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In many ways a cradle of Western civilization, the Italian peninsula has a very long, rich, and often turbulent history. Indo-European peoples began moving into Italy about 2000 B.C. The Etruscan civilization flourished from the 9th century to the 3rd century B.C., when it was overthrown by the Romans. Over the next seven centuries, the Roman empire developed one of the most influential civilizations in world history. Invasions by tribal cultures broke up the Italian (western) Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D.

For more than a thousand years, Holy Roman Emperors, Roman Catholic popes, feudal barons and city-state powers competed for political and commercial control of parts of the Italian peninsula. Power centers like Rome and Venice were cultural and economic forces of the world from the 13th to the 16th century.

In the modern era, Napoléon imposed momentary unity in Italy and crowned himself king in 1805. But by 1815, the dominant Austrian empire was overseeing a fragmented and rebellious Italy, Austrian armies putting down uprisings in 1820 and 1831. Giuseppe Mazzini, Camille di Cavour, and Guiseppe Garibaldi are the great names in the Italian independence movement, gradually bringing together a critical mass of separate regions, until Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was made king of Italy in 1861. An era of parliamentary government ended in the 1920s when Benito Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship, leading to alliance with Nazi Germany and defeat in World War II.

Since the war, the democratic republic of Italy has played an important part in European and world affairs. Still one of the world’s foremost centers of arts, modern culture, and Western civilization, Italy also confronts persistent problems of organized crime, corruption, high unemployment, and income inequality.


In this ancient land that has inspired so many intellectual and cultural movements, education has an equally long and important history. University studies in Italy, as in much of Europe, date to the Middle Ages, when groups of students and scholars organized to promote independent learning. Eventually political and religious leaders also created schools. A university existed in Salerno in the 9th century, another in Bologna in the 11th century. The king of Naples founded a famous university in 1224, and by independence in 1861, there were similar institutions in most Italian states.

After the disaster of Fascism and World War II, Italy seriously reconsidered its education system, seeking to increase literacy and education at all levels, equalize access to education, encourage scientific and technological research, and establish educational ties with countries in Europe and beyond.

But in AACRAO’s 1981 monograph of the Italian education system, author Joseph P. Capobianco noted the enduring “strong prejudice in favor of the theoretical against the applied,” and a consequent sense of the university “as a seat of culture and a center of research…to provide the theoretical knowledge and research skills necessary to the further procreation of culture and science. This vision of the university,” Capobianco continued, “leaves little room for programs of a technological or practical or applied nature.” And indeed, during most of their history, Italian universities granted just a single, prestigious degree, the “laurea,” while all other areas of education and training—from the high schools/lyceums to teacher training, vocational and technical programs, arts and music, nursing, theology, adult education—awarded “lesser” certificates and diplomas.

But in the face of revolutionary technological changes in the past 25 years, and the political evolution toward a more unified Europe, Italy has sought to keep pace with, and indeed take a leadership role in education reform. Italy is one of the four countries that in 1998 created the European Area of Higher Education (Sorbonne Declaration), starting a continental educational reform that became the Bologna Process.

Within Italy, reform meant decentralization of the university system. The Ministero dell’Università e della Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica (MURST) was created as a separate body from the Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione (MPI) (Ministry of National Education). MURST emphasized university autonomy in management, budgeting, teaching and research. In the 1990s new universities, faculties and degree courses were launched, student services expanded, and academic quality control measures applied.

Responding to the Bologna Process, the Italian university system changed from a 5-year first degree (the Laurea) to a 3-year Laurea (Bachelor’s Degree), followed by a 2 year Laurea Specialistica (Master’s Degree). Other changes included a new course credit system, more flexibility for students changing programs, and facilitation of integrated study abroad.

Post-Secondary Education

Italian education credentials are issued by various types of institutions:

Università (University), Politecnico (Technical University), Istituto Universitario (University Institute), Accademia (Academy), Istituto Superiore (Higher Instibtute), Scuola Superiore (Higher School), Conservatorio di Musica (Music Conservatory), etc.

The “5 great subject areas” covering the whole of university education include:

  1. Health: dentistry, pharmacy, human medicine & surgery, midwifery, nursing, physio-and-rehabilitation therapy, preventive care, technical sanitary assistance
  2. Humanities: arts [performing, visual, fashion, music], cultural heritage, education, geography, history, Italian and classical/oriental studies, language mediation [applied foreign languages, interpreting, translating], modern languages and cultures [linguistics, literature, philology]
  3. Sciences: agriculture, animal production & husbandry, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, environmental sciences, food industry & forestry, maths, natural sciences, physics, statistics
  4. Social studies: administration, business, communication, cooperation & development, defence & security, economics, law, physical education & sports, psychology, political science and international relations, social service & sociology, tourism
  5. Technology: architecture & building engineering, design [industrial], engineering [civil, industrial, information], regional & environmental planning, urban planning, etc.)

In 2001-02, Italy launched a reorganized university system, primarily to conform with the Bolgna Process of the European Community. For some years, two main types of programs and degrees will co-exist in Italian universities: traditional titles based on the former regulations and gradually disappearing, and news titles. The basic credentials are compared below in old and new forms.

1st Cycle/Level:

  • Diploma Universitario (DU) – Old system Bachelor
  • Laurea (L) - New system Bachelor

2nd Cycle/Level:

  • Diploma Laurea (DL) – Old Master
  • Laurea Specialistica (LS) – New Master
  • Master di 1° Livello (MU1) – New Master

3rd Cycle/Level:

  • Dottorato di Ricerca (DR) – Old Doctor
  • Diploma Specialisatica (DS) – Old Doctor
  • Diploma di Specializziazione (DS2) – New “Doctor”
  • Master di 2° Livello (MU2) – New “Doctor”
  • Dottorato di Ricerca (DR) – New Doctor

Continuing Education:

  • Attestati/Diplomi di formazione permanente e ricorrente; Attestato di Corso di Perfezionamento; Diploma di Perfezionamento
Teacher Training

Training of pre-primary and primary/basic school teachers: Infant and Elementary school teachers follow a four-year university curriculum (Laurea in Scienze della Formazione Primaria) (LSFP) which was first instituted in 1996. In LSFP two different programs prepare the students for teaching in infant school or in elementary school. Students must choose at the end of the second year. The second two-year period for elementary school is centered upon a few disciplines to take into account the structure of elementary school.

Secondary school teachers: prospective secondary teachers, who are educated in four- to five-year Corsi di laurea at almost all university faculties, are entitled to teach either after completion of a two-year "Post-Lauream course" in a specialization school, or after passing the relevant state examination entitling to teach a specific subject (or group of subjects) at a defined level, i.e. lower secondary or upper secondary (after obtaining the traditional "abilitazione all insegnamento"). The reorganization of teacher education and training in conformity with the latest university reform remains to be defined.



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