Umberto Eco has suggested that Italy's state university system would benefit from the establishment of live-in colleges along the lines of those in Britain.
"But it is not a question of adopting foreign models," he emphasised, "We already have the Ghislieri and the Borromeo in Pavia, and the Normale in Pisa, which are not examples of little account."
Eco's statements stem from an appeal made by a group of Italian students in Cambridge that Italian universities should set up colleges. In an interview in Corriere Della Sera, Eco responded that this would indeed be a good idea and that there could be no extra cost to the state and no favouritism towards a social elite.
"On the contrary," said Eco, "The colleges should be structures of academic excellence for deserving students who would have to complete their degree courses in the established number of years while maintaining a good average at exams and for those who wish to move away from home to study, but lack the means to pay for accommodation.
"Do you think that in a city such as, say, Milan, there are not ten large institutions willing to spend 150 million lire (Pounds 55,000) a year to provide room and board for 100 students? " he asked.
"Postgraduates and researchers, could act as 'tutors' to the younger students. The great thing about a college is that students live together, and over a meal the physics student can talk to the student of philosophy. And a college might also have such a number of additional courses, like in the Normale, that it would become a kind of parallel university. Not to mention the possibility of using the college as the context for holding conferences, for having the students meet people of particular interest."
Italy's universities provide accommodation for only ,000 students living away from home for a student population of 1.7 million. This forces many young people without means to live at home and go to the local university, which is often not the best for the field they have chosen.
The result is a lack of competition between universities, a lack of enthusiasm among students and a 70 per cent dropout rate. About 50 per cent of Italians live at home until after 30. The only examples of colleges are the Ghislieri and Borromeo in Pavia and the Normale in Pisa.