Access limits anger students

October 13, 2000

More than 200 students in limbo staged a sit-in outside Italy's parliament last week to put pressure on MPs to solve a legislative conflict on university access.

In 1969, during nationwide student revolts, Italy approved a law guaranteeing access to any degree course, in any university, to any student who had passed the maturita school-leaving exam. In recent years, however, many universities have tried to limit access.

A 1999 law ratified the right of a university to restrict access to degree courses if it is deemed that it cannot efficiently cater for more than a certain number of students.

This applied mainly to medicine, dentistry, veterinary sciences and architecture courses.

In the past, most of the rejected students appealed to regional tribunals on the basis of the 1969 law and attended lectures pending a verdict. Verdicts were usually favourable to the students, who were then "reintegrated" into the degree courses of their choice.

But the 1999 legislation, which supersedes the 1969 law, prevents the regional tribunals from ruling. This means that 2,500 students, who enrolled provisionally in 1999, after the law was passed but before it was officially published, risk being suspended unless parliament passes an amnesty to allow them to continue.

Many have attended lectures and even taken exams, confident that they, like their predecessors, would be "reintegrated".

The trend towards restricted access is a key feature of Italy's reform of the higher education system, part of efforts to increase efficiency and cut down the high dropout rate, which has been reduced from just over 60 per cent to just under that figure.

Student representatives do not agree that limiting access to university courses will improve efficiency.

But professional associations, which perceive a need to limit the numbers of new doctors, architects and other professionals who come onto the market each year, support the 1999 law.

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