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Italian Higher Education

higher education

Italy has one of the most prestigious university system in the wold, among other things it boasts the world's oldest university, namely the University of Bologna.

Contemporary universities in Italy have as mission teaching, research as well as cooperation activities from an academic, cultural and scientific point of view. Here is some basic information of the organisation of teaching and degrees.

Ministerial Decree n. 509, issued on the 3rd of November 1999, began a radical reform process in the Italian higher education system at the aim of harmonising university education in Europe and the related degrees. The reform is also aimed at ensuring that the duration of the degree courses is coherent with the cycle chosen, thereby supporting the access of graduates to the labour market. Two cycles are currently foreseen on the basis of the recent changes introduced by Ministerial Decree n. 270 issued on the 22nd of October 2004.


  • 1st cycle degree courses "Corsi di Laurea" (L) - Bachelor's Degree - last 3 years and they are aimed at guaranteeing undergraduate students adequate knowledge and preparation as well as specific professional skills;


  • 2nd cycle degree courses "Corsi di Laurea Magistrale" (LM) - Master's Degree - last 2 years. They can be pursued by those who hold a 1st cycle degree and they are aimed at providing postgraduate students with an advanced level of education for the exercise of highly qualified tasks in specific areas.

In order to complete these two cycles Universities can also set up further courses:


  • "Master di I livello" Postgraduate Course, pursued by those who hold a 1st cycle degree and a "Master di II livello" Postgraduate Course, pursued by those who hold a 2nd cycle degree;
  • Postgraduate Specialisation and Advanced Professional Training Courses, aimed at providing postgraduates with knowledge and skills for certain professions;
  • Scientific and Professional Completion Courses and Lifelong Learning Courses.


  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) "Dottorati di ricerca" - a 3rd cycle degree -, is focused on broadening research methodologies and it foresees advanced academic training in various scientific fields of study. A PhD is pursued by those hold a 2nd cycle degree and access is granted through public competitions;

Within specific fields of study (architecture, law and medicine), together with the courses explained above, the Italian Higher Education System foresees unified degree courses that last 5 to 6 years "Corsi di Laurea Magistrale a cilclo unico" (CdLM c.u.)" - Five Years Master's Degree.The number of students who access these degree courses is generally limited.

The reform introduced the university credits system (CFU - ECTS) in Italy, based on the work/study hours done by each student (attending classes, labs, practice, individual study). In other words, the time spent by a student to obtain a degree is quantified in credits: each credit corresponds to 25 hours of work per student. The yearly average workload of a fulltime student - in higher education - is generally 60 credits. In order to obtain a 1st cycle degree "Laurea" (L) students must obtain 180 credits (in 3 years); in order to obtain a 2nd cycle degree "Laurea Magistrale" (LM) students must obtain 120 credits (in 2 years).

The credit system is aimed at:

  • Allowing students a margin of flexibility when defining their study course;
  • Enabling student mobility among universities (both in Italy and abroad), and supporting the recognition of degree courses and eventually of degrees abroad.

Credits do not replace the grading system that goes from 18 to 30. Every activity (attending classes, labs, seminars) foreseen in the degree course corresponds to a number of credits for all students who pass the exam, as well as a different grade or score according to the level of preparation. Credits reflect the quantity of the workload, grades and scores the quality of the obtained results.