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Italy: Applying to University - Must read

The Italian Higher Education System Explained

Confused about how Italian universities work? Read on to find out everything you need to know...

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Italy's higher education system is one of the oldest in the world! It's likely that it's different to the set-up you're used to in your home country. Read our article below to find out all you need to know about the culture and logistics of the Italian university system.


Quick facts about the Italian higher education system:

  • Adult literacy in Italy is around 95%
  • Around 32,000 international students study in Italy (including study abroad and independent students)
  • Italy was one of the first four countries to begin a higher education reform in Europe, called the “Bologna Process”
  • More Italian women are choosing to attend higher education than men, and the gap is slowly increasing since 2000


Types of Institutions

  • Universities (including Polytechnics)
  • High level art, music, and dance education (Alta formazione artistica e musicale – AFAM)
  • Higher technical institutes



Universities offer a range of undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degrees to those that gain entrance. These institutions can be either private or public, and usually require an application process before admitting students. Universities can be specialised, but often offer classes in a number of fields in order to prepare students for future careers.



This category is comprised of schools that specialise in music and the arts. These institutions teach students interested in dance, design, music performance, theatre, cinema, visual arts, and more. These institutions are similar to universities, but their coursework is more specialised. AFAM institutions usually offer courses that are completed in a number of years, like universities, and accept students upon application.


Higher Technical Institutes

These institutions offer specialised coursework to students attempting to learn for a specific job or career. The programmes are usually shorter, and are used by working professionals to further their careers.


Types of degrees

Higher education degrees at universities and AFAM institutions are recognized in three cycles.

  • The first cycle is similar to an undergraduate degree. Students complete this cycle in 3 years.
  • The second cycle is similar to a graduate or master’s degree. Students complete this cycle in 2 years.
  • The third cycle is similar to a postgraduate, PhD, or research based degree. Completion of this degree depends on what programme you are in.

There are also courses available for those looking to get a specialised degree, which usually take six months to one year to complete. These specialised courses also vary depending on what you are studying.