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University structure in Italy

Studying in Italy

Although Italy boasts some of the oldest universities in Europe [the University of Padova is one of the oldest in the world, and the third oldest in Italy (founded 1222), after the University of Bologna (1088) and University of Salerno (1173)], it is only in recent history that the education system has been streamlined to be universally recognized for their programs of study. In fact, it was established only in 1958, that you can study at private or public institutions to obtain one of three degrees: “laurea” (basic graduate degree), “laurea magistrale” (specialists degree) and “dottorato di ricerca” (PhD).

Since 2002, Italy has now acknowledged two study tracks: The “laurea triennale”, a three-year program as it’s name suggests and the “laurea breve” (the equivalent of a two year associates’ degree).

Once you receive your degree, you can continue on for two more years to obtain your specialization; the “laurea magistrale” or “laurea specialistica”. This new structure was decided in the “Bologna Declaration” of 1999 by 29 European Ministers of Education in order to create a single European Union recognition of vocational training and assessment. And it was Italy’s Politecnico di Milano and the Ateneo Palatino who were the first universities to implement this new structure during the academic year 2000-2001.

Another change to the system was the introduction of educational credits: a student must now reach a total of 180 credits (each exam one takes guarantees a certain number of credits: 2, 4, 8, 10.. with the number decided by the university. As elsewhere, students can even gain credits through internships in a company and the presentation of their final dissertation.

A direct result of all these changes was the growth of education offerings: each university could now independently choose which and how many courses to offer, and increase the number of specializations (up until then, the courses were decided by the State government). This wide plethora of course, however, has also brought about many problems: the increase in the number of course offerings has caused wide dispersion with many courses being offered but with few students actually enrolling in them. As a result, the costs of bringing on new professors has also risen. In addition, the division into two cycles has also brought problems to students being forced to carry the burden of a heavy increase in the course load and number of exams that must be taken. Since then, in 2009 it was established that students could take only a maximum amount of 18 exams during the first (3 year) cycle.

An additional benefit to students is that after completion of the first cycle, they no longer have to continue their studies for the second 2 year specialization. The ‘Bologna Compatible’ three year degree should provide a good qualification and employment opportunities (excepting, of course, those areas where the highest possible level of specialization is required such as in science and medicine).

For those who choose to carry through with the two cycles, they can continue pursuing a further specialization (a master’s degree or doctoral degree). In Italy, however, payment to take on doctoral students is usually quite low and without scholarship funds, so many students choose to carry out their further studies in foreign universities. This fact alone is one of the contributory factors to Italy’s very modern ‘brain drain’ that is being inflicted upon the country.

In fact in Italy, while the level of qualification remains quite high, with excellent professors, researchers and students, the biggest problem facing universities and attracting students comes down to money. Funding (both public and private) remains very low and this means that the payment for researchers is among the lowest in Europe. As a result, young foreigners don’t come to Italy to study, and Italians go abroad. Italy’s top students and researchers often flee to find a job (particularly in scientific areas) and better pay than what’s offered at home. The USA and Norther Europe being the favorite destinations.

In any case, to enroll in an Italian university, you must have the “diploma di maturià” (high school diploma). Otherwise, Italy boasts a number of top foreign universities on its soil, like John Hopkins (for Political Science) in Bologna, and with many major U.S. universities running programs often frequented by foreign and Italian students alike.

Following is a list of italian universities in each region.

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