Top Universities for PhD Study in France - 2024

Top Universities for PhD Study in France – 2024

Written by Taru Medha

If you are thinking of doing a PhD in France, you can be sure you’ll be in good hands! The French government invests heavily in research, making the French higher education system highly respected in the world. France is known for excellence in teaching in everything from Business to Culinary Arts.

The French place a particular emphasis on specialised study which is an added bonus when thinking of doing a PhD as you can study somewhere that solely focuses on your subject of interest.

The French higher education system is divided into a few different types of institutions:

  • Universities – Universities are financed by the French State and confer Masters and PhD degrees. Whether you want to study Science, Arts, Economics or Medicine, you have a place at one of the many French universities.
  • Grandes Écoles – The Grandes Écoles are a network of more specialised schools. They can either be publicly or privately funded but are all recognised by the State. Écoles Normales Supérieures (Institutes of Advanced Education), Instituts d’Etudes Politiques (Political Science Institutes), Engineering Schools and Business and Management Schools are all part of the French Grande Écoles network.
  • Schools of Art and Applied Arts – 50 French Schools of Arts and Applied Sciences provide specialised research training in Art and Design. They’re overseen by the French Ministry of Culture and some, like the École Estienne and École Boulle - HESAM Université, are directly overseen by the Ministry of Higher Education.
  • Ecoles Nationales Supérieures d’Architecture (National Schools of Architecture) – The École Spéciale d’Architecture (Special School of Architecture), the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées (National Institute of Applied Sciences) along with 20 other public schools, form the ENSA network.
  • Other specialised schools and institutions – France is home to nearly 3,000 higher education institutions that offer specialised courses in fields like Communication, Journalism and Medicine among others. However, not all degrees conferred by these institutions are recognised by the State.

Even though France follows the three-level organisation of degrees as dictated by the Bologna System and most degrees are valid in other countries, you must double check the validity of the degree provided by the institute you’re applying to.

Top 20 universities in France for a PhD

The history, reputation and popularity of the French education system is also reflected in the many universities featuring in global university ranking tables.

The table below lists the 20 best universities in France for PhD study according to global rankings. This information is based on the latest rankings tables, researched and published by Times Higher Education, QS and Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). It is important to note that each ranking system has their own methodology, and different factors affect the final result for a particular university.

Do rankings matter for postgraduate study?

Even though there are no postgraduate-specific rankings, university league tables can still be a useful tool for prospective PhD students.Read our guide on how to use international ranking tables as a postgraduate student for more information

Top 20 French Universities in 2024
University THE 2024 QS 2024 ARWU 2023
Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris 40 24 41
Paris-Saclay University 58 71 15
Institut Polytechnique de Paris 71 =38 301-400
Sorbonne University 75 59 46
University of Paris =152 236 69
École Normale Supérieure de Lyon 251-300 =184 201-300
Grenoble Alpes University 301-350 294 101-150
Montpellier University 301-350 =382 151-200
Aix-Marseille University 301-350 =387 151-200
University of Bordeaux 351-400 =465 201-300
Centrale Nantes 401-500 - -
Claude Bernard University Lyon 1 401-500 =452 201-300
École des Ponts ParisTech 401-500 =192 -
Federal University of Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées 401-500 - -
IMT Atlantique 401-500 - -
L’institut Agro 401-500 - -
University of Côte d’Azur 501-600 721-730 401-500
ENSTA Bretagne 501-600 - -
Nantes University 501-600 771-780 701-800
Sciences Po 501-600 =319 -
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

No matter what you decide to study, there is a place for you at a world-renowned French institution.

Decided you want to study a PhD in France?

You can browse our website for PhDs in France and read our guides on how to apply for a PhD in France and what to expect during your studies.

Applying for a PhD in France

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Scholarships for PhD Students in France

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Guide to Student Visas for PhD in France

Want to study a PhD in France? This guide gives a detailed introduction to the kind of visa you need to study in France and how to apply for it.

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Living in France – A Guide for PhD Students

What's it like to live in France during a PhD? Our guide covers accommodation, student living costs, working and other key information.

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Last Updated: 13 November 2023