Adieu! How France could be losing its elite
A growing number of French students from the Grandes Ecoles, the country's equivalents of Harvard and Yale, are considering quitting struggling France to find their first job.
A study released on Wednesday by Harris Interactive and commissioned by the Institut Montaigne think tank reveals that 79 percent of students from France's top schools, including Sciences Po, INSA Lyon and Polytechnique are seriously considering expanding their job search beyond the country's borders.
Ben Frost, global product manager at Hay Group told CNBC in June that Europe would undergo a massive "brain drain" within the next three years as economies start showing signs of improvements.
He explained that as economies pick up, job demand will pick up too, prompting people to seek greener pastures abroad. But the French economy remains very sluggish compared with, for example, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S.
While over two-thirds of the 975 students surveyed online believe it would be somewhat easy for them to get a job in France, they list career and wage advancement as one of the main reasons for going abroad, along with quality of life and economic environment.
The U.S., U.K. and Germany top the rankings of countries these future graduates would turn to – places where the students may have already spent several months for work experience. Emerging markets attract very few candidates, with China and Brazil coming in in 7th and 8th position respectively.
France remains crippled by unemployment, with 11 percent of its workforce on the dole and one out of four under-25s seeking work in August.
For Laurent Bigorgne, director of the Montaigne Institute and former deputy headmaster at Sciences Po, France's approach to education shows some serious weakness. Contrary to many other countries whose investment in education is U-shaped, with most of the funding going to primary and higher education, France spends a lot more on its secondary education than it does on the others.
Mr Bigorgne sees this enthusiasm for going abroad as a success story for these elite schools who understand that giving their students an international outlook is an asset. But it also reflects the students' growing confidence in their ability to speak a foreign language.
"They remain very classic in their destination", the former Sciences Po deputy headmaster told CNBC. Expressing his surprise at seeing Germany ranking so high, he added that students go for countries that are "not so different from France" and are, first and foremost, "safe bets".
(Read more: France's Silicon Valley to launch start-up hub)
The latest statistics from the Conference des Grandes Ecoles shows that the employment rate for graduates from France's top schools, while still very high, has recently come under stress. Out of the 2012 class, 81.5 percent managed to secure a job shortly after graduating compared with 84.9 percent a year earlier.
Outside of the Grandes Ecoles, graduates from France's other universities fared worse, with only 64 percent of them finding work a few months after graduating, a year-on-year drop of 7 percent according to a study from the French Association for Executive Employment (Apec) released on Wednesday.
For Jean-Marie Marx, director of Apec, the study "shows that the situation for young graduates has clearly deteriorated for the class of 2012, regardless of their level and sector".
Furthermore, while the average starting salary has only slightly dipped for the country's brightest youngsters -- the latest crop earns an yearly average of €34,033 ($46,036) -- the number of those seeking to leave France has increased to 16 percent from 13 percent a year earlier.
Paradoxically, according to the Institut Montaigne survey, while 79 percent of graduates can easily see themselves uprooting their whole life to move to another country fresh out of school, only four out of every 10 state that they could think about creating their own companies following graduation.
(Read more: Nice college, but what'll I make when I graduate?)
Follow us on Twitter: