Matthew Olckers Economist by day; graffiti nerd by night.

Studying economics in France

Calling South African economics grads… study in France!

Dear South African economics student

You may be thinking of applying to a Masters or PhD programme overseas. Top South African students of recent years have done very well at Oxford, Cambridge and other universities in the UK. The catch is that these programmes are so expensive, a scholarship is essential. The combination of getting a scholarship and being accepted to these universities is very difficult. Its also very difficult to go directly from an Honours degree to US universities and the majority of them only offer PhD programmes. Their terminating Masters are also very expensive. If you feel that the UK or US is unattainable for further study, then you need to widen your net. I strongly suggest considering France.

I completed my Honours in Economics at UCT in 2012 and started my two year masters programme at Universite Paris 1: Pantheon Sorbonne in France in 2014. I hope the information below will shed some light on what it is like to study economics in France.

Why France?

  • Firstly, postgraduate study in France is very cheap. My second year of masters only cost about 300 euros. The rest is subsidised by the government. France doesn’t have a high regard for economics as a separate discipline. This is a good thing because it reminds you that including complex mathematics in your research papers doesn’t make you special. It allows you to gain greater appreciation for all social sciences.
  • Jean Tirole, a French economist, just won the Nobel Prize. Also, Thomas Piketty, another French economist, is the world leader on income and wealth inequality. They are based at the Toulouse School of Economics and Paris School of Economics respectively.
  • Being in a country where you don’t speak the language is an eye-opening and humbling experience.
  • You can easily travel anywhere in Europe.

Where in France should you apply to?

France has a two tier education system split between grande ecoles and universities. The grande ecoles are prestigious institutions that were created to train French government officials and engineers. Economics may be the only subject where certain universities are on par with the more highly regarded grande ecoles. I suggest you apply to:

Paris School of Economics (PSE)

The PSE is a grouping of Paris 1 (the university I study at) and several grande ecoles. The grouping is fairly new, but the programmes are developing and becoming more competitive every year. Their website is very informative on the different options.

Toulouse School of Economics (TSE)

You can’t go wrong with a Nobel Prize winner as an active member of faculty. Toulouse is more relaxed city than Paris, if you don’t like the idea of living in Paris.

(maybe) Sciences Po

I have marked Sciences Po as a maybe because it is far more expensive than the PSE or TSE. This is because it is purely a grande ecole and not a university. The PSE and TSE benefit from the generous government subsidies as they are universities. Sciences Po is also much stronger for Politics than Economics. It could be a good option if you get funding and if you come from a Politics background.

How do I get funding?

The Embassy of France in South Africa offers an awesome scholarship that will cover your university fees and in most cases, your flights, and include a stipend too. France believe in student mobility. They like having foreign students at their universities and exposing them to the Francophone world. This means that there are no strings attached to the scholarship.

There is also the more generous Eiffel Scholarship but for this scholarship you need your university to apply on your behalf. I missed the deadline for this one so you might want to start thinking about it now.

What is the M1 and M2?

In France you cannot be awarded a masters degree by the government without completing two years of masters study. These two years are split into separate parts (M1 and M2) and the M1 and M2 does not have to be completed at the same university. Most of the M1 programmes have a natural progression to M2 but certain M1 programmes do not. I completed an M1 programme called Pantheon Sorbonne Masters in Economics (PSME) which did not have a matching M2. I had to apply to the M2 Empirical and Theoretical Economics (ETE) at PSE. The M1 is similar to Honours level but you are unlikely to get directly into an M2 programme with an Honours degree.