Higher Education System in Italy

Higher Education in Italy is primarily provided by a large international network of public and state affiliated universities. The Italian's Ministry of Education is responsible for the State-run universities in Italy.
Higher education in Italy falls into two discrete classes: university education and non-university education. The entire higher education sector underwent a drastic change at the end of the 1990s with special emphasis on the University education sector. The objective was to establish a common higher education area in Europe that allows an easy credit transfer i.e., ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) and qualification recognition framework within Europe and beyond.

Higher Educational Facts and Figures

Italy possesses the third largest higher education system in Europe after France and Germany. According to the OECD 2013 Surveys, in Italy, 56% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree. In terms of the quality of the education system in Italy, the average student scored 490 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), higher than the OECD average of 497. Italy witnesses some of the oldest universities in the world. The oldest is the University of Bologna which started in the year 1088.

Higher Education Degree Cycle: Quick Look

 Italian university education comprises of the three cycles of study:

First Cycle (Primo Ciclo)

The first cycle includes bachelor degree program and single-cycle degree.
  • Bachelor program (also known as, Corso di Laurea): This is the first cycle University degree that aims to provide undergraduates with knowledge and professional related skills. It lasts for three years.
  • Single-cycle Degree (also referred to as, Corso di Laurea Magistrale a Ciclo Unico): The duration of the program is five to six years.

Second Cycle (Secondo Ciclo)

The second cycle includes master degree program and master’s specialist program.
  • Master program (Corso di Laurea Magistrale):  This program provides the graduates with advanced education and training for specific fields or sectors. It lasts for two years
  • 1st Level vocational master-Master’s Specialist Program: Also referred to as, Master Universitario di Primo Livello. This program provides an academic and professional-oriented study and offers graduates with advanced scientific knowledge in a given field or with further professional education and training for better employment opportunities.

Third Cycle (Terzo Ciclo)

The third cycle includes doctorate program and specialised schools.
  • Doctorate Research (also known as, Dottorato di Ricerca): This university degree provides postgraduates with training for highly specialized research. This degree is totally academic-oriented.
  • Specialisation School: A specialised school provides the student with knowledge and skills required in specific professional fields. 
  •  2nd Level vocational master: Also, referred to as, Master Universitario di Secondo Livello: This degree is professional-oriented and provide postgraduates with the knowledge and skills for some specific professions.

Higher Education Institutions: At a Glance

Italian higher education is divided into two sectors: the university and the non-university.

University Sector

Universities in Italy focus on the Education and research.  Currently, the university sector consists of 116 university institutions. Out of which, there are 67 State universities, 29 non-State universities that are legally recognised by the State, 3 universities for foreigners, 3 higher schools, special public academic institutions, 3 higher schools specialised in postgraduate university studies and 11 online universities.

Non-University Sector

Non-University sector covers the areas, such as arts, language mediation, psychotherapy at the postgraduate institutes, programs at the military academies, technical as well as vocation education and training, and so on.

Education in the Arts and Music

This level of education offers training to the professionals in the field of arts and music that have played a crucial part in the Italian cultural tradition. Education in the Arts and Music encompasses the following schools/institutes
  • Higher School of Design includes polytechnics for the arts, academies of fine arts, higher institutes for applied arts, music conservatories and institutes, higher institutes for musical and choreography, national academies of dance and drama.
  • Higher School for Language Mediators is the second type.
  • Higher Integrated Education (FIS) programs of higher technical education and training (IFTS)
  • The fourth type includes various fields and institutions under the supervision of ministries other than that of education such as archiving, diplomatic, restoration, military studies, and so on.

Academic Calendar

The academic year in Italy comprises of two semesters. The first semester begins in the month of September or October and concludes in January or February respectively. The second semester begins in February and terminates in July. The actual commencement and ending dates vary depending upon the university, but each semester lasts about 20 weeks and comprises of a teaching phase lasting about 14 weeks and an examination phase lasting about 6 weeks. 

Admission Requirements

Admissions in Italian universities are regulated by the Ministry of University and Research (MIUR) in accordance with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The indispensable admission conditions are that the students should have a minimum educational requirement and should possess a good competence in Italian. At some universities, you may have to sit for an entrance exam to gain admittance into university in Italy. 

Grading Mechanism

Higher Education Institutions in Italy uses a 30-point scale split into two: passing grades (18-30) and non-passing grades (0-17). The final result is based upon the 110-point scale.

30-point scale

 ScaleGrade DescriptionGrade Description in Italian
US Grade
ECTS Grade
 29.00 - 30.00 With honors and commendations (Excellent) Ottimo - Cum LaudeA

 27.00- 28.99 Very Good Molto Buono

 24.00- 26.99 Good BuonoBC
 19.00- 23.99 Satisfactory SoddisfacenteCD
 18.00- 18.99 Sufficient SufficienteDE
 0.00- 17.99 Fail RespintoFF

100-point scale

 Italian Scale Grade DescriptionGrade Description in Italian  US Grade 
 97.00-100.00 With honors and commendations Ottima-Cum Laude A
 90.00-96.99 Very Good Molto Buono A
  80.00- 89.99 Good Buono B
 70.00-79.99 Satisfactory Soddisfacente C
 60.00- 69.99 Sufficient Sufficiente D
 0.00-59.99 Fail Respinto F

Scholarships and Financial Aid

All students desiring to study in Italy are entitled to the student assistance services, i.e. scholarships, student grants and loans, housing aid, fee waivers etc. These services are managed by the DSU office. The DSU offices also provide other services such as counselling and information on extracurricular activities, transport and accommodation, and other practical things. For more details see education funding.

Main Subject Areas

The principal subject areas that encompass the university education are: health, liberal arts/humanities, scientific disciplines, social studies, and technology. Each area is split into the following:
  • Health: includes pharmacy, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, physio-and-rehabilitation therapy, technical sanitary assistance, etc.
  • Humanities/ Liberal arts: includes performing arts, applied arts, cultural heritage, history, language mediation, education, geography, oriental studies, language mediation, modern linguistics and literature.
  • Sciences: includes agriculture, chemistry, physics, biology, animal production and husbandry, biotechnology, environmental sciences, food and forestry, natural sciences, math, statistics, etc.
  • Social Studies: includes business, communication, administration, defence and security, economics, social services, law, political sciences, physical education and sports, international relations, sociology, and tourism
  • Technology/ Engineering Sciences: includes industrial designing, architecture and building engineering, engineering, environmental planning, urban planning, etc.
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