Only elite need apply

February 13, 2004

An experiment at transplanting the concept of an Oxbridge college to Italy's monolithic university system is completing its first full year of operation.

Two years ago a group of graduate students who had spent some time at Cambridge enlisted the support of Umberto Eco and other prominent academics for an Oxbridge-style college in Milan with financial support from a consortium of 22 Italian companies.

Now, 100 of the top students from Milan's seven universities live and work together in the Collegio di Milano. It is run by an independent foundation that aims to produce an elite of graduates who are not only excellent in their fields, but also have a good general education.

"We select from post second-year students who apply from any of the Milan universities," explained Louis Quagliata, the Italo-American engineer who directs the collegio .

"Applicants must have high exam scores, but we also select through personal interviews. We give them extra lectures and seminars on a wide range of subjects. The physicists study economics and music, the philosophers physics and economics, the mathematicians philosophy and music, Greek culture and so on. Since we are independent, we can be very flexible."

The extra lectures are delivered by academics or other experts from outside the college in the evening. So far these courses do not earn credits for the students, but the collegio is in negotiation with the universities and the ministry. Each student has a pleasant room and there are small flats for visiting teachers. The collegio is also offering lodging in exchange for a few lectures for academics who need to spend time in Milan.

The project is now in its first full year. A recent plan is to send mixed teams of collegio students - for instance a philosopher, an architect and an economist - to try to solve problems that crop up in private companies or in public administration.

Each collegio student pays €10,000 (£6,840) a year for board, lodging and the extra courses. Professor Quagliata said: "Selection is financially 'blind' and those who cannot afford to pay receive assistance. This means we have the best students irrespective of social background."

Corporate economics student Eleonora Corsalino, 22, from Tolentino, said: "Here at the collegio I've had courses in quantum mechanics, Greek culture and aesthetics. I feel very fortunate, because I have the opportunity to broaden my mind, to feed my soul. I can face things from different perspectives."

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