Best universities in Italy 2020

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

September 17 2019
University in Pisa

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 different customs and traditions of its 20 individual regions.

Situated in the heart of southern Europe, Italy is a stone’s throw from a number of major European cities but also has its own diverse landscape. From the alpine pistes in the north to the Mediterranean beaches in the south, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve crossed international borders every time you enter a new region.

Italy is home to more Unesco World Heritage Sites than any other nation in the world. These attractions, alongside Italy’s famous cuisine and historical legacy 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 some of the nation’s best institutions based on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020.


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Every major Italian town has a university, most of which are state-funded. However, there are also private universities as well as 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 ricerea, a doctoral programme primarily offered in superior graduate schools.

Top 5 universities in Italy

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. University of Bologna

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

This university is held in high regard and has campuses in Bologna, Cesena, Forli, Ravenna and Rimini, 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 Beckett, a number of popes, Nobel-winning inventor and engineer Guglielmo Marconi and even Enzo Ferrari and Giorgio Armani, founders of their eponymous brands.

=4. 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 the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Heidelberg University, KU Leuven and the University of Salamanca

=4. 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?” which means “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 2020

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2020 results 

Italy Rank 2020  World University Rank 2020  University City
1  =149  Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa Pisa
2  =152  Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa Pisa
3  =168  University of Bologna Bologna
=4  201–250  University of Padua Padua
=4  201–250  Vita-Salute San Raffaele University Milan
6  251–300  Sapienza University of Rome Rome
=7  301–350  University of Milan Milan
=7  301–350  Polytechnic University of Milan Milan
=7  301–350  University of Trento Trento
=10  351–400  University of Florence Florence
=10  351–400  University of Naples Federico II Naples
=10  351–400  University of Perugia Perugia
=10  351–400  University of Pisa Pisa
=10  351–400  University of Salerno Salerno
=15  401–500  University of Bari Aldo Moro Bari
=15  401–500  University of Ferrara Ferrera
=15  401–500  Free University of Bozen-Bolzano Bolzano
=15  401–500  University of Genoa Genoa
=15  401–500  University of Milan-Bicocca Milan
=15  401–500  University of Modena and Reggio Emilia Modena
=15  401–500  University of Pavia Pavia
=15  401–500  Polytechnic University of Bari Bari
=15  401–500  University of Siena Siena
=15  401–500  University of Trieste Trieste
=15  401–500  University of Turin Turin
=15  401–500  University of Urbino Carlo Bo Urbino
=15  401–500  Verona University Verona
=28  501–600  University of L’Aquila L'Aquila
=28  501–600  University of Brescia Brescia
=28  501–600  University of Catania Catania
=28  501–600  Catholic University of the Sacred Heart Milan
=28  501–600  University of Insubria Como and Varese
=28  501–600  Marche Polytechnic University Ancona
=28  501–600  Polytechnic University of Turin Turin
=28  501–600  University of Rome II – Tor Vergata Rome
=28  501–600  University of Rome III Rome
=28  501–600  University of Udine Udine
=38  601–800  Amedeo Avogadro University of Eastern Piedmont Alessandria
=38  601–800  University of Bergamo Bergamo
=38  601–800  Ca’ Foscari University of Venice Venice
=38  601–800  University of Calabria Cosenza
=38  601–800  University of Palermo Palermo
=38  601–800  University of Parma Parma
=38  601–800  University of Salento Lecce
=38  601–800  University of Sassari Sassari

Read more: Best universities in the world 

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