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Second-cycle programmes


7.Higher education

7.3Second-cycle programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023

Branches of Study

Courses offered at the master's degree level satisfy a dual objective of preparing students for research and providing courses leading them to high level professional integration. The master's degree is awarded after acquisition of 120 credits after the "licence" (bachelor degree) on the basis of training organised in four semesters.

The first 60 credits (M1) can, by request of the student, receive an intermediate level national "maîtrise" diploma. The remaining credits lead to the awarding of the national "master" diploma.

One year after the adoption of the 2013 law on Higher Education, there are now 259 masters’ titles instead of the 5900 previous specialisations.

Universities are now bound by the Bologna process and have integrated their old courses into these new ones.

Admission Requirements

Following the reform of the organization of programmes leading to the Master’s degree (decree no. 2017-83 of January 25th, 2017), two main principles were established:

  • the Master’s degree is a 4-semesters’ programme (thus without an intermediary student selection), that has to be based on a one-and-only recruitment process before the 1st semester;
  • Every holder of a Licence’s degree (Bachelor’s degree) has to have a possibility to continue his studies in a programme leading to a Master’s degree.

The selection process now takes place before the beginning of the programme instead of during the programme as it was previously the norm. Moreover, the reform recognizes every student’s right for studies’ continuation. This right may be immediate or delayed (Validation des Acquis de l’Expérience – VAE programmes in particular).

The Recteur of the Région académique where the student did get his Licence will be responsible for this right. The Recteur will have to make the student three propositions after discussions with HEIs master’s degree programmes. These propositions will have to take into account the number of places available, the student’ career choice, the programme’s prerequisites, etc.

The "maîtrise" diploma, an intermediate qualification between the "licence" (180 European credits) and the master (300 European credits), is issued to students who ask for it if they validated the first 60 ECTS after the "licence".

In addition, access to the different levels of post-baccalauréat training dispensed by an institution supervised by the Department of Higher Education and Research - whether a university, institute or public-sector school - can also be authorised after validation of acquired experience. Holders of foreign qualifications or diplomas may apply for their validation. The president of the university or head of the institution decides on that validation after recommendation by the teaching commission.

For information about tuition fees please refer to chapter 3 "Funding of Education".


Training provided in view of obtaining a Master is theoretical, methodological and applied and, when required, involves one or several work placements. It also includes an introduction to research, in particular, the drafting of a dissertation or other personal study work.

The organisation of training as well as knowledge and aptitude testing methods are featured in the authorisation request filed by the institution with the Department of Higher Education.

The Master diploma can only be issued after validation of the student's aptitude in at least one foreign language. Standard training courses therefore need to include teaching time to enable students to acquire this aptitude.

Teaching Methods

As for the curricula, each institution is responsible for its teaching organisation. For university teaching, there are nevertheless national regulations setting the general provisions for the organisation of teaching. Training is mainly dispensed in the form of lectures, tutorials and practical work which the university is required to balance according to the purposes of each course.

Progression of Students

In universities, teaching is organised in the form of teaching units (UE) that are added up. UEs are definitively acquired and may be added up on condition of the student achieving the average grade. The acquisition of UEs and diplomas is organised according to the principles of building up and compensating for units within the framework of the European credits system. The acquisition of the EU automatically leads to acquisition of corresponding European credits (ECTS). Access to the second year of the master's degree  is decided by the head on recommendation of the director of studies.


The master’s degree is highly valued on the labour market and is required to work in numerous professions. Some professions are regulated, i.e. professions in which the practice requires a diploma, or another formal qualifications, thus requiring a (sometimes specific) master’s degree in order to work. Professions such as psychiatrist, court administrators or court-appointed agents, lawyers, engineers or notaries are regulated professions and require a master’s degree. Since the initial teacher training reform, a master’s degree is required to teach in primary and secondary schools as well.

A master’s degree requires research skills and methods, the use of documentary resources, a methodology to write and defend a thesis. A master’s degree allows the graduate to apply to the highest university title, the doctorate, in doctoral schools.

Law no. 2007-1199 of 10 August 2007 bearing on university freedoms and responsibilities gives higher education institutions a guidance and professional integration mission so that they may accompany their students towards the world of work. Universities now have the obligation to publish statistics on their success rates in examinations but above all on the professional integration of their graduates.

It is also indispensable to improve information of pupils and students on the type of training courses offered by higher education institutions and make them aware of job prospects open to them at the end of their higher education. This more precise knowledge of the realities of jobs will allow them to elaborate their career plans with full knowledge of available outlets.

More recently, the 2013 ESR law bearing on higher education has attempted to reinforce the policy for Master's degree work placements and student mobility. Article L611-2 of the education Code, modified by the Article 22 of the ESR law, provides that any course may be organised in the form of work-linked training. This measure comes into force in the context of existing schemes, through apprenticeship, professionalisation contracts and industrial training by research agreements (CIFRE).

Student Assessment

Diplomas are gained through passing written and oral examinations on the content of teaching units (UE) making up each cycle. Assessment of aptitudes and knowledge is defined after approval is given by the Commission de Formation et de la Vie Universitaire (CFVU – Training and Student life Committee) All students are allowed to take (if necessary) two examination session, separated by two months, usually June and September.

As far as the master's degree is concerned, knowledge testing is defined by the institutions within the framework of their autonomy. It should be stated in the authorisation application. This diploma is awarded to students having been successfully tested in knowledge and aptitudes on the basis of teaching dispensed, the research dissertation or any other personal study work, thus starting work that will be required for PhD students and, one or several work placements, if required by the course. Finally, the Master diploma can only be issued after validation of the student's aptitude in at least one foreign language.

In non-university institutions, a continuous assessment system or annual examinations may assess students' progress from the first year of studies, until the end diploma is completed. Usually, training includes a practical placement which results in a report or technical project, taken into consideration in the assessment of the diploma.

In each Teaching Unit (UE), aptitudes and knowledge acquisition are evaluated either by "continuous assessment" or by an end-of-year examination.The most frequent assessment template is as follows:

  • Continuous assessment is standard. It is the most appropriate framework for in-depth and progressive acquisition of knowledge. It is organised in the form of tests taking into account a series of work; personal work, unlimited in time, timed tests, presentations, etc.
  • "Partial examinations" are taken in a closed room, under the teacher's responsibility.

Over the course of the semester, students’ evaluation can be done by cumulating both types of exams. The marks obtained in the tests are tallied by taking into account the weighting factor allocated to them. These assessment methods are specified for each subject.

Continuous assessment requires regular attendance of lectures and tutorials and partial absence or non-attendance in one of the continuous assessment tests leads to the score of 0/20 for the relevant exercise. After examination of the student's personal situation, the teacher can, if he/she desires, propose a replacement solution, if not the student may ask to benefit from a dispensation with a view to being able to take the final examination. Absence from a final examination also leads to the score of 0/20 for the relevant examination.

The two annual assessment examinations are organised as follows:

  • examination conditions guarantee anonymity of written examinations;
  • material organisation and roll-out of examinations are covered by a circular available to students from each of the component's offices;
  • assessment of aptitudes and knowledge is ordered after approval is given by the Training  and Student Life Committee, and brought to the attention of students one month after teaching has begun at the latest.

Moreover, the validation of semesters (echelons in the European credit system) leads to the number of corresponding European credits (ECTS). An echelon (semester) can be acquired:

  • either by validating each of the Teaching Units (UE) making it up (a mark above or equal to 10 in each UE);
  • or by compensation between these Teaching Unit (UEs) (weighted average of the UEs above or equal to 10), the compensation being automatic only if the candidate has obtained a mark above or equal to 7 in the different UEs.

The echelon mark (semester) is equal to the weighted average of the marks of the Teaching Units (UEs) making it up. The respective weights of UE marks are proportional to the number of credits of these UEs. The UEs validated individually are definitively acquired. Students are however entitled to refuse validation of an echelon acquired by compensation if they believe they can improve the results of UEs not acquired (marks lower than 10) the following year.

Finally, "echelon" and "diploma" juries can be led to attribute "jury points". The diploma jury, which decides on the attribution of the diploma on the basis of decisions by the different echelon juries can, over and above scheduled validation patterns, reconsider, at the end of the course, the whole student's progress, even if some echelons have not been acquired.


The “maîtrise” diploma, an intermediate diploma between the “licence” (bachelor’s degree – 180 ECTS) and the master’s degree (300 ECTS), is given to the students who ask for it after validating the first 60 ECTS after the “licence”.

With 300 credits, the national master's degree is awarded. The university grade of master can be conferred by the state, after a national assessment and examination at the Conseil National de l'enseignement supérieur et de la recherche (CNESER – National Council for Higher Education and Research) to holders of other diplomas such as:

  • qualified engineers, after assessment by the commission des titres d'ingénieurs (CTI - engineers' diploma committee);
  • the end of course diploma awarded by anInstitut d'Études Politiques (IEP - political studies institute);
  • the Diplôme de Recherche technologique (DRT – Technological Research Diploma);
  • the veterinarian surgeon's state diploma;
  • the end of course diploma of certain business and management schools ;
  • the architect's state diploma;
  • the heritage restorer's diploma;
  • the École du Louvre second cycle diploma;
  • the Special Military Academy of Saint-Cyr diploma.

Articles D613-17 to D613-25 of the French Code of education state that the national "licence" (bachelor), master and doctorat (PhD) diplomas can be issued within the framework of international partnerships. International partnerships are organised by an agreement signed between one or several French high education institutions and one or several foreign higher education institutions. The agreement in particular defines the training methods, constitution of teaching teams, testing of knowledge and aptitudes and certification methods.