Best universities in Italy

Explore the top universities in Italy using data from the Times Higher Education's World University Rankings

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September 10 2020
University in Pisa

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It isn’t difficult to see why Italy is a popular place to study. After all, it is the home of the University of Bologna, believed to be the world’s oldest university.

Italy has one of the richest cultures on the planet, an amalgamation of the customs and traditions of its 20 regions.

Situated in the heart of southern Europe, Italy has a multitude of landscapes: from the alpine pistes in the north to the Mediterranean beaches in the south. You would be forgiven for thinking you had crossed international borders every time you entered a new region.

Italy (tied with China) is home to more Unesco World Heritage sites than any other nation in the world. These attractions, alongside Italy’s famous cuisine and rich history, are just some of the reasons it is among the world’s most visited countries each year.

If you think Italy sounds like a good destination for your studies, read on to find out about the nation’s best institutions based on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021.


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Every major Italian town has a university, most of which are state-funded. However, there are also private universities and superior graduate schools, which are specifically focused on teaching and research at graduate level and above.

There are four main types of qualification in the Italian higher education system. The most basic is the three-year laurea – the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree.

The laurea magistrale consists of the three-year laurea followed by an additional two years of study, which makes it the equivalent of a master’s degree. Then there’s the laurea magistrale a ciclo unico, a five- or six-year course only awarded in some fields – including medicine, architecture and law – which is similar to an integrated master’s degree because there is no separation between the bachelor’s and master’s parts to the qualification.

Finally there’s the dottorato di ricerca, a doctoral programme primarily offered in superior graduate schools.

Top 5 universities in Italy

1. University of Bologna

The University of Bologna, founded in 1088, is believed to be the world’s oldest university.

This university is held in high regard and has campuses in Bologna, Cesena, Forli, Ravenna and Rimini in Italy, and an international campus in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Bologna has varied nightlife and lots of live music, from opera to modern DJs and bands.

The University of Bologna is also responsible for the Bologna Process, a series of agreements between European countries with the aim of ensuring cooperation and comparability between the higher education systems of Europe.

The university’s long list of alumni includes Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, a number of popes, Nobel-winning inventor and engineer Guglielmo Marconi, and Enzo Ferrari and Giorgio Armani, founders of their eponymous brands.

2. Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa

The Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa is a public university specialising in applied sciences. 

The university has a rigorous entrance exam and if students are able to achieve top marks and demonstrate proficiency in two languages, they are able to study for free. As a result, the student population is very small with fewer than 1,000 students attending the university. 

The Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies offers degrees in business sciences, economic sciences, legal sciences, political sciences, agricultural sciences, medical sciences, industrial engineering and information engineering.

3. Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa

The Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, together with the University of Pisa and Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, is a part of the Pisa University system. 

The university was founded in 1810 as a branch of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. 

It offers programmes in both the humanities and sciences and still operates from its original building, Palazzo della Carovana, in the medieval centre of Pisa.

4. Sapienza University of Rome

The Sapienza University of Rome was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII, making it Rome’s oldest university. 

It is also the largest university in Europe, supporting about 115,000 students, including nearly 9,000 international students, and almost 4,000 academic staff. It offers 280 degree programmes and 200 specialist courses across 63 departments, with 50 libraries available for student use (the largest number of any Italian university) as well as 18 museums.

Through the Erasmus exchange programme, Sapienza is partnered with at least 400 other universities, and maintains a strong international presence.

=5. University of Padua

The University of Padua was founded in 1222 as a school of law. It is the second oldest university in Italy and the world’s fifth oldest university. 

The university is made up of 32 departments and eight schools. It also has a university hospital, a museum and 14 halls of residence.

The University of Padua is part of a network of historical research universities known as the Coimbra Group, which also includes Trinity College Dublin, Heidelberg University, KU Leuven and the University of Salamanca

=5. Vita-Salute San Raffaele University

Vita-Salute San Raffaele University is a young institution, founded in 1996, and situated in the vibrant city of Milan. The teaching is structured across three departments: medicine, philosophy and psychology.

The mission of Vita-Salute San Raffaele is to answer to the question: “Quid est homo?” (“What is man?”), stemming from the belief that humans are biologically, psychologically and spiritually unique.

In 2015, the institution became part of the Gruppo San Donato, Europe’s largest private hospital group.


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Top universities in Italy 2021

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2021 results 

 World University Rank 2021  Italy Rank 2021 University City
 =167  1 University of Bologna Bologna
 =170  2 Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa Pisa
 181  3 Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa Pisa
 201–250  4 Sapienza University of Rome Rome
 251–300  =5 University of Padua Padua
 251–300  =5 Vita-Salute San Raffaele University Milan
 301–350  7 University of Trento Trento
 351–400  =8 University of Milan MIlan
 351–400  =8 University of Milan-Bicocca Milan
 351–400  =8 Polytechnic University of Milan Milan
 401–500  =11 University of Bari Aldo Moro Bari
 401–500  =11 University of Brescia Brescia
 401–500  =11 University of Florence Florence
 401–500  =11 Free University of Bozen-Bolzano Bolzano
 401–500  =11 University of Genoa Genoa
 401–500  =11 University of Modena and Reggio Emilia Modena
 401–500  =11 University of Naples Federico II Naples
 401–500  =11 University of Pavia Pavia
 401–500  =11 University of Pisa Pisa
 401–500  =11 Polytechnic University of Bari Bari
 401–500  =11 University of Rome II – Tor Vergata Rome
 401–500  =11 University of Salerno Salerno
 401–500  =11 University of Sannio Benevento
 401–500  =11 University of Siena Siena
 401–500  =11 University of Turin Turin
 401–500  =11 Verona University Verona
 501–600  =27 University of L’Aquila L'Aquila
 501–600  =27 University of Catania Catania
 501–600  =27 University of Ferrara Ferrara
 501–600  =27 University of Insubria Como and Varese
 501–600  =27 University of Messina Messina
 501–600  =27 Polytechnic University of Turin Turin
 501–600  =27 University of Sassari Sassari
 501–600  =27 University of Trieste Trieste
 501–600  =27 University of Tuscia Viterbo
 501–600  =27 University of Urbino Carlo Bo Urbino
 601–800  =37 Amedeo Avogadro University of Eastern Piedmont Vercelli
 601–800  =37 University of Bergamo Bergamo
 601–800  =37 Ca’ Foscari University of Venice Venice
 601–800  =37 University of Calabria Cosenza
 601–800  =37 Gabriele d‘Annunzio University Abruzzo
 601–800  =37 Marche Polytechnic University Ancona
 601–800  =37 University of Palermo Palermo
 601–800  =37 University of Parma Parma
 601–800  =37 Parthenope University of Naples Naples
 601–800  =37 University of Rome III Rome
 601–800  =37 University of Salento Lecce
 601–800  =37 University of Udine Udine
 801–1000  49 University of Foggia Foggia

Read more: Best universities in the world 


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