University degree in Italy: an advantage that seems to backfire

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In Italy, university degrees seem to be helping less and less to find a good job, and students are consequently less and less interested in pursuing one, and this is mostly due to the disastrous reforms that have been approved over the past years. This is what emerges from the study ‘Education at a glance’ made by the OCSE (Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation in Italy).

Italy is second to last for Education public expenditure (4.7% of GDP against a European average of 5.8) amongst European countries. The salaries of teachers are also amongst the lowest ever (in 24th place out of the 27 available for teachers in primary education and 23rd for those in middle and high schools). There is also a very low average of students that are graduating: 15% between 25 and 60 years against an EU average of more than double with 31%.

Just among university graduates, unemployment has increased by almost 6%, which is a higher number compared to the one amongst people who simply have a high school diploma.\

The degree that seems to ensure a brighter future to its graduates is medicine and not surprisingly, in Italy it is the faculty with the most selective entry requirements. The Faculty of Medicine has in fact offered to its students higher wages and a greater chance of finding a job. Conversely, from this point of view the “worst” degrees appear to be Psychology and Humanities.

Despite the fact that it is true that the impact of the crisis on certain sectors is extremely pronounced, while in some countries we observe a general increase in employment amongst highly qualified candidates during the crisis, the opposite is happening in Italy.

What happens to the best graduates? Most of them go abroad, to strengthen research and development in other countries. Or, more simply, there are less graduates in skilled jobs because, in Italy, graduating is becoming increasingly less of an advantage.

According to a survey of the Ministry of Education, the transition rate from secondary school to university in the academic year of 2011-2012 was 52%, compared with 73% in the 2003-2004 academic year.

Why do less and less Italian students go on to university?

Part of the answer lies in looking at one of the main incentives to continue their studies: the wage premium, i.e the improvement in terms of salary that an individual gets if he or she decides to embark on a degree course.

In light of these data it is clear that to enhance the appeal of university, the first goal should be to make the investment of the students more productive. It is ridiculous to think that, for many Italian students that invest in further education, this investment represents in most cases, an inconvenience rather than an advantage.

At this point, the very dangerous message that could come out of this is that that studying is no longer needed, that those who read dozens of books worthy of the name are often unnecessary and even counterproductive.

The truth is that, today more than ever, the exact opposite is reality, and that is that only the knowledge and passionate reading of hundreds and hundreds of volumes can make one free and more aware of the roads one can choose to build a dignified existence.

The mistake of the Italian universities was in fact that of simplifying to the point until they were empty. The conformism imposed by a growing number of universities has produced an inflation of titles that were useless in the first place for the manner in which they were bestowed. What was happening was that individuals were not forming new understandings and excellent minds but rather people learned to study a little bit and quickly, interacting little or nothing with other colleagues or superiors, and going to classes as if it were a notional marathon.

With these conditions, it is obvious that a growing number of graduates found themselves not only without a job but also without even a vague idea as to what to do when they “grow up”.

Now, all the blame for this debacle has fallen to the new generations, accused of being too picky.

The biggest responsibility, however, lies with those who have massacred public education and who have squandered resources for decades such as Ministers, parliamentarians but also the rectors, deans and teachers who had the responsibility to train a new generation of intellectuals.

Erika Sciarra.

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One thought on “University degree in Italy: an advantage that seems to backfire

  1. Same applies to other countries – some degrees, like in history, psychology or languages are not teaching their graduates skills useful to employers. Degrees that give you valuable skills, like nursing or engineering, are still very much valid.

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