Monday, December 7, 2015

Higher education in Italy gaining worldwide approval

By: Franca Yang
Produced & Edited by: Danielle Keeton-Olsen

One of the world’s earliest universities was established nearly one thousand years ago in Bologna, making Italy a popular place for the brilliant minds at the time. A few centuries later, the fast development and great performance of British and American universities led many foreign students and scholars to disregard Italy. This trend had continued steadily until recent years.

As of 2015, international students represent about 5 percent of all enrolled students in Italian universities. Although the number is still small, Italy is seeing a slow, but continual increase of foreign students. This trend is most prominently apparent in the northern regions, where 10 to 15 percent of all enrolled students come from overseas. These students are mostly Albanians, followed by Romanians and Chinese, according to Italy 24.

“Northern Italian universities tend to be better organized and more forward thinking, therefore more appealing to foreign students,” said Alex Roe, News from Italy official Twitter account holder in Milan.

Bringing Chinese students to universities

Chinese students have been receiving special attention from Italian universities since 2008, when the Italy-China Foundation launched the Unitalia Project in hopes of bringing more Chinese students to Italy. 

The project is sponsored by the Cariplo Foundation and supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR); the Italian Embassy in Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in Italy. On the MIUR official website, there is also a special sector dedicated to Chinese applicants.

Students gather at Piazza Leonardo Square in
Milan to watch the solar eclipse on March 20, 2015
(Photo via Wikimedia)
The Marco Polo program provides one semester of Italian language experience for foreign students in Italian universities or language schools. After the students’ language efficiency is approved, they will be eligible to move on to university level courses. Each year, according to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, Italian universities reserve a proportion of their admissions for Chinese students.

“Italy itself is very attractive,” said Enzo Wang, a Chinese student studying Master of Science at Bocconi University in Milan. “Italian students are very kind to foreign students. I really like my university because I am surrounded by excellent classmates and I meet different challenges everyday. There is a large group of Chinese students here and we take care of each other.”

At Bocconi University, there are nine specialized degree programs and five undergraduate programs in economics and finance, taught in English. According to Roe, the growing number of courses in English are a major reason Italian universities are now being chosen by more foreign students.

Immersing in Italian culture

Since language barriers could hinder foreign students’ success in Italy; Italian universities highly encourage social interactions with native students.

“There are some great intercultural initiatives in my school to help international students with their Italian, like the Language Café,” said Marta Zugliano, an Italian student at University of Udine. “I have met a lot of students from other countries that way. We went to bars with some Erasmus students and had conversations in Italian with them. I find it really easy to connect and interact with them, even with the cultural differences.”

A recent graduate of Bocconi University also recalled her fun experience with the foreign students at her school.

“They could party until 2 am and still manage to be present in class at 8 am in the morning,” said Valentina Gu. “When they studied, they underlined the entire textbook as emphasis with marker pen. More of them were willing to contribute to the group assignments than Italian students, and their adaptability to new environment was very strong.”

In an attempt to attract more international students, some Italian universities are now adding scholarship opportunities and exchange programs for foreign students. 

Students view photographic books on display at
Carmichael Library. The books were made by
 University of Montevallo students who studied
abroad. (Photo via Wikimedia
According to official reports provided by Glenda Mereghetti from the University of Milan press office, highly talented students from EU and non-EU countries are eligible for a 10,000 euroyearly scholarship, plus fee exemption.  All international students who are in the top 10 percent of their courses are eligible for 30, €6.000 scholarships plus fee exemptions. 

The school also collaborates with the Marco Polo program and offers several other Italian language courses in the summer and during the school year.

U.S. students in Italy

Italy is also the second most popular destination for American students to study abroad, with the UK being on top, as reported by Open Doors in 2014. For Italian students, exchange programs in the U.S. are usually a more appealing option than earning a degree abroad.

“I think it is popular to do a six-month exchange program in the U.S. but traveling to the U.S. and living there to get a degree is a really big step to take. Unless you have a very specific academic purpose, not that many Italians would want to do that. Moving to some of the European countries to study is much easier for us,” said Zugliano.

Other than the long distance, the much higher cost and academic intensity of universities in the United States also drive some students away.

“Italian universities are usually cheaper than those in the U.S. and U.K. American universities cost a lot more and may be more stressful,” said Enzo.

According to Study Overseas, public university tuitions cost between $911-$1286 per year for international students in Italy, and around $20,000 in the U.S.

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