Early lecture in the stalls

July 24, 1998

ROME's overcrowded La Sapienza University, the largest in Europe with more than 175,000 students, is negotiating to use city cinemas as morning lecture halls.

University leaders are discussing the idea with the association of cinema proprietors. An agreement would bring the university desperately needed space and extra income for the cinemas.

Mario Morcellini, director of the department of sociology, said: "It is not the solution, but a solution, and a first step in a broader project of collaboration between the university and the film theatres."

Alberto Abruzzese, president of the degree course in communications sciences, said: "Many cinemas are fitted with multimedia equipment, with the possibility of tele conferences and other innovations in teaching technology."

La Sapienza has barely 1.7 square metres per student. Lecture halls overflow with students. Those who want a seat arrive early. With a total disregard for safety, hundreds often have to stand or sit on the floor while others crowd outside the halls and try to follow the lectures over loudspeakers or, in a few cases, closed circuit television.

This overcrowding discourages students from attending lectures and reinforces the Italian custom of just reading the textbooks written by the lecturer.

It is considered a cause of the notoriously high dropout rate. Last year 12,000 students graduated, but 25,000 new students enrolled.

Law is the most overcrowded faculty with more than 30,000 students and only 91 lecturers; medicine has the highest teacher-student ratio, with just over 8,000 students and 665 academics.

University minister Luigi Berlinguer's call on La Sapienza to reorganise itself into smaller and more manageable units of 40,000 has met firm resistance.

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