At a time when the UK is mulling hefty visa cash bond raising concerns here, France announced on Thursday a slew of India-specific measures easing visa norms for those wanting to pursue higher education, a move that is expected to increase the inflow of Indian students to that country.
"There is no competition between the UK and us. We have our own visa policy, they (the UK) have their own visa policy," said Francois Richier, French Ambassador to India, in Delhi.
France, he said, is not challenging anybody but has introduced a number of measures to enable Indian students to study in his country.
"It is about opening our arms and hearts for Indian students by facilitating their stay, not only in their visa area but other things like training, taking care of jobs when they are back in India. It is a package thing," Mr Richier told PTI.
The French envoy said that since France shares a genuine partnership with India and has chosen to open its frontiers even wider to Indian students.
He said that following the visit of French President Francois Hollande in February this year, a number of measures have been taken to facilitate the issuance of visas for Indian students, the creation of a "France-India" network as well as an increased number of scholarships offered by the French Embassy and its corporate partners.
In order to facilitate travel to France for all Indian citizens who have studied in France, Mr Richier said that as of July 14, all Indian citizens who have graduated from a French higher education institution subsequently applying for a tourist or business visa for a trip to France, will be given a visa with a long period of validity - up to five years if the studies in France were at the Master or PhD levels.
Asked if it was a general policy applicable to all foreign students, he said the new visa measures have been taken at the Embassy level and is applicable to only Indian students.
Last year, almost 2,600 Indian students opted for higher education in France, a jump of 50 per cent over the past five years.
"In 1998, there were only 100 Indian students in France. We have had a steady progress and that trend growing," the ambassador said.
While earlier language was a barrier, over 700 courses are now taught in English.
He said the French Embassy in India has simplified visa procedures for Indian students wishing to study in France.
In parallel, visa applications by Indian faculties and officials will be examined as a matter of priority.
Campus France (governmental agency promoting French higher education) will establish partnerships with various Indian higher education institutions in order to accelerate the procedures for exchanges with French institutions and for their alumni.
The French Embassy is currently organising a "France-India job opportunities" network that will bring together the HR heads of the major French companies in India and major Indian ones working in partnership with French companies, as well as international relations heads of the French and Indian higher education institutions.
The "France-India job opportunities" network aims to promote all the opportunities offered to Indian students who have pursued higher education in France.
Over 350 French companies are present in India with a total investment stock of almost 18 billion dollars. They alone account for the generation of 2,40,000 skilled jobs spread all over India, Richier said.
This year, the French Embassy, along with its corporate partners, will award scholarships totalling Rs. 7.1 crore to 235 meritorious Indian students who wish to pursue their higher education in France.