The Italian Educational System

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Schooling in Italy

* * * Please refer to the following link for updated and detailed information from the Italian Ministry of Public Education: http://www.istruzione.it/

Education in Italy is state-controlled and all schools, both public and private, are subject to comply with the curricula and teaching methods laid down by the Ministry of Public Education (Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione). Education is compulsory and free of charge for all children between the ages of 6 and 14 and is segmented into 5 classes at elementary level and 3 classes at lower secondary level (middle school).

The Italian Education System

 (file from "www.recruitaly.it")

Italy, in terms of both compulsory and higher education, is currently undergoing a period of transition through which the basic structure of the state system, as a whole, is being overhauled. These changes are designed not only to bring Italian education in line with the rest of the European Union but also create a more flexible system, which better and more broadly educates those choosing to study in Italy.

‘Elementary’ and ‘Secondary’ Education

The elementary and secondary distinction is perhaps more difficult to make in regard to the Italian Education System, as it is currently divided into three distinct sections.

The first is known in Italy as scuola elementare, it lasts for 5 years and begins at the age of 6. The second scuola media, is a three year stint at the end of which students, assuming all goes well, receive a Diploma di Licenza di Scuola Media and therefore the right to continue their education. Here, at the age of 14, is where obligatory education currently ends and an optional 4 or 5 year course of study begins.

Students may choose from a range of ‘High Schools’ known as licei with either classical, linguistic, artistic or scientific specialisation’s or move to study at an istituto which prepares students for elementary school teaching as well as technical, commercial and industrial careers.

On completion of their chosen course students undertake a state composed exam which gives them a diploma di maturità and hence the right to attend university.

Whether the course is four or five years long is irrelevant, as in the case of a 4 year program an additional year of study must be integrated into the course in order for the student to be granted admission to an Italian university.

Changes Currently Underway

With the implementation of the new system the age of compulsory education shifts upward to 16 years the Italian Government aims to have achieved this by the year 2001. The traditional liceo and istituto are replaced by an obligatory two-year period, biennio, of general studies, followed by three more years, triennio, of optional specialised education. New disciplines and a 34-hour week of classes are designed to better prepare students for their future careers.

Higher Education

Higher Education in Italy is based on a system in which universities are expected to fulfil the twin tasks of teaching and research. Academic autonomy and freedom are not only inherent aspects of this approach but also guaranteed by Italian law.Italy has four types of higher education institution, educating over 1.25million students. They include:

• 42 state universities
• 6 private universities
• 3 technical universities, Politecnici
• 12 university institutes with special status

Recent major investment has seen the creation of 4 new universities and substantial upgrading elsewhere with the provision of multimedia centres, language laboratories and distance learning tuition increasingly standard.
Major Italian university centres include Bologna, the world’s oldest founded in 1088, Turin, Rome, Florence, Ferrara, Naples, Modena and many more.

The Courses

There are 4 main types of academic courses offered under the guidance of Italian higher education institutes.

University Diploma, Diploma universitario: this course has recently been introduced in order to achieve further harmonisation between Italian institutions and their European counterparts. Equivalent to the internationally recognised baccalaureate, the courses last between 2 and 3 years and refer themselves to specific vocational competencies. Not all faculties have adopted a baccalaureate course and therefore places are subject to availability and more often than not restricted to those able to pass an admissions test.

Bachelor of Arts/Science, Diploma di Laurea: if the university diploma can be considered a first level academic degree, then the Laurea is a second level one and takes approximately 4-6 years to complete. A flexible format means students are able to propose their own study plans, piani di studio, which are subject to university approval, but minimum course requirements are State established.
Attainment of the qualification can only be achieved with the passing of a set number of exams and the successful defence of a thesis, tesi.

Research Doctorate, Dottorato di Ricerca: Here one begins to venture into the lofty realms of ‘third level’ or ‘post-graduate’ academic qualification. The doctorate aims to provide students with an extended understanding of scientific research methodology. The course lasts 3-4 years, progression through which is subject to the delivery of an annual report. The doctorate is attained with extensive documentation of research and a final dissertation. Places are restricted to a limited number of applicants not necessarily Italian but importantly to those who have completed the Laurea or the European equivalent.

Diploma’s of Specialisation, Diploma di Specializzazione: This diploma is again a postgraduate course and hence limited to university graduates or those with equivalent qualifications. It lasts between 2-3 years and includes practical vocational experience in regard to a specific profession. To note is the fact that attendance is obligatory and the final examination is the defence of a written thesis.

In terms of the admission of European Union citizens, the admission criteria are clearly the same for everyone i.e. the equivalent of requirements already stated. All Italian universities are predisposed to the acceptance of a limited number of foreign students, this said, an Italian language preparation course is obligatory.

Erasmus in Italy

Coming to Italy to study, as a foreigner, under the Erasmus/Socrates programmes is beneficial in a number of different ways:

• A foreign student can benefit from the support offered by their home institution
• Application to university courses is simplified and speeded up
• There tends to be a strongly positive attitude towards Erasmus/ Socrates students in Italy
• Such students receive an elevated status and operate, in most cases, within a more organised environment.

Changes Currently Underway

Reforms currently taking place represent a general restructuring of the higher education process.

Italian Universities will be asked to adopt a ‘3 cycle system’:

The first cycle, 3 years in length, and will be focused on a curriculum with a professional training bias and will culminate with the awarding of a first level degree as defined earlier, Laurea.

The second cycle will last 2 years and will end with the awarding of a Laura Specializzata.

The third cycle lasting between 1-2 years will earn a student either a doctorate or a postgraduate specialised degree.

All courses must be based on the European for the transfer of academic credits (ECTS) as provided for in recent agreements reach at EU level.
The Italian government envisages that these changes will be in place by the end of the academic year 2001. The managerial autonomy that Italian universities enjoy at political, organisational and operational levels, must be taken into consideration as it limits the efficiency of centrally managed change.

Age Groups and Educational Institutions

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Last updated: January 2, 2001
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