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How Arab students in France cope with financial challenges

How Arab students in France cope with financial challenges

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Life Arab Migrants Basic Rights

Thursday 1 February 202409:22 am
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“I wait in a long line twice a week to receive food aid provided by certain associations for students in Paris. Items like rice, cakes, oil, canned vegetables, sanitary pads, and other essentials. As for meat, it rarely makes its way into my small kitchen.” Zainab, a Lebanese law student at the University of Paris II Panthéon, tells Raseef22 about how she balances her weekly expenses.

Zainab's situation is not uncommon. According to Pauline Lebaron, Vice President of the The National Union of Students of France (Union nationale des étudiants de France, or UNEF), the organization encounters a large number of foreign students “suffering from major financial crises and facing challenges” daily.

“I wait in a long line twice a week to receive food aid provided by certain associations for students in Paris. Items like rice, cakes, oil, canned vegetables, sanitary pads, and other essentials. As for meat, it rarely makes its way into my small kitchen.”

According to Campus France, the national agency for the promotion of higher education under the ministries of Higher Education and Foreign Affairs, there were approximately 400,000 foreign students enrolled in French higher education during the academic year 2021-2022. 29% of them were from North Africa and the Middle East, surpassing the number of students from Europe, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Moroccan students topped the list, ahead of both Algeria and China.

Causes of financial distress

Lebaron attributes this financial distress to “the rise in prices and inflation experienced by the country in general, increased rental costs and the government multiplying registration fees for foreign students coming from outside the European Union by up to 16 times compared to in previous years.”

According to a study conducted by the student union at the beginning of the current academic year, the cost of living for students increased by 6.47% in 2023, representing an additional annual expenditure of €594.75.

Rent is the greatest expense, representing just over 60% of the budget. As a result, Lebaron says, “Many foreign students are forced to live far away from their place of study in search of cheaper rents. This poses additional psychological and physical burdens that affect academic performance, which immigration law seeks to make an essential factor in obtaining a residence permit.”

“Life here is a mix of challenge and opportunity. As an international student, I have to manage a limited budget, which is much more difficult given rising prices. I work part-time in a café to help my income, but it takes time away from my studies.”

Mohammed, a Tunisian student who arrived in Lyon at the age of 21 to study computer science, recounts the difficulties he faced in finding an apartment. He tells Raseef22, “I was surprised by the high rent for apartments compared to their size. My file was rejected three times because landlords require guarantors or sponsors in France. The intense competition resulted in their choosing profiles they considered safer.”

He adds, “After three weeks of sleeping on a friend's couch, I was able to share a small apartment, splitting the rent, which is €700. It is very far from my university, which forced me to pay for public transportation as well.”

Before being able to rent, foreign students must pay university registration fees, which vary annually depending on the student’s diploma. For undergraduate registration, foreign students must now pay approximately €2,770, compared to €170 previously. For master's or doctoral degrees, fees reach up to €3,770 compared to the previous sum of €243 and €380 respectively.

While a small number of universities implemented the increase in registration fees for foreign students in 2019, the Vice President of UNEF is concerned about the new immigration law that ensures this price increase, and could, therefore, be imposed on all foreign students.

While a small number of universities have decided to implement the increase in registration fees for foreign students from the year 2019, observers are concerned about the provisions of the new immigration law that has ensured this increase and may, therefore, be imposed on all foreign students.

The cost of a monthly subscription for public transportation also rose by 5.91%, although this varies significantly depending on the city. For example, in Paris, access to public transportation costs about €373 annually, whereas in Lyon, this sum does not exceed €250.

The challenges of working and studying

In response to the high cost of living, foreign students often seek employment alongside their studies to sustain themselves financially. “However, due to limited working hours, these students cannot earn a sufficient salary to meet their needs. A large percentage of them also struggle to find work, especially in smaller cities. Any job opportunity that does arise adds to their burden, impacting their sleep hours and leading to physical and mental fatigue for this group”, explains Lebaron.

Osama N, a Moroccan student studying mechanical engineering at École Centrale Paris, shares, “life here is a mix of challenge and opportunity. As an international student, I have to manage a limited budget, which is much more difficult given rising prices. I work part-time in a café to help my income, but it takes time away from my studies.”

“Managing my time between studying, working, and my personal life is a real challenge. Nonetheless, I am motivated; I know that these efforts are necessary to achieve my professional ambitions and contribute positively to my home country in the future.”

He continues, “Managing my time between studying, working, and my personal life is a real challenge. Academic requirements at my school are high, and I often find it difficult to achieve a balance. Nonetheless, I am still motivated because I know that these efforts are necessary to achieve my professional ambitions and contribute positively to my home country in the future.”

Associations serving foreign students

Alexa Foulon, president of the leading student association AFGES in Strasbourg, tells Raseef22 that “the situation is getting worse from year to year.”

AFGES, an important resource for many students, has put improving student living conditions at the heart of its work. At the start of the academic year, they help foreign students address some of the difficulties they might face.

Some of these solutions, according to Foulon, include, “emergency housing that foreign students often benefit from for ten days, renewable once. They stay in hotel rooms for free, making it easier for them to search for an apartment and start the academic year without stress or the need to sleep on the street.”

They also provide the option of shopping from their social and solidarity grocery stores, which offer high-quality products at prices ten times lower than market prices.

In spite of these challenging conditions and tough circumstances, hope for a brighter future and the pursuit of higher education continues to be a source of resilience and patience for Arab students in France.

Foreign female students vulnerable to harassment

“In addition to these youths denying their problems and downplaying their challenges to their families, pretending that everything is going according to expectation, despite the immense psychological pressure that can very well lead to depression and isolation in some cases,” Foulon admits, “there is a category of foreign female students who are subjected to physical and verbal violence, and at times, sexual harassment in the housing solutions offered to them. They find themselves on the street overnight, prompting us to search for immediate and temporary solutions.”

In spite of these challenging conditions and tough circumstances, hope for a brighter future and the pursuit of higher education continues to be a source of resilience and patience for Arab students in France.


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