Internationalisation as a Lever for Change

The data suggest that neither the state nor the institutions have been able to place the context of the reform beyond their own borders and embrace an agenda for change within the emerging European Higher Education Area (Berlinguer 2008). It would also appear that in the subsequent years of financial reduction, the universities have been forced to contain rather than expand or diversify their portfolios and operations. But do these data tell the full story? Or does an examination of internationalization policies and activities provide indications that change is indeed taking place, albeit to varying degrees and at varying rates across the system?

While Italy has always been an active and engaged participant in European programmes for higher education and in Erasmus in particular, the Bologna Process paved the way for new and more diverse forms of internationalization. Alongside the adoption of the specific action lines, the Italian Government introduced a number of specific measures to further enhance mobility and internationalization of the curriculum and research, and these have been increasingly embedded in successive legislation for modernization of the higher education system and in each round of the three-year planning cycles for university development.

In the early years of the Bologna Process, legislation was introduced to enable Italian universities to enter agreements for the development and delivery of double and joint degrees, and this legislation was supported by three rounds of successive funding to encourage their realization and support mobility of students and staff. In applying for this special funding, universities were required for the first time to declare their strategic objectives for internationalization.

The program had a very strong uptake across the sector, with universities developing double and joint degrees at masters and doctoral level, and creating a robust foundation for participation in the European Erasmus Mundus program. In addition to the existing 138 Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters in which Italian universities participate, 9 new Joint Masters have been awarded under the first Erasmus Plus call (Erasmus Mundus 2014).

Successive programmes for internationalization have also encouraged the development of academic programmes taught in English, aimed at attracting international students and promoting international research collaboration. There are now 187 degree programmes offered in English that are formally recognized by the Ministry and offered at all levels, from bachelors to doctoral studies, spanning an increasingly broad range of studies from business and engineering to architecture, design, sciences, medicine and even humanities and law.

These initiatives, alongside support from bilateral agreements with a number of countries, including China, have increased the international degree-seeking student population at Italian universities, although the numbers are still low in comparison to other European countries. Italian market share was up from 1.2 % in 2000 to

1.8 % in 2009, with the Marco Polo Program for Chinese Students increasing from 74 students in 2003 to 5269 in 2011 (OBHE 2012). Italy clearly has potential as a country destination, as testified by the growing number of U.S. branch campuses (41 in 2012) that offer study abroad or even full degree programmes such as John Hopkins University in Bologna and John Cabot University in Rome (Caruso and de Wit 2013).

The objectives for the 2013–2015 period also offer, for the first time, the opportunity to internationalize the academic community by encouraging longer-term academic exchange in double and joint degree programmes, as well as short-term teaching contracts for renowned international academics and scholars in standard academic degree programmes (Bruno 2014, 31st January). This initiative has the potential to inject significant innovation into the system, given that currently 99 % of the academic community is Italian (ANVUR 2014).

As performance measurement becomes increasingly important in teaching, research and academic hiring, internationalization also becomes an important indicator. The new criteria for 2014 indicate that one third of funds will be assigned based on merit, according to the ANVUR evaluation, and these will include indicators of Erasmus mobility for both incoming and outgoing students (Bartoloni 2014b, 11th September). Universities are now being required to internationalize in order to receive funding, rather than being funded in order to internationalize.

Although there is no overarching national strategy for internationalization, it continues to take on greater importance, and this is reflected in the current government's efforts to develop a new set of reform measures for “la buona università” (the good university), aimed at correcting distortions, rewarding performance and opening up the system in order to enable Italy to catch up and align with the Europe 2020 strategy.

While internationalization is emerging increasingly as a key pathway for change and improvement, it should however be noted that reforms are being carried out with a reduced budget for higher education. Italy ranks 5th last in the OECD tables for public spending in education, and is the only country where real public expenditure on educational institutions fell between 2000 and 2011 (OECD Reports 2014).

Interestingly, while public sources fell from 94 to 89 %, the share of total funding for schools and universities from private sources almost doubled, with one third of total income now privately generated (OECD Reports 2014). While tuition fees have always been the principal income stream for non-state universities, they are now a significant source of funding for state universities as well. It can be argued that there is an increasing blurring of the divide between public and private higher education in Italy, and the emergence of dual accountabilities to both state and market. Internationalisation is accompanied by the phenomenon of privatization.

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