Italy has given the final go-ahead for a radical reform of university degrees that spells an end to the principle of open access for all secondary school graduates, a principle won by the student movement in the late 1960s.
Hailed as the "3+2" or "European" degree, all Italian universities must legally adopt the system within 18 months, but many faculties, particularly engineering, will be using it this autumn.
The "3+2" involves a basic three-year degree followed by an optional two years based on credits. This compares with the traditional four or five-year degree system that saw 60 per cent drop out. Students will have to take aptitude tests to enter courses. The aim is to improve efficiency and to better answer the needs of the job market.
University minister Ortensio Zecchino said that the degrees would mean a heavier workload for academics, who are traditionally protected by cast-iron, life-long contracts and freedom from controls and discipline.
"The three-year degree will provide access to most professional outlets," Mr Zecchino said. "The specialisation degree is only for a few cases in which a very high level is required." Yet he admits that "the professional organisations are already asking for the specialisation".
Some academics and student leaders doubt that standards can be maintained and lament the loss of "free access". Alberto Febbrajo, rector of Macerata University, said: "The three years will have to satisfy the needs of those who want to continue as well as those who want to stop, not an easy compromise. There may be the temptation to reduce the demands on students and reduce quality."
Left wing student organisations approve of the reform launched by the centre-left coalition government, but deplore the selection process. Right wing students, who identify with the opposition, condemn the whole thing. Others suggest that if, as happens now, students take longer than the allotted time to complete their courses, the reform will be a fiasco.
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