Italian Higher Education System
Italian higher education is structured in a binary system, consisting of two main articulations: the university sector and the non-university sector.
At present, the university sector is made up of 89 university institutions which are classified in:
- 60 State universities including 2 Polytechnics and 2 Universities for Foreigners
- 17 non-State universities (legally recognised by the State)
- 6 higher schools specialised in postgraduate university studies
- 11 telematic universities.
The non-university sector includes 4 education typologies with their institutions:
- AFAM institutions (Higher Education in Art and Music and Dance): polytechnics for the arts, academies of fine arts, higher institutes for applied arts, music conservatories and recognised music institutes, higher institutes for musical and choreographic studies, national academies;
- higher education in language mediation: higher schools for language mediators;
- higher integrated education (FIS): programmes of higher technical education&training (IFTS);
- a few specific fields (e.g. archiving, diplomatics, restoration, military studies, etc.) which, along with their respective institutions, fall under the supervision of ministries other than that of Education.
State universities are public entities endowed with scientific, teaching, managerial, financial and book-keeping autonomy; they have full legal capacity in matters of both public and private law. Their major tasks are scientific research and higher education.
Due to the principle of university autonomy, each university may draw up its own statutes and regulations, issued by rectoral decrees.
Since 1999, the Italian university system has been reformed so as to meet the objectives of the "Bologna Process" and is now organised in 3 cycles: Laurea – Bachelor Degree (1st cycle academic degree), Laurea Magistrale – Master Degree ( 2nd cycle academic degree), Dottorato di ricerca – Ph.D. and Scuole di Specializzazione – Specialisation Courses (3rd cycle).
Bachelor Degree Courses - First cycle studies
They are aimed at guaranteeing students an adequate command of general scientific methods and contents as well as specific professional skills. The general access requirement is the school leaving qualification awarded on completion of 13 years of global schooling and after the relevant State examinations; also comparable foreign qualifications (obtained after at least 12 year of global schooling) may be accepted.
Bachelor Degree courses last 3 years, and the Degree is awarded to students who have earned 180 credits; the completion of a training period and the defence of a thesis may also be required.
The Bachelor Degree grants access to competitions for the civil service, to regulated and non-regulated professions, and to 2nd cycle courses.
Master Degree courses - Second cycle studies
They are aimed at providing students with an advanced level of education for the exercise of a highly qualified activity in specific areas.
Access is usually by a Bachelor Degree or a comparable foreign degree; admission is subject to specific course requirements determined by individual universities.
Master Degree courses last 2 years, and the Degree is awarded to students who have earned 120 credits; the defence of a thesis is required.
A limited number of programmes (dentistry, human medicine, pharmacy, veterinary, medicine, architecture, law), are defined One Cycle Degree Courses (one-block LM courses). Access is by the school leaving diploma or a comparable foreign qualification; admission is subject to selective entrance exams and each degree course is organised in just one-block of 5 or 6 years.
Master Degree courses grant access to competitions for the civil service, to regulated and non-regulated professions, research doctorate programmes and all the other degree courses of the 3rd cycle.
Third cycle studies
- Ph.D. courses aim at training students for very advanced scientific research; they adopt innovative teaching methodologies, updated technologies, training periods abroad and supervised activities in specialized research centres. Admission requires a Master Degree (or a comparable foreign degree) and to pass a specific competition; studies last a minimum 3 years; the doctoral student must work out an original dissertation to be defended in the final examination.
- Specialisation Courses are devised to provide students with knowledge and abilities as requested in the practice of highly qualified professions; they mainly concern medical, clinical and surgical specialities. Admission requires a Master Degree (or a comparable foreign degree) and the passing of a competitive examination. Course length varies in relation to subject fields. The final degree, Specialisation Diploma, gives the right to the title as Specialist.
University Master Courses (Master Universitari):
The aim of a master course is to reinforce, broaden and hone the skills and expertise of graduates and postgraduates, utilising and expanding upon previous training to meet the demands of the professional world. There are both 1st and 2nd level University Master courses.
- University 1st level Master Courses consist in advanced scientific courses or higher continuing education studies open to the holders of a Bachelor Degree or a comparable foreign degree. Admission may be subject to additional conditions. Master courses last 1 year, and the qualification is awarded to students who have earned 60 credits. It does not give access to the 3rd cycle.
- University 2nd level Master Courses consist in advanced scientific courses or higher continuing education studies, open to the holders of Master Degree or a comparable foreign degree. Admission may be subject to additional conditions. Master courses last 1 year, and the qualification is awarded to students who have earned 60 credits.
Advanced Course (Corso di Perfezionamento)
It is a refresher/permanent training course that allows students to develop their expertise and skills in order to further improve their professional qualities. To be admitted you must hold a 1st or 2nd level degree. The courses vary in length.
It differs from a master, in that no academic qualification is awarded; students will receive a certificate that details the skills that have been acquired.
- Credit Trasfer Unit: the university educational credits system was introduced to facilitate the mobility of students at both national and international level. Credits (CFU) are units that are used to measure the total amount of coursework required from a student, in terms of hours of study and tuition. One credit corresponds to 25 hours of work. An academic year requires a total of 60 credits. Credits are obtained by passing examinations or through other forms of assessment established by each university. They do not count towards the overall mark and are therefore independent of the grade obtained with examinations or assessments of other kinds.
- Classes of degree courses: all degree courses sharing educational objectives and teaching-learning activities are organised in groups called Classes. The content of individual degree courses is autonomously determined by universities, however, when establishing a degree course, individual institutions have to adopt some general requirements fixed at national level. Degrees belonging to the same class have the same legal value.
- Academic titles: the Bachelor Degree confers the title of "Dottore", the Master Degree that of “Dottore magistrale”, the Ph.D. that of "Dottore di ricerca".
- Joint degrees: Italian universities may establish degree courses in cooperation with foreign partner universities; on completion of integrated curricula joint or double/multiple degrees are awarded.