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University rankings downgrade Italy

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Italian universities lose ground within the international rankings. Our best institutions cannot keep pace with the others in the big planetary match of knowledge production and dissemination. The average data, however, is even more alarming. It is not just about the best universities. The whole system is suffering, and not for a quality issue only: the main problem is about quantities. Countries worldwide are funding more and more education, while Italy less and less, simply meaning that the gap in knowledge between Italy and the rest of the world is increasing. Few data clearly illustrate the situation. First of all, the invested amounts. The OECD report Education at a Glance 2013 shows that Italy invests only 0.9% of the GDP in third level education. A huge difference with the first countries – United States, 2.8%, Canada, 2.7%, South Korea, 2.6%. But we spend less than half the OECD average (2.1%) and 33% less of the European Union average. As clearly highlighted by the European University Association data – see the table below – Italy is at the bottom of the list for university investments among Western European countries (excluding Portugal). Only 109 euros per inhabitant. Seven times less than Norway and Sweden. Three times less than Germany and France. Even worse, year after year Italy is spending less and less, while other countries keep increasing their investments.

investments in university from some european Countries
Year 2012


Country Expenditure per capita Total expenditure Variation 2008-2012
in euro (in millions of euro) net of inflation
Norway 731 3.621 21
Sweden 660 6.235 21
Germany 304 24.900 20
France 303 19.800 6,4
Iceland 273 87 7,2
Ireland 270 1.236 -21
Austria 257 2.169 13
Netherland 194 3.232 7,5
Spain 157 7.258 -11
United Kingdom 156 9.815 -13
Italy 109 6.633 -14
Croatia 84 369 1,8
Slovakia 83 447 -1,5
Poland 78 3.015 8,6
Czech Republic 76 802 -17
Lithuania 62 189 -22
Portugal 57 602 -4,1
Hungary 54 542 -24
Greece 18 200 -25
Belgium, French community n.d. 585 18

Source: own processing on data from the Observatory of the European University Association (EUA)

From 2008 to 2012, the crisis years, Norway, Sweden and Germany enhanced their investments in high education of more than 20%. France more than 6%. Italy, on the other side, spent 14% less (1,5 billions of euros). No other Western European countries, not even Spain, did the same. All the other nations clearly bet on University for overcoming the crisis. Italy believes that cuts are necessary. And these cuts have produced some effects. Professors have diminished of 22% in the last ten years. Enrolled students to the first year diminished of 17%: from 338,482 in the academic year 2003/2004 to 280,144 in 2012/2013. This is the most worrying data. According to Education at a Glance 2013, in fact, worldwide young graduates are increasing (in absolute and relative terms) and in the OECD countries they represent the 40% of population aged between 25 and 34. Percentages are even higher in some countries. South Korea reached 64% in 2011: an absolute record. Considering that they were at 37% in 2000 and 10% in 1980, we can confidently assert that the growing trend for this country has been truly amazing. But Korea is not just an abnormal fluctuation. It is the tip of the iceberg. In Japan young graduates are 59% of young population, in Canada and Russia the 57%, in the UK the 47%, in France the 43%. In Italy only the 21%. Even though there has been an increase since 2000, when young Italian graduates were only the 11%, our growth is much slower than other countries and it could even stop and becoming a decrease in the next years. What future awaits our youngsters, if the 80% of them will not have a degree? And what future will the country have, if Italian young graduates will be one third of the other developed nations?

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