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5 Facts about Higher Education in Italy

Higher Education in Italy
Among many other claims to fame, Italy is home to the oldest continually operating university in the world, with the University of Bologna’s founding dating back to 1088. According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 university rankings, Italian institutions make up five out of the top 200 ranked universities in the world. Although Italy has a virtually unparalleled history as a hotbed of renaissance thinkers and intellectuals in many fields, rising dropout rates and budget cuts have caused a major setback in Italian higher education.

The Bologna Process: Reforms for a Standardized and Compatible European Education

Originally agreed upon in 1999 by European nations at the University of Bologna, the EU’s Bologna Process aims to create consistency among degree-granting institutions in Europe. While creating a more standardized and cross-compatible education system, students living in the EU have easier access to study at universities outside of their home nation. The agreement’s mutual recognition of degrees granted at Bologna Process member institutions also allows for fewer barriers to employment abroad.

The Laurea

Italy’s “Laurea Triennale” degree is comparable to a Bachelor of Science in the English-speaking world. However, the major distinction between these two degrees is that a traditional Bachelor of Science degree takes four years to complete, whereas the Italian Laurea takes only three years.

Classes Taught in English

Many of the top-ranked universities in Italy, such as the University of Bologna and Bocconi University, offer programs in which courses are taught in English rather than Italian. The English-speaking programs allow Italian universities to gain a more internationally diverse student body, as well as a more competitive pool of applicants to Italy’s top universities.

The North-South Discrepancies

Although literacy rates in northern Italian regions near the Austrian border are comparable to those of top-performing nations such as South Korea, over two-thirds of adults living in the southern Italian province of Calabria have low levels of literacy. The regional gap issues contribute to the relatively low higher education rates in Italy since only 20% of Italians have a college degree. Italy’s college graduation rates are 10 percent less than the average of all industrialized nations.

Truancy and Relatively High Dropout Rates Coinciding with Funding Cuts

From 2009 to 2014, the Italian Education Ministry cut funding by 20%. During that same time span, the average dropout rate of Italian universities rose to 40% and there were zero Italian universities in the top 200 global rankings in 2014. However, even though Italian universities have risen in rankings since 2014, with the nation’s top five universities ranked within the global top 200, dropout rates have risen to 45% and truancy rates reached three times the OECD average. On top of these graduation rate issues, only 30% of students receive their Laurea in the traditional three-year time span.

Looking Ahead

Many Italian universities have proven to be pillars of consistent academic success, operating continuously for centuries. However, recent shortcomings in Italian higher education are a large cause for concern. Fiscal years of reduced funding have coincided with a decrease in education levels and university rankings within Italy. The enormous divide between the quality of education in the North and South of Italy also exacerbates the problems.

Salvatore Brancato
Photo: Flickr