The legs have it for choosy Italy

September 20, 2002

Italy's universities have increased spending on advertising by more than tenfold over four years, from €2 million to €22 million (£1.25 million to £14 million).

With advertising campaigns in newspapers, on television, radio and websites, universities are competing ruthlessly to attract students and the state financing that comes with each enrolment.

Florence University has sent 140,000 text messages to cellphones calling on recipients to "enrol in Florence University". Siena University has a poster and full-page magazine ad showing the bare legs of a woman standing on a pile of books, with the slogan "It's knowledge that makes the difference".

Padua University has a photograph of John Malkovich dressed as one of its students and has opened a shop selling clothing and gadgets with the university logo.

Until a few years ago, advertising by Italian universities was unheard of - only the very few private universities ran modest advertisements. The 70-odd state universities, part of a centralised system, simply took all the students who applied and made no effort to attract more.

The change is evidence of the increasing autonomy that has developed since the late 1980s, under which each university has substantial freedom to design degrees and is expected to sell its product. Crucially, state financing, which is proportional to the number of students enrolled, has increased substantially.

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