The Italian Education System
Italy, in terms of both compulsory and higher education, has recently undergone a period of transition through which the basic structure of the state system, as a whole, has been overhauled. These changes were designed not only to bring Italian education in line with the rest of the European Union, but also to 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 specialisations, 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 assessed 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.
With the implementation of the new system the age of compulsory education shifted upward to 16 years. The traditional "liceo" and "istituto" have been replaced by an obligatory two-year period, "biennio", of general studies, followed by three more years, "triennio", of optional specialised education.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 in Italy is based on a system in which universities are expected to fulfil the twin tasks of teaching and researching. Academic autonomy and freedom are not only inherent aspects of this approach but also guaranteed by Italian law. Major Italian university centres include Bologna, the world's oldest founded in 1088, Turin, Rome, Florence, Ferrara, Naples, Milan, etc.
There are 3 main types of academic courses offered under the guidance of Italian higher education institutes.
Bachelor of Arts/Science, "Diploma di Laurea": It takes 3 years to get a BA/BSc in Italy. This is because of the recent changes made to the University studies in the country, to be more competitive with the rest of the European degrees. 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 a final interview, or thesis (depending on which faculty you attend).
Specialisation Degree, "Laura di Specializzazione": This diploma is a 2-year programme limited to university graduates or those with equivalent qualifications. It includes practical vocational experience in regard to a specific profession. The final examination is the discussion of a written thesis.
Research Doctorate / Postgraduate Degree, "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 1-2 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 a European equivalent.
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 programs 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 simple and quick
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.