This year's Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development survey of education in the industrialised world has depicted UK universities as a global model of good practice. Underpinned by a cost-effective three-year degree, Britain has proved it can absorb large numbers of new students without swelling the number of dropouts, while equipping graduates with skills demanded by the labour market. So in demand are they that an individual's personal investment in their education yields a return that outstrips many a speculator's wildest dreams. And a social return too. We all benefit from more productive employees, lower unemployment, and a more law-abiding, healthy and informed citizenry, all correlated with possession of a degree.
But in any such comparison there are losers: once more Italy, of all the developed European nations, is stigmatised for inefficiency, poor recruitment and abysmal dropout rates.
So can the UK rest on newly acquired laurels, leaving Italy to languish? Can the quality of education that attracts so many international students be maintained? Italy, for all its flaws, remains the spiritual home of design and innovation, with an enviable quality of life. Perhaps that OECD correlation between educational efficiency and economic strengths is not so clear-cut after all.