Over the years, the relationship between young people and universities has undergone several metamorphoses. Some thirty or forty years ago, that of university studies was perceived by the public as a path with limited access; partly because of an economic issue, partly because the entry into the world of work had different criteria, so that in many cases, attending further training might not be necessary. Today, on the other hand, being in possession of a specific degree seems to be an important element for entering the work environment. It must then be added that the university system has changed profoundly. In Italy, for example, with the university reform, dictated by Decree 270/2004, there was a split into a bachelor’s degree, thus a three-year degree, and a second-level, master’s degree: in fact, the single-cycle -5 years- Degree was eliminated, except for some faculties such as Law, Pharmacy, Architecture and Medicine. In addition, the educational offerings have grown considerably, also based on the needs of the labor market. The development of digital professions in recent years has also meant that the training process has become more detailed; concomitantly, classes have also been shaped to be more interactive; thus, faculty have had to explore new worlds and new ways of teaching. Let us also consider exchange programs such as Erasmus that have granted a broadening of horizons: girls and boys can travel to other Countries to increase their skills with regard to the subject matter of the course of study, but also with regard to the foreign language and the relationship with peers from different cultures.
This premise serves to provide an idea of how complex and changing the University world is and how students’ approach to choosing the continuation of their studies has changed.
Universities: critical factors for Italian Universities
The XXIV AlmaLaurea Report – the Italian Inter-University Consortium – on the Profile and Occupational Condition of Graduates 2022 found – on students from 77 universities – a positive evaluation of the university attended, with 88,8% of graduates saying they were satisfied with their relationship with the teachers; 72.8 % confirmed that they would choose the course of study they had undertaken again. It is also worth mentioning that in the QS World University Rankings 2023 as many as 41 Italian universities rank among the top 1418 with very interesting scores. Politecnico di Milano, for example, scored 139 points, Alma Mater Studiorum di Bologna 167 and La Sapienza di Roma 171.
Sticking to these data alone, the Italian university picture would appear more than rosy. However, the indicators considered are not the only ones to shape the educational path and do not return a complete picture of our current situation. The numbers released by the Eurostat report last June show an advancement of tertiary education in EU member countries. There is one “however.” Italy has only 28 % of university graduates, a far number from the European average. To be clear: in some States, such as Ireland, it is as high as 62 %. Another factor to take into consideration: more than half of the member States have increased by 45 % the share of students – 25-34 years old – who have completed tertiary education, this was a goal set to be reached by the European community by 2030. Anyway, the number to refer to in order to understand the size of the gap is as follows: graduates in Italy 20.1 %, graduates European average 32.8 %.
Speaking of comparisons with other states, it is worth noting that Italy has one of the highest university taxes and, in addition, provides, compared to other countries, some of the poorest right-to-study interventions in Europe. Below are examples of virtuous interventions by governments: in Scandinavian countries, apart from Norvergia, studies are free, indeed incentives are provided to bring young people closer to the university world.
We close this reflection by looking at the results of the latest entrance tests for the Faculty of Medicine. Half of the students who took the test did not even make it to the minimum score. One must therefore question why. What needs to change?
Why the gap with other Countries? What needs to change?
To answer this, we need to clarify that several factors contribute: investment, welfare management, economic conditions of the students, the structure of the university system, and other culturally based elements. The worry is that even though we have universities of great value, their potential remains untapped, and this undermines the relationship between young people and advanced education. According to data provided by Almalaurea, contained in the aforementioned report, college graduates have a better chance of finding a suitable job position. On the other hand, a gradual shift away from study is taking place: the phenomenon of NEETs is growing, the current financial situation often does not allow families to enroll their children in college, the educational offerings in some cases are not clearly presented, and young people, fresh out of high school, find themselves bewildered in having to make an important choice. With these assumptions, then, it turns out that a complete overhaul of all those elements that are leading to such disaffection is necessary; a major change made of substance and concreteness as well as a serious discussion are necessary.