The Transformation Of Higher Education In Italy

The Italian higher education system was one of the first to engage in a type of European educational reform called the Bologna Process. This process is currently being enacted across Europe, and is made up of three main cycles. Within Italy’s higher education structure there is a binary divide between the university sector and the non-university sector.

The university sector has 95 universities subdivided into 61 state institutes, 17 legally acknowledged non-state school, 11 web-based universities, and 6 special system higher schools. On the other side, the non-university sector has academies of fine arts, higher institutes for artistic industries, national dance and drama academies, and music conservatories and institutes. There is also a third educational option comprised of programs outside the Bachelor and Master hierarchy, which allows universities to design programs based around a lifelong learning approach. All of the regulations for these programs are established by the school where the curriculum is offered.

There are many ways to find funding for courses of study. There is an Entre per il Diritto allo Studio Universitario (EDISU) agency in each region of Italy that is responsible for student welfare services. They may allocate funds from two different categories: services for all students, or services ad personam. Students have easy access to pertinent educational information, including the welfare options, for each location through the Guida dell Studente. The Guida is published annually at the beginning of each academic year.

The Italian higher education system has received largely negative media coverage in recent years. Speculation as to the extent and effects of nepotism and cronyism has been a popular theme, as well as the need for reforms. According to a 2008 article published on The Economist website, Italian universities have remained mediocre in spite of their prestige and age because of the influence of the baroni. These administrators have influence in the schools as well as in the government, and have used it to their advantage by blocking measures for higher education reform. The lack of reform has harmed the students in several measurable ways. For instance, in 2008, the rate of 25-34 year old Italians who attained tertiary educational levels was 16% below the average for the same age group in the OECD.

Many good programs are carried out at the university level in spite of the disadvantages listed above. University centers of excellence have groups of professors work together on multidisciplinary projects related to research and development. Technology clusters are also available through universities, as are research modes that allow government authorities to use university research centers for knowledge sharing.

With a foundation and history of excellence, Italian higher education has much to offer the current student. Italy is also a very popular study abroad destination, and has many programs to facilitate international study. The quick adoption of the Bologna Process shows the system’s ability to change, offering hope to reform supporters. With over a million students attending their institutions, there is clearly a lively body of learners enrolled in Italy’s programs, and international ties are strong, as evidenced by the large number of foreign universities with campuses in Italy, such as Johns Hopkins University in Bologna.


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