An ambitious plan to create a multinational university campus on an island in the Venice lagoon is about to become a reality. Five universities - two Venetian, one Spanish, one German and one American - have formed a consortium to establish five institutes on the lagoon island of San Servolo.
Two more universities - one from the United Kingdom and one from Japan - are still negotiating and could join the consortium during 1996.
Starting next autumn each will offer courses, taught by lecturers from the supporting universities, which will be open to the students from the other four institutes. All courses will be taught in English.
Subject to changes by the academic council, San Servolo will specialise in fields broadly connected to the island's historic and geographic setting ranging from art history to languages, from economics to political studies in a southern European context.
Ten minutes by motor launch from St Mark's, San Servolo is a tree-shaded park with a splendid 15th-century monastery at one end, complete with period church and cloister and several smaller buildings.
Between the monastery and the other buildings there are 16,000 square metres of usable space. Restoration of the buildings, paid for by the Venice local authorities, is 35 per cent complete and the island has been given free to the project for a first period of 30 years.
The universities taking part are Venice's Ca' Foscari and the Instituto Universitario di Architettura, Barcelona's Universitat Autonoma, Munich's Ludwig Maximillians Universitat and North Carolina's Duke University. General administration will be by a board of directors, while the campus will be run by an academic council composed of a representative from each university, which will then elect a dean.
Gianni Toniolo, a Ca' Foscari economist, was among the pioneers of the project, which was conceived about a year ago. "Each university will make a modest contribution to running costs," he explained, "And the students will have to pay for lodgings in Venice.
"A foundation of banks from the Veneto region is giving substantial financial support. And among its other tasks, the board will also try to find sponsors to increase financial resources and will look into the possibilities of projects which will bring in money, such as conferences, seminars and so on. It is essential to increase resources and put the project on a sound financial basis."
Professor Toniolo believes San Servolo will be an important and unique step on the path to international cooperation in higher education. He said: "We will have a degree of international collaboration without precedent in terms of the number of universities involved and the quality of the courses we hope will be offered at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
"San Servolo is a unique opportunity for Venice itself, which has become ever more decadent and diaphanous, and for the city's universities which will be in constant contact with universities from the rest of the world," he added.