Market responds to student demands

January 21, 2000

ITALY: In a new series, The THES studies the pattern of student choice in Europe

Over the past few years, Italian enrolment policy has aimed at cutting a drop out rate of more than 60 per cent. Out of every three students who signed up as first-year students, only one ever got a degree, and in most cases they needed far more time than the nominal four or five years of a degree course.

The success of this policy and a staggering student demand in new fields such as communications, public relations and teaching are perhaps the two most important trends in Italian higher education.

The measures taken to improve productivity include selection exams for an increasing number of degree courses, in particular medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and architecture. There has also been an increase in fees, here known as enrolment taxes, which in six years have grown from between Pounds 50-Pounds 100 to Pounds 300-Pounds 400 a year. The aim is to discourage enrolment by students who have little intention of studying.

It appears this policy is proving successful. The student population peaked at 1,671,000 in 1995-96. Since then it has dropped to 1,573,000 in 1998-99. But in the same period the number of graduates, including both "full" and "short" degrees, rose from 112,388 to 140,128. In three years, the population fell by almost 3 per cent, while the number of graduates climbed by more than 24 per cent.

Maurizio Sorcioni, education expert of Censis, Italy's main social analysis institute, said: "Those who embark on a university career tend to do so in fields in which they are interested. Also, the cost of university education, fees, living expenses and books has increased, so we see fewer young people using the university as a 'parking lot' until something, in terms of employment, comes along."

There are important changes in the choice of degree. Between 1997-98 and 1998-99, first-year enrolments in scientific fields fell by 4.4 per cent, in engineering and architecture by 7.6 per cent, in agriculture by 12.6 per cent, and in law by 11.5 per cent. The only fields that held their ground were medicine and the humanities.

In recent years, the most

impressive boom has been in fields such as communications science, public relations and teaching. Last year, in these three fields, there were about 25,000 first-year students out of a total of 5,216.

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