With a longstanding reputation for academic excellence, you'll find Italy to be an enticing study abroad destination - amplified by its historic locations, gastronomic delights and artistic culture
When planning a trip to Italy it's easy to picture some of the things it's famous for, such as coffee, pizza, football and art. However, while you're visiting its architectural delights, such as the Colosseum in Rome, the Sistine Chapel, the Trevi Fountain and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, you could also be furthering your education.
Every year, Italy welcomes an increasing number of international students due to its world-class teaching, reasonable tuition fees and accessible funding opportunities. The country boasts some of Europe's oldest and most respected universities.
As the majority of courses are taught in Italian, you'll have the opportunity to learn a second language, which is sure to impress future employers.
In your free time, you'll enjoy the country's famous cuisine, go hiking in the Italian Alps, soak up the sun on beautiful beaches or check out the fashion hotspots in metropolitan cities such as Milan.
The higher education system in Italy is divided into universities and non-university institutions. They can be classified as follows:
- Universities - includes both private and publicly funded, with the majority being the latter. This includes postgraduate schools (Scuola Superiore Universitaria), telematics universities and those funded by province. There are around 97 universities in total.
- Non universities - these are sector-specific academies specialising in the field of arts, known as AFAM (Higher Education for Fine Arts Music and Dance) institutes. There are currently 137 of these across the country, as well as research-based and technical institutions, schools of higher education in language mediation and schools of higher integrated education.
The Bologna Process, which standardises higher education qualifications throughout Europe, is named after the University of Bologna; founded in 1088, it's the world's oldest university in continuous operation.
Due to this reform, qualifications are structured as follows:
- First cycle/Laurea - comparable to a Bachelors/undergraduate degree.
- Second cycle/Laurea Magistrale - consists of two years of study, and the equivalent to a Masters degree.
- Specialist Masters programmes/Master Universitario di 1° Livello - usually involve one year of study and provide students with professional knowledge.
- Single cycle Masters programmes/Laurea Magistrale Ciclo Unico - a five or six year programme allowing entry for school leavers.
- Third cycle/Dottorato di Ricerca - three-year, PhD-level programmes.
A total of 30 Italian universities currently feature in the QS World University Rankings 2019, with four making the top 200. Politecnico di Milano leads the way in 156th place, followed by Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and the University of Bologna.
The academic year in Italy is split into two semesters. The first runs from September/October to January/February, with the second commencing in February and ending in July. For information on Italy's university system and studying at one of its institutions, visit Uni-Italia. You can also research your options at Study in Italy (SI).
The University of Siena has a rich history and great tradition of teaching, with 28 graduate and 12 Doctoral programmes on offer.
Students attending UK universities can take part in the European Union's (EU) education, training and youth support programme Erasmus+. The scheme offers study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to millions of young people, students and adults. Opportunities last from three months up to a maximum of 12 months.
Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in Italy. Check that your university is involved in the programme and offers the Erasmus+ scheme in your subject.
UK universities with study abroad exchange links in place with their Italian counterparts at departmental level include the University of Southampton, the University of Sussex, the University of Warwick and Durham University.
This information is still valid following the UK's decision to leave the European Union and will be updated if changes occur.
Degree courses in Italy
A Bachelors degree, otherwise known in Italy as the Laurea, is usually a three-year programme of full-time study. A broad range of subjects are available, but the country is especially regarded for its academic excellence in art, design, architecture and applied sciences.
While most courses are taught in Italian, the number of English language programmes is increasing. However, international students will more than likely need to prove their proficiency in Italian before being accepted. You'll also need to pre-enrol at your chosen institution, presenting the required valid school leaving certificate (or equivalent) for admission.
To explore Bachelors courses, see the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research's Study in Italy course search page.
Italian Masters (Laurea Magistrale) take two years to complete and are divided into four semesters. You'll be taught through a series of lectures, tutorials and group work, which will culminate in the submission of a dissertation at the end of semester four.
Second-cycle postgraduate programmes can be studied in a variety of subjects and some Italian universities provide Masters courses taught entirely in English. To find out if your chosen subject is one of them, check with your institution's international office.
In some subjects, such as law, pharmacology, architecture and medicine, at specific universities school leavers can undertake a five or six-year Masters programme (known as the Lauree Magistrali a Ciclo Unico).
Specialist one-year Masters courses (Master Universitario di 1° Livello) focus more on practical education and are typically found in professional subjects such as law, engineering or education.
You'll need to hold a good undergraduate degree, which for some programmes needs to be in a relevant subject.
Third-cycle research Doctorate degrees (Dottorato di Ricerca), also known as PhDs, can be studied at all Italian universities and typically take at least three years to complete. During this time, you'll work on an individual project and produce a thesis based on original research.
To get onto a third-cycle programme, you'll need a relevant Masters qualification and possibly have to sit an admission exam. If your course is taught in Italian, you'll also need to prove your proficiency in the language.
Tuition fees to study in Italy will differ depending on the university and the course that you choose, so it's important to check with institutions individually to find out about costs.
On average, undergraduate courses at public institutions cost between €900 and €4,000 per year. Annual fees at private universities typically range from €6,000 to €20,000.
Students from the EU or European Economic Area (EEA) shouldn't have to pay more for courses than Italian citizens, but for other international students the costs may be higher.
Funding to study in Italy
The same rules apply to international students as Italian students when it comes to scholarships and grants. All students can apply for them, with funding distributed depending on an individual's financial situation and academic merit. This applies to scholarships, student loans, housing assistance, meal tickets and fee waivers.
There are different types of funding you can apply for and the international office at your chosen university can help you decide your options.
To find out more about grants and funding to study in Italy, see Study in Italy (SI) - Grants.
Universities in Italy don't normally have halls of residence, but will offer accommodation services. Bear in mind that Italy is one of the more expensive EU countries, with living expenses in the north considerably higher than in the south.
How to apply
University application procedures in Italy depend on your level of study and whether you are an EU or non-EU student. You may need to sit an entrance exam.
Information on application procedures and the necessary documentation can usually be found online through your chosen institution and by visiting Study in Italy (SI) - Enrolment procedures.
The application process involves submitting a pre-application request form to the Italian embassy or consulate in your country, along with the relevant supporting materials. These include:
- a completed application form
- a completed pre-enrolment form
- a copy of your school leaving certificate (undergraduate) or a copy of your undergraduate certificate (postgraduate)
- academic transcripts
- two passport photographs
- proof of Italian proficiency
- additional documentation that supports your application.
All documents must be translated into Italian. If you're an EU student, you'll receive a Letter of Academic Eligibility and Suitability (Dichiarazione di Valore in Loco/DV) from your local Italian embassy acknowledging your foreign qualifications prior to applying to an Italian university. The embassy is then responsible for sending your documents to your chosen institution.
For non-EU students, the embassy will determine whether your application meets the criteria for a visa to study in Italy.
An increasing number of postgraduate courses are taught in English, although most at undergraduate level are delivered in Italian.
For programmes taught in Italian, international students will have to prove their proficiency in the language at the application stage. This typically involves sitting an exam, although in some situations, you may be able to submit documentary evidence of your competence in the language.
Even if your degree is taught in English, it's still a good idea to have a basic knowledge of Italian as this can help you to settle into your new surroundings and make friends. You can improve your language skills by undertaking a course in your home country or by contacting your institution's international office to enquire about Italian language courses once you arrive.
EU citizens are permitted to live in any EU country while studying as long as they:
- are studying for more than three months
- are enrolled at an approved university/other educational institution
- have sufficient income (from any source) to live without needing income support
- have comprehensive health insurance cover.
As such, EU students do not need a visa to study in Italy.
International or non-EU students will need to apply for an Italian study visa at their local Italian embassy or consulate. You may be asked to submit:
- a valid entry visa application form
- a valid passport
- a recent passport photograph
- proof of accommodation in Italy for the duration of your studies
- evidence of sufficient funds (at least €5,824.91 per year)
- valid health insurance details
- an acceptance letter from an Italian institution.
Non-EU students need to apply for a residence permit in the city where you'll be living within eight days of arrival. This can be done at your local post office in Italy and you'll be supplied with the relevant application information.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Thanks to the Bologna Process, Italian courses and higher education qualifications are directly comparable to those studied in the UK.
It's always best to check before applying for jobs, but degrees gained in Italy should be recognised by UK employers.
For information on having your qualifications officially evaluated, see ENIC-NARIC.