Monthly Archives: May 2014

A rough guide to the Italian University system

Or, “how to understand what your Italian developer’s degree actually means”

LDV with big data on his mind

An Italian academic with big data on his mind?

There are numerous Italian developers in London today, for many years there was a steady trickle but since the global recession I think its fair to say that that trickle has increased to more of a steady stream. Italian developers tell me they come to London seeking better opportunities, the attraction of working in a global city being one thing, but also being a part of the vibrant tech scene that we have here as well.

Speaking to my clients however, and there is not a great deal of knowledge in London about what the top IT universities in Italy are and how the system of final grades works.

How does it all work?

In a similar way to the system in Spain, in Italy it’s common to go to best University closest to your home but if you get outstanding grades then you might travel to a university further from home. So if you live in Genoa, and you’ve got good grades and a real passion for Software Development, its probable that you’ll want to go to the Milano Politecnico or the Politecnico di Torino.

In terms of the “best” universities in Italy, there are universities that are prestigious to attend and there are universities that teach Computer Science to a high degree of excellence.

Of the top IT universities for IT in Italy, there are 3 Politecnico’s :

  • Milano Politecnico (the largest technical university in Italy)
  • Politecnico di Torino (Italy’s oldest technical university)
  • Politecnico di Bari

And 3 other well established universities that have excellent reputations:

  • Universita’ degli studi di Pisa
  • Universita’ degli studi di Salerno in Fisciano
  • Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II (the world’s oldest state university)

Rome has two top universities for IT, the Tor Vergata (a public research university located in Rome) and La Sapienza that are worth noting as well. La Sapienza is well-established university and has one of the oldest libraries in the world, it is also the oldest established university offering the Ingegneria (Engineering) type of degree.

The Politecnico at Bari is Italy’s has largest campus at 60,000 students, and has an international reputation for research. In my experience there are a number of excellent graduates with PhDs in big data related subjects in the UK who studied at Bari.

As with the British system of higher education there are a number of more recently established universities which are much cheaper to attend and have a lower entry criteria, and which are typically less prestigious as well. Interestingly however the Tor Vergata University of Rome was only established in the early 90s and has managed to establish a very strong reputation for the “harder” sciences of mathematics, engineering and computer science.

 An “Ingegneria” degree

The number one IT/Computer Science degree in Italy is the Ingegneria which is a type of degree offered by only a small number of Italian universities (mainly those in the list above). An Ingegneria degree can be studied for degrees in subjects such as Computer Science, Civil Engineering, Telecoms, Nuclear Power, Chemical Industries etc.

The “computer science ingegnere” are highly sought after and are generally considered to have a better degree than a graduate with a straight “computer science” degree.

Entrance Criteria

The entry criteria for the top universities in Italy involve entrance exams and achieving top grades at secondary school or scuola superior. All of the above universities have an entrance test on Maths ability, logistical properties and so on.

Final Grade

Graduates leave university in Italy with a score between 60 – 110, and may or may not receive a distinction mark on top, called Lode. Lode is the same as the Latin Laude or Cum Laude, translating as “with highest praise”.

Undergraduates complete their initial studies to achieve an initial mark of at least 60 (60%) and then complete a thesis (which can take between 4 months and 1 year) in order to complete their degree. Once your thesis has been handed in there is a final interview with a commission of professors, including the professor who assigned you the thesis. This consists of a presentation of the results of your thesis  (probably made using Powerpoint, for example) which is then follow by a series of questions about it. When you’re finished, you’ll be asked to temporarily leave the room, so that the commission can discuss and decide which grade to assign you). The final grade is the sum of your initial mark plus the result of how well you did at your thesis, meaning that in practice, very few undergraduates receive a final grade of 60.

Years of study

Degrees taken prior to 1999 took between 5 and 6 years. But today, Italian degrees follow a new system.

In the original system you needed a minimum of 28 exams (the majority of which were written rather than multiple choice) and then a face-to-face interview with a professor in order to graduate. It lasted 5 or 6 years and if you stopped after 4 years you left with nothing.

Since the reforms in 1999, and then further reforms in 2008 Students study for 3 years and then graduate with a laurea breve or a short degree, which is quite generic and doesn’t have a specialism. Graduates then study a specific subject (i.e. Computer Science) for 2 more years for a full degree and graduate with a Laurea specialistica or Laurea magistrale (depending upon the university).

Here is a handy flow chart showing how the new system works:

Newly reformed Italian uni flow chart

What has an Italian Computer Scientist studied?

Speaking to Italian developers already in London many tell me that there is still a high level of theoretical subjects covered and not as many practical courses as some would like to see (in the short degree) in the Laurea Breve. For example the University of Naples has a lot of courses such as Algebra, Physics, Maths, Algorithms etc but only has 6 or 7 exams regarding Web, programming languages and Software Engineering. This seems to be largely because many of the professors in the technology faculties actually come from a Maths or Physics background rather than a Computer Science background. In a Computer Science Laurea specialistica or Laurea magistrale the course is entirely focussed Computer Science. Many young Italians would also like to see English courses become part a degree.

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