Rome talks tough in quality drive

February 15, 2002

Italy's education minister has announced that all degree courses offered by the country's universities will have to meet certain standards within a couple of years or lose funds.

Speaking at the inauguration of the academic year at Milan's Catholic University, Letizia Moratti said: "We will set up a system to monitor the quality of courses. We'll measure the facilities that are available to lecturers and students [to] allow students to make a transparent comparison."

Students will be able to consult a database of all the services and facilities included in a degree course and information on dropout rates.

Monitoring will be on two levels. A National Committee for the Evaluation of the University System has established minimum facilities and services for a degree course. And the ministry, although it has ceased to have control over the design of degree courses, is confident it will be able to detect courses that lack substance and will discourage them by cutting resources.

But quality of teaching, in the sense of assessing lecturer performance, will not be evaluated. A ministry official explained: "This would be dangerous and impossible to implement."

Luciano Modica, president of the Italian Rectors' Conference, said: "It is still all up in the air. The database exists, but so far in a form that is of little use to students. We are still very far from a portal that allows students to 'navigate' inside the academic world. This wish to quantify seems more than anything else an informatics obsession. Most aspects of academic reality are difficult to quantify."

• Ms Moratti was met at the Catholic University by a crowd of cheering students. A large banner declared: "Letizia, you are one of us", which was a far cry from her experience in recent months - her visits to state universities are usually marked by hostile demonstrations.

Ms Moratti is a staunch Catholic. In January she controversially took the pope along to the inauguration of the academic year at one of Rome's state universities. It was the first time that a pope had been at an academic-year inauguration in an Italian state university.

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