Over 120 years have passed since a group of leading figures from the Grenoble academic, political and industrial world decided to found a centre for teaching French, the CPEE (Patronage Committee for International Students). This centre was therefore founded to welcome immigrant families and employees (from Italy, Portugal, etc.) based and working in Grenoble. The discovery of hydro-electric power enabled the rapid industrialisation of the region and the labour force rushed to Grenoble.

In 1896, a German student was the first to enrol in the courses. Many other enrolments followed and some of these unknown students became leading figures worldwide. For example: Vigdis Finbogadottir, former President of Iceland; Richard von Weizsäcker, former President of the Federal Republic of Germany; and more recently, Masako Owada, Crown Princess of Japan and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier (Jackie Kennedy), First Lady of the United States between 20 January 1961 and 22 November 1963. But all of the students, whether they became famous or not, have taken part in the ongoing and steady development of the CUEF. Together, the Patronage Committee and the University perpetuated their aim to welcome students and teach French as a Foreign Language.

On 1 January 2012, the CUEF became a joint department in the Université Stendhal (Grenoble 3). It continued to educate students of around 100 nationalities in French language and culture.

On 1 January 2016, during the merger of the three universities in Grenoble, the CUEF became part of the Université Grenoble Alpes.