University enrolment in Italy has fallen for the first time since the second world war. In 1994/95, 5.2 per cent fewer students enrolled than in 1993/94, writes Paul Bompard.
The Central Statistics Institute, which collected the data in Italy's 60 state universities, said the causes were an increase in university taxes and the continuing low standards of services offered to students.
Annual fees have increased to almost Pounds 1,000 in some universities from only about Pounds 200 to Pounds 300 three years ago. This has been partly the result of more administrative autonomy for each university, and of the removal by law of the fees ceiling.
At the same time, services and efficiency have not improved. Today, only 32 per cent of the students who go to state university ever get a degree. Of those, most take more than the standard four or five years to complete their courses.
The marked drop in enrolment is significant given Italy's small graduate population. Only 6.8 per cent of Italians between 25 and 34 have a degree, compared to 23.2 per cent in the United States, 16.3 per cent in Spain, 12.5 per cent in the United Kingdom and 12.3 per cent in France.
Alongside the fall in students in the state universities, the few private universities this year reported a slight increase in demand. But this remains a drop in the ocean of the massive state system.