Italy has 90 universities and also a number of polytechnics and specialist postgraduate centres. Italian universities are among the oldest and most prestigious in the world (the word ‘university’ is said to have originated in Italy) and 15 of its institutions appear in the Top 500 QS World University Rankings. Italian universities are particularly known for their focus on scientific research, design and the Arts, and many are world-leaders in these areas. Access to university education is seen as a right for all Italians and the Higher Education system is publicly funded.

Degrees and course structure

Italy is committed to EU legislation covering Higher Education called the ‘Bologna Process’ (named after the University of Bologna). The process aims to make academic systems and qualifications compatible and transparent across Europe.

Under the Bologna Process, Italy has radically revised its previous degree system. Italian Higher Education now consists of a three-year Bachelor’s Degree (laurea triennale) followed by a two-year Master’s Degree (laurea magistrale). Students of law, medicine, education and veterinary science complete a 5-6 year combined degree programme (Laurea Magistrale a Ciclo Unico). First and second degrees can be followed by a Doctorate programme (Dottorato).

Degree qualifications are awarded based on a credit system, coursework and written/oral exams. Many of Italy’s degree courses are now taught in English (the Politecnico Milano announced in 2014 that all of its courses are be taught in English). This development is great news for English-speaking applicants who wish to study at an Italian university.

Campus life

Italian students traditionally live at home and study at their local university so most Italian universities don’t have halls of residence. Over 30,000 international students enrol at Italian institutions each year and are supported by the university to find rooms in the private sector.

Most Italian universities are based in cities or large towns so most don’t have one single campus. Clubs and societies are not the norm at Italian universities and students tend to socialise in the bars and clubs ‘off campus.’ However, cities like Rome, Bologna and Florence, have distinct student areas.

Tuition fees and living costs

Higher Education in Italy is publicly funded but students also pay a yearly tuition fee. This fee depends on the course but ranges from €850 to €1500 per year and is the same for Italian, EU and non-EU students.

All universities offer a range of grants, scholarships, student loans, housing assistance and fee waivers, which are again open to all students, regardless of nationality. Application for financial assistance is arranged by each university’s DSU Office (Diritto allo Studio Universitario) on behalf of students.

Student living costs vary according to where you live in Italy, for example the North is more expensive than the South. However, average living costs are roughly:

Applying to an Italian university

The application process varies depending on whether you are an EU or non-EU citizen and which degree (Bachelor’s or Master’s) you are applying to study.

The first step is to contact your chosen university who will check your eligibility. General admission requirements include holding a secondary/high school qualification and to be competent in Italian. Some courses, such as medicine, may require you to take an entrance exam in your home country. Application forms (supplied by the university) should be submitted to the Italian consulate in the country of origin.

Non-EU students must also apply for a student visa to study in Italy. Supporting evidence for the visa application includes; evidence of funding, accommodation, private health insurance and payment of tuition fees.

Top 5 universities in Italy

1. University of Bologna

Italy’s top ranking university and thought to be the oldest in the world. Bologna’s prestigious degree programmes are internationally prized, giving graduates the edge in the job market.

Structure: 81,000 students enrolled. Divided into 11 schools and set over five campuses. Offers 200 degree programmes, 27 of which are taught in English.

Key expertise: Chemistry and sciences, Arts, Humanities and Linguistics.

World Ranking (QS): 182.

Student Life:

The University’s main campus is located in the beautiful red-brick city of Bologna, which is steeped in history. The city has a large student population, excellent restaurants and buzzing nightlife.

2. Sapienza University of Rome

Nicknamed ‘a city within a city’ Rome’s impressive main university (there are three others) is one of the largest in Europe.

Structure: Over 145,000 students enrolled (7,000 international). The university offers 300 degree programmes through 11 faculties. There are Sapienza campuses throughout Italy, the main one being the Città Universitaria (University City) in Rome which covers a 439,000 marea.

Key expertise: Scientific research, teaching, arts, humanities and languages.

World Ranking (QS): 202

Student Life: Beingsited in Italy’s ancient capital means fantastic nightlife, a wide choice of accommodation and great transport links.

3. Milan Polytechnic

One of the best technical universities in Europe, Milan Polytechnic is the largest engineering, architecture and design school in Italy. All of its degree programmes are taught in English.

Structure: 37,000 students enrolled (4000 international). The Polytechnic has two campuses located in the heart of Milan’s fashion and design districts.

Key expertise: Engineering, Architecture and Design.

World Ranking (QS): 229

Student life: Dues to its large international student body, Milan Polytechnic has a cosmopolitan feel. Students also get hands-on fashion and design experience in Milanese companies.

4. University of Milan

The University of Milan is one of Italy’s best universities. Known for its leading research programmes it is the only Italian institution that is a member the distinguished League of European Research Universities (LERU).

Structure: 60,000 students enrolled with eight faculties offering 136 degree programmes. The main buildings are housed in central Milan and others are based on a modern campus known as Città Studi (City of Study)

Key expertise: Scientific Research and Medicine.

World Ranking (QS): 238

Student life: Milan is one of the most exciting cities in the world for students, who have art, fashion and a fast-paced lifestyle at their fingertips. The university also has fantastic sporting facilities.

5. University of Pisa

Founded in 1343, this prestigious university is a public research institution and has five Italian Prime Ministers among its alumni.

Structure: 60,000 students enrolled, 11 schools and 57 departments. Organised on an urban campus spread across the city.

Key expertise: High level research centres in Astrophysics, Computer Science, Engineering, Agriculture and Medicine.

World Ranking (QS): 245

Student life: The University of Pisa is noted for the support it provides for international students. Pisa has a trendy, bohemian vibe and a thriving expat community.

Rent - shared apartment€350 - €700/month
Food€200 - €400/month