Italy weaned from free access

June 13, 1997

From Tokyo to Tallinn attempts are being made to overhaul traditional university matriculation

Despite legal hurdles and furious protests from the student left, Italian universities are increasingly introducing selection exams to help curb a dropout rate of 70 per cent and to tailor higher education to the needs of the job market.

For young Italians, the basic passport to higher education is success at the maturit , the final session of exams at secondary school, held at the end of June.

Similar in function to the French baccalaureat, the maturit establishes that the student has acquired a satisfying proficiency in the main school subjects. Students traditionally regarded it as a gruelling exam, but in fact between 85 per cent and 95 per cent pass first time, and those who do not can try again the following year. Moreover, under a 1969 law, any secondary school graduate has the right to enrol in any faculty of any of the 65 state universities, irrespective of the subjects studied at school.

But things are changing. The idea of programmed admittance to degree courses is gradually becoming accepted. Selection exams already operate in medicine, pharmaceutical sciences, veterinary sciences and dentistry in virtually all universities.

The trouble has been that many rejected students have appealed to the courts on the basis of the 1969 free access law and have been subsequently enrolled. Recent legislation giving universities the right to select clashes with the old law of free access. The issue has become a bone of contention between government and universities on the one hand and small but militant far left student groups on the other.

The university minister, Luigi Berlinguer, is putting together a package of legislation to try to clear up the muddle.

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