A consortium of Italian universities and the University of Tirana has acquired its own satellite television channel, which will broadcast university courses to thousands of students in Italy, Albania and other parts of Europe.
The Nettuno project, promoted by the Italian ministry for universities and research, began experimentally in 1995 with 86 students. Students recorded the lectures which were transmitted on terrestrial television channels at night after 2.30 am.
Nettuno's own satellite channel is now broadcasting 24 hours a day. The state broadcasting authority RAI provides technical support and access to the Hotbird 2 satellite. When Nettuno inaugurated its third academic year in Rome last month, there were more than 3,500 students using the network in Italy and abroad, and more than 1,000 academics involved in 198 courses.
"This is very different from other distance learning systems like the Open University," said Maria Amata Garito, Nettuno director, who teaches at Rome's La Sapienza University. "This is the world's first state university engaged in teaching at a distance. Our academics are among the best in Italy, from the top universities, where they continue to teach and to be involved in research. The students take their exams in person, at these universities, after having followed their respective courses on TV."
Students and applicants can find the list of courses on offer and other information on the Web at www.agora.stm.it/nettuno.
This year 180 engineering courses are offered for diplomas in information technology, electrical engineering, electronics, telecommunications, mechanical engineering, and logistics and production engineering. There are also 18 courses for the diploma in economics and management. These are all three-year "short degrees", as introduced in the Italian university system a few years ago. Diplomas in other fields are planned, and a PhD programme, in conjunction with universities in other European countries, is scheduled to begin in June. Tuition costs 1.8 million lire (Pounds 610) per year.
"We already have students in several European countries and are getting hundreds of inquiries from as far away as Germany and Romania," said Garito. "We have even heard from several non-Italian universities that would like to join the network.The teaching is all in Italian, but we may well begin using other languages." A possibility is that as the number of foreign students increases, exams will be held in Italian consulates in various countries.
Exams are held at the Polytechnic University of Tirana for the growing number of Albanian students who have followed broadcasts. Albania's seven other universities have now joined the network. Fees are reduced for Albanian students.
The authorities behind the Nettuno project were keen to emphasise the internationalisation of the network and its contribution to European integration. University minister Luigi Berlinguer said that "Nettuno will promote understanding and dialogue across Europe, will transmit not only different languages but different ways of thinking."