifically on science and technology. The motto of the school is “For the Homeland, Science and Glory”.

There are?about 3,000 students at the university, which is based in the suburb of Palaiseau, just over 10 miles from the centre of Paris.

Despite the small intake, about 30 per cent of the student body is international, and international students?are able to join preparatory programmes.

école Polytechnique offers an interdisciplinary approach, providing a curriculum that combines undergraduate teaching with graduate research across a range of disciplines.

In addition to six science and engineering subjects, undergraduates are also required to take a humanities subject and sports.

Undergraduate admission requires two years of preparation during high school before a week of written exams and an oral examination.

French nationals are obliged to do eight months of military service in their first year, since the university is officially run by the Ministry of Defence.

3. Sorbonne University

Sorbonne University is a public research university in Paris. It was established in 2018 through the merger of Paris-Sorbonne University, Pierre and Marie Curie University and a number of smaller institutions.?

The university has three faculties: humanities, science and medicine. Law is taught by Panthéon-Assas University (Paris 2).

Sorbonne?has a number of campuses across Paris, as well as a satellite campus in Abu Dhabi.?

The university is home to eight notable scientific collections open to researchers. Some of the collections are also open to the public, such as the minerals, palaeontology and zoology collections.?

4. University of Paris

The University of Paris is a very young university having only been established in 2019.?

It was created through the merger of Paris Diderot University, Paris Descartes University and?Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris.?

The university provides teaching across the academic spectrum including arts, humanities, languages, social science, economics, science and technology, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and nursing.?

The university spans 14 campuses and research facilities including in the?historic Latin Quarter.

5. Paris-Saclay University?

Paris-Saclay University is a cluster of 14 institutions of higher education (AgroParisTech, CentraleSupélec, ENS Paris-Saclay, Institut d’Optique Graduate School, Université d’évry, Université Paris-Sud et Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines) and research organisations (CEA, CNRS, Ihes, Inra, Inria, Inserm, Onera). These institutions have brought together their courses, research and facilities for students in southwest Paris.

There are?about 275 laboratories within the Paris-Saclay ecosystem, with researchers producing?more than 12,000 scientific publications per year. The university produces research in fields including mathematics, laser and particle physics, astrophysics, neuroscience, nanoscience, material sciences, chemistry, plant sciences, engineering, economics and business, law, and political and social sciences.?

Paris-Saclay University?has produced 10 Fields Medallists and two Nobel laureates.

Best universities in France 2021

Click each institution to view its full?World University Rankings 2021?results.

?World University Rank 2021? ?France Rank 2021? University City/ town
?46? 1 Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris Paris
?=87? 2 école Polytechnique Paris
?=87? ??????????????????????????????????????? 3 Sorbonne University Paris
?=136? ??????????????????????????????????????? 4 University of Paris Paris
?=178? ??????????????????????????????????????? 5 Paris-Saclay University? Paris
?201–250? ??????????????????????????????????????? 6 Télécom Paris Paris
?251–300? ?=7? école des Ponts ParisTech Paris
?251–300? ?=7? école Normale Supérieure de Lyon Lyon
?301–350? 9 Montpellier University Montpellier
?351–400? ?=10? Aix-Marseille University Marseille
?351–400? ?=10? Grenoble Alpes University Grenoble
?351–400? ?=10? IMT Atlantique Brest
?351–400? ?=10? Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines Versailles
?401–500? ?=14? University of Bordeaux Bordeaux
?401–500? ?=14? Centrale Nantes Nantes
?401–500? ?=14? Federal University of Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées Toulouse
?401–500? ?=14? L’institut Agro Paris
?501–600? ?=18? CentraleSupélec Various
?501–600? ?=18? Claude Bernard University Lyon 1 Lyon
?501–600? ?=18? University of C?te d’Azur Nice
?501–600? ?=18? Sciences Po Paris
?501–600? ?=18? University of Strasbourg Strasbourg
?501–600? ?=18? Télécom SudParis Evry
?601–800? ?=24? Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (UBFC) Besan?on
?601–800? ?=24? University of Clermont Auvergne Clermont-Ferrand
?601–800? ?=24? école des Mines de Saint-étienne Saint-étienne
?601–800? ?=24? école Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay Cachan
?601–800? ?=24? University of Lille Lille
?601–800? ?=24? University of Lorraine Nancy
?601–800? ?=24? University of Nantes Nantes
?601–800? ?=24? National Institute of Applied Sciences of Lyon (INSA Lyon) Lyon
?601–800? ?=24? Panthéon-Sorbonne University – Paris 1 Paris
?601–800? ?=24? University of Rennes 1 Rennes
?801–1000? ?=34? University of Cergy-Pontoise Cergy-Pontoise
?801–1000? ?=34? école Centrale de Lyon Lyon
?801–1000? ?=34? Lumière University, Lyon 2 Lyon
?801–1000? ?=34? Normandy University Normandy
?801–1000? ?=34? University of Technology of Compiègne Compiègne
?801–1000? ?=34? University of Technology of Troyes Troyes
?801–1000? ?=34? University of Tours Tours
?1001+? 41 Paris Nanterre University Nanterre

Read more:?Best universities in the world

Reader's comments (4)

I am dubious about the criteria. Grandes écoles are not universities and lack the research ethic that makes a university. They teach the 'right' way of thinking. Paris takes the cash that the rest of France does not get, but does that make them good. They lost the excellence finding for research because, well they were just not excellent. And would you really want to breathe the air of paris for a year? It is better to look at courses and not universities, that is where the innovation in research and teaching lies. There is a real France beyond the myth, and a student will probably be better there.
I am dubious about the criteria. Grandes écoles are not universities and lack the research ethic that makes a university. They teach the 'right' way of thinking. Paris takes the cash that the rest of France does not get, but does that make them good. They lost the excellence finding for research because, well they were just not excellent. And would you really want to breathe the air of paris for a year? It is better to look at courses and not universities, that is where the innovation in research and teaching lies. There is a real France beyond the myth, and a student will probably be better there.
None of the rankings (ARWU, THE, etc.) fit the French system and therefore it is utterly pointless to seek out a hierarchy of French establishments on any of these platforms. The French higher education system (and French social and political structures as a general rule) follows the Humboldt model and does not seek to make profit, but to educate its citizens (this starkly contrasts, for instance, with the Anglo-American model). French universities also publish in French (though more and more do so in English as well today), which gives them less visibility when faced with universities that will do their utmost to meet the criteria laid out in the above-mentioned rankings, especially as far as research and publishing is concerned. German universities face the same problem (also based on the Humboldt model), but no one would consider either France or Germany to be anything but leaders in many fields. By contrast, I have met and taught to far too many students from top British and American universities, and sadly the average student had a much lower academic level and general knowledge than the average French student and - most importantly - had not been taught the value of critical thinking, an approach which is the building block of French education. SYSTEM There are two main types of higher education institutions in France: universities and grandes écoles. Both offer the highest level of academic teaching and obtaining a Master's degree in either can only suggest you are both highly resilient and disciplined. After all, the French education system is famed for being harsh and unforgiving (not entirely true today), and with education being almost free, teachers feel no pressure to "help" you succeed as you did not pay £$€40,000 to study. It's basically all down to your personal commitment and investment and you succeed only if you are actually competent. 1) Grandes écoles are built on a normative approach to their fields of study and are highly selective at the entry-level (i.e. you should already fully adhere to... normative thinking since high school). It's a matter of choice, even though many French students and their parents fantasize about getting into one as they traditionally more prestigious in the subconscious mind and offer more professional opportunities (also less and less true today). There is essentially no real difference between studies in grandes écoles and universities today (professors often teach the same classes in both institutions), and that line is increasingly thinner - though much of political life in France is overshadowed by a clannish tendency to favor those from the same schools. This is also increasingly less true. If you do not have plans to stay in France or are not interested in having your best chances of becoming a civil servant, then there really is no sense in trying to get into a grande école - initially, they were made to uphold the French model, full stop. --> Universities are more liberal and there is no entry-level selection, though students get sifted out massively during the first year of most Bachelor degrees (the student body is typically halved), either because they realize the level is higher than they had expected, or because they switch to other courses. That is perhaps what pushes many students to favor grandes écoles (or private schools) as the thought of overcrowded classrooms can be deterring (understandably so). It essentially does not matter which university you pick in France, so pick your school based on other criteria such as location or specialization (some programmes are better in certain universities, and there is a silent ranking of universities with "reputable" ones being essentially a couple in and around Paris (Sorbonne, Diderot, Paris-Saclay...), or in larger French cities: the University of Strasbourg, University of Aix-Marseille, University of Grenoble, University of Toulouse...). Good luck!
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