Changes to Italy's degree system to comply with the Bologna Process of European higher education harmonisation seems to be the chief cause of a drop in international mobility among Italian university students.
A study by Almalaurea, an independent consortium of 35 of Italy's 70 universities, found that 11.3 per cent of graduates in 2004-05 spent a period of their academic careers abroad, compared with 19 per cent in 2001.
This change coincides almost exactly with the introduction of the three-plus-two degree system. The Almalaurea report suggests that the increased pressure on students to accumulate credits in two brief periods, compared with the potentially more flexible space of four or five years for a degree before the reform, is discouraging some from going abroad.
Other factors may also come into the equation. "The Italian economy is in difficulty," said Elke Koch-Weser, Erasmus-Socrates (study abroad) co-ordinator for Rome's La Sapienza University. "Families are having a harder time footing the bill of keeping a student abroad. Erasmus covers only a fraction of the expense."
Clara Grano, director of the Erasmus bureau of Italy's National Socrates Agency, said: "We must remember that in 1987-88 only 220 Italian students went abroad with Erasmus. This year it was almost 17,000. So I would think in terms of a temporary lull in a situation that is growing."