A university after 40 years of debate

November 21, 1997

EUROPE. After 40 years of often bitter debate, the city of Bolzano/Bozen, capital of Italy's German-speaking Alto Adige province, is to have its own university.

Stiff opposition had come from the German-speaking majority, which has traditionally sent its young people to universities in Innsbruck, Vienna, Munich and Salzburg, reinforcing their Germanic identity.

Local politicians feared that an Italian university in Bolzano/Bozen might dilute the language and culture, as well as interrupt a tradition of relations with Austria that tended to develop during a university career.

The Alto Adige, also known as the Southern Tyrol, became part of Italy after the Austrian defeat in the first world war and in 1948 joined the Trentino province to form the Trentino-Alto Adige region. Of a population of about 465,000, about 315,000 are German speaking, 130,000 Italian speaking, and about 20,000 speak Ladin.

According to Roland Benedict, of the Bolzano province's department for schools and German and Ladin culture, "the creation of a university here is a normal development. Many of our young people will continue to go to other German speaking universities."

But, according to observers, the change has its roots in rivalry with nearby Trento. Its university has set up an exchange programme with the University of Innsbruck, and another with eight German universities with the option for students of studying two years in Trento and two years in Germany.

Bolzano/Bozen faced academic oblivion with Trento, which has an Italian-speaking majority, upstaging Bolzano as the centre for Italo-Germanic academic relations.

The new Bolzano campus will be financed by the province of Bolzano and various private firms, and will be independent of Italy's state university system. It is scheduled to open in the 1998-99 academic year as a trilingual university with German, Italian and English as the official languages.

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