Italians cannot tell their Stradivari from their Puccini

November 5, 1999


More than 600 out of 700 Italian secondary school students who took a simulated aptitude test for admission to university courses have failed to reach the minimum score required.

The dry run was held during a three-day higher education fair in Rome, where 50 or so Italian universities, with a sprinkling of foreign institutions operating in Italy, set up stands to try to attract new students.

Many of the 132,000 young people who flocked to the fair were brought by their schools. But there were also some university students interested in postgraduate courses. Some 200 stands were companies offering everything from computers to training courses and help in finding jobs.

The Rome fair, now in its tenth year, has gained in importance because of greater autonomy given to universities, which are now free to design their own degree courses and compete for students. The simulated aptitude tests were set up because admission to degree courses is becoming increasingly "programmed".

Of the 700 young people who had 40 minutes to take the 35-question multiple-choice test, more than 600 failed 50 per cent compared with a minimum of 60 per cent set by universities.

Only 40 per cent spotted the odd man out among the names Puccini, Verdi, Rossini and Stradivari - the last, a violin maker, was the only non-composer. They were also weak in logical reasoning applied to simple mathematical tests, in their knowledge of vocabulary and of current affairs.

They were asked who has the authority to dissolve parliament: the president of the republic, the prime minister, the president of the constitutional court or "none of these". In spite of the frequency with which Italy goes to early elections, a third of the students failed to give the right answer, which was the president of the republic.

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