The state of internationalisation in Italy

The state of internationalisation in Italy

This year’s Autumn EAIE Academy is taking place in Venice, Italy. In preparation for the event, it might be useful to understand the state of internationalisation of higher education in the host country by zooming in on Italy using EAIE Barometer data. Italy is one of the top European senders and receivers of ERASMUS students. Over the past few years, however, the country has started to move beyond credit mobility in its internationalisation efforts.

The economic crisis and changes in the global higher education field have impacted the types of internationalisation strategies pursued in Italy, resulting in an observable shift in focus towards the recruiting of international degree-seeking students, joint programmes, and reputation-building. Some of the apparent trends in Italy are unique to the country, whereas others are observable across the continent.

From credit to degree students

Deviating from the European pattern found in the EAIE Barometer, a rise in incoming international degree-seeking students is reported more often in Italy than elsewhere – it is the activity with the second highest increase, compared to only eighth in Europe as a whole. Similar outcomes are reflected in the reasons behind internationalising, whereby internationalisation in Italy seems to be getting a more revenue-generating character.

Attracting more international students and improving international institutional reputation are more frequently chosen as reasons to internationalise by respondents from Italy than by their fellow Europeans. It is worth noting that the EAIE Barometer asked about the perceived increase in activities over the past three years, not actual numbers or the most common activities. Incoming and outgoing student mobility still tops the list of most common activities included in internationalisation strategy in Italy, yet activities such as international marketing are more often cited by Italian respondents than respondents from other studied countries – with the exception of Ireland and Cyprus.

The increased emphasis on recruiting international students is also visible in the challenges faced and skills needed by Italian internationalisation practitioners. The most commonly reported challenge is the implementation of internationalisation strategy, followed by recruiting more international students. Practitioners in many other European countries similarly identify the latter two as the primary challenges of their daily work. According to the EUA Trends 2105 report, the economic crisis has had a significant impact on higher education in many European countries, particularly Italy. Moreover, demographic changes experienced in many countries, such as ageing population, have brought about lower student enrolment numbers. As a result, the need to recruit international (fee-paying) students is on the rise in Europe and, with it, the need for staff with the appropriate skills.

The rise of joint programmes

A distinct feature in Italian higher education related to these findings is the growth in the number of joint programmes. Joint programmes are the third highest activity increase in internationalisation in Italy, whereas they only rank 12th in Europe as a whole. It would appears as though Italian institutions are in the process of actively recruiting more international students both in the form of degree-seeking students and ones pursuing part of their studies in Italy through such joint programmes. This reported trend is corroborated by the European Parliament study Internationalisation of Higher Education that highlights governmental funding for joint programmes in Italy and the consequential expansion of joint and double degrees. In the EAIE Barometer, joint programmes are seen as a greater challenge by Italian practitioners than by their fellow Europeans, indicating that work still remains to be done in order for these programmes to reach their full potential.

Emphasis on quality of services, not (yet) the curricula

The above endeavours are supported by an increase in quality of international services. The EAIE Barometer showed that Italian practitioners, like many of their European colleagues, found that the biggest increase in internationalisation activities over the past three years was perceived in the quality of international services. Intensified efforts to recruit international students and develop joint programmes led to an increased international population on campus with distinct service needs. Interestingly, less emphasis seems to have been placed on the quality of international courses/programmes in Italy than in many other countries. Meanwhile, the increase in the number of courses/programmes in Italy with an international component is noteworthy.

The lesser emphasis on the quality of the international curricula is less surprising when looking at the reasons to internationalise: increasing the quality of education received less support among Italian practitioners than in the vast majority of European countries. According to the European Parliament study, quality indicators have recently been introduced into the funding criteria. As a result, it could be expected that, in the coming years, more importance will be given to the quality of courses and programmes.

Italy has long had a higher education system in dire need of modernisation and change appears to be on the horizon regarding the type of internationalisation pursued. Work still remains to be done in order to raise the profile and quality of Italian higher education, yet these challenges are known to many other European countries as well. For internationalisation to reach its true potential, adequate funding and coherent policies are needed, accompanied by qualified staff equipped to deal with the ever changing field of internationalisation.

Improving your internationalisation skills, in Italy

To improve your own knowledge and skills of pressing topics in internationalisation of higher education, join the EAIE Autumn Academy in Venice. Learn from the experts while fully immersed in an Italian university, seeing first-hand what makes Italy such a popular student mobility destination.

Anna-Malin is Policy Officer at the EAIE.

This blog post is based on the results of the EAIE Barometer: Internationalisation in Europe study and the answers of 55 international education practitioners working at higher education institutions in Italy. To purchase the full report, please visit the EAIE Webshop.

Anna-Malin Sandström
EAIE, the NetherlandsAnna-Malin is Policy Officer at the EAIE.