Study Finds Evidence of Anti-Muslim Discrimination in French Higher Education

A 2021 study reveals that information requests bearing North African Muslim surnames and names were disproportionately discriminated against in comparison with applications that had names suggesting French origin.

Muslim students (image from
Muslim students (image from

The study, whose details are available only in French was released February 15, along with a news statement. It was led by researchers at the National Observatory of Discrimination and Equality in Higher Education (Observatoire National des Discriminations et de l’Égalité dans le Supérieur) at the Gustave-Eiffel University in Paris.

Researchers sent 1,821 emails under fictitious names to “training managers” at 19 universities, who are customarily asked by aspiring students about procedures regarding applications to graduate programs.

The emails purported to be from aspiring French students whose names suggested North African origins and from a control group of students said to have physical disabilities that confined them to a wheelchair.

The researchers found that the fictitious applicants from North Africa had 12.3 percent less chance of “receiving a positive response to a simple request for information,” according to the news statement.

In contrast, no discrimination was found in the case of information requests from the control group of supposedly disabled applicants.

The researchers determined a “coded” pattern in how the information-seeking emails were handled: The responses were “generally either positive” in that certain recipients were directed to sites where they could apply for graduate programs—or there was no response at all. There were practically no negative answers.

Three months after the study, when the researchers anonymously interviewed the training managers who had handled the information requests, they were told that their graduate programs embrace diversity.

The study found evident discrimination was more pronounced in law and science and technology programs than in the humanities and social sciences.

“These discriminations are mainly statistical, linked to the lack of information on the quality of the candidates,” the statement said, regarding no precise information about candidates’ skills being made available.

Those conducting the study believe it would benefit from being repeated on an even larger sample of training courses and on other discrimination criteria.

Discrimination in a field directly related to higher learning—the workplace—has long been a problem in France. As far back as 2012, an Amnesty International report noted that Muslims, particularly Muslim women, face potential discrimination in employment “simply because they wear specific forms of dress.”

The report, “Choice and Prejudice: Discrimination Against Muslims in Europe,” cited the autonomous French equality body, the High Authority Against Discrimination and for Equality (HALDE), which received 259 complaints of discrimination, mostly from Muslims, on the grounds of religion or belief in 2009.

According to HALDE’s data, Amnesty International pointed out, religious discrimination most often occurs in education, private employment and access to public services.


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