The education system in Italy

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Updated 2023-04-09 13:27

If you have decided to move to Italy with your family, the question of your children's schooling will naturally arise. In Italy, national education is free of charge in state schools for all children, regardless of their nationality or residence status. There are many schools from the north to the south of the country, both public and private. In this article, we present the Italian education system from school to university.

 Schooling is compulsory in Italy from the age of six to sixteen, both in public and public schools. You can also send your child from 0 to 3 years to the asilo (nursery school) or from 3 to 6 years to the scuola materna (kindergarten).

Types of schools in Italy

There are three types of schools in Italy: state, private and international.

Most Italians send their children to public schools (scuola statale), although in the north of the country, parents sometimes opt for private institutions, especially in the cities. Expatriates generally prefer a religious and/or multilingual education and are more likely to turn to the private sector.

Note that public schools teach in Italian, with English only as a second language. International schools, on the other hand, are aimed at expatriates who want their children to follow the curriculum in their home country. However, this choice may make it more difficult for these children to integrate into Italian culture. Most international schools are concentrated around major cities such as Milan, Rome and Turin, and have high tuition fees.

The education system in Italy

The Italian education system is divided into five cycles: nursery and pre-school (optional), primary school (compulsory), secondary school (compulsory) and higher education (optional):

  • Daycare or Asilo nido, where infants go, usually from 0 to 3 years old;
  • Nursery school, Scuola materna or Scuola dell'infanzia, where children from 3 to 6 years old go;
  • The primary school, Scuola Primaria, for children from 6 to 11 years old;
  • The lower secondary school, Scuola Secondaria di primo grado, for children aged 11 to 14;
  • The upper secondary school, Scuola Secondaria di secondo grado or Liceo, caters to teenagers from 14 to 19 years old.

All Italian schools can accept international students, but this means that your child will have to follow a curriculum in Italian. Alternatively, there are many private international schools in Italy that allow your child to study in English and/or French.

There are public schools, scuole statali, run by the Ministry of Education (which provides the compulsory curriculum), and public schools. The latter are of two types, the first are called paritarian and play a public service role, and the second are completely autonomous. Public schools in Italy are free of charge, unlike private schools, for which you should consider an average tuition fee of about €6,000 per year for secondary school.

Good to know:

After the age of 16, there are no school fees, although there are state fees for the last two years of secondary school: the registration fee (€6.02), the attendance fee (€15.13), the examination fee (€12.092) and the graduation fee (€15.13).

Nursery schools in Italy

Nursery school in Italy accepts children aged three to six. Most children in Italy attend a nursery school, although it is not compulsory. These schools cater to children between 8 am and 5 pm and are regulated by the Ministry of Public Education.

While the state-run Scuola Materna is free of charge, a small fee is often charged for bus transport (scuolabus), meals, and any before- or after-school care. You may also have to pay for extracurricular activities that require specialized teachings, such as sports and music. The cost of private nursery schools varies from €100 to €500 per month.

The kindergarten closes during the holidays, so if you have a child, you will have to look for an alternative during these periods, for example, holiday camps, campi estivi, which you can find through the municipality or parish where you live.

In terms of the curriculum, the emphasis is on learning through play, body and movement, messages, speech, words and space. Music, dance, art, crafts and nature will also play a formative role in the program. The children will receive a final report before being transferred to primary school.

Primary schools in Italy

Primary school is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and eleven, regardless of nationality, who have reached the age of six by 31 December of the reference year.

During five years, children enjoy a comprehensive education system that covers a wide range of subjects, from languages to history to mathematics. In public schools, classes average between 10 and 25 students, usually with two teachers. In the final year, children take a certificate of completion of primary education in order to enter lower secondary school.

Secondary schools in Italy

In Italy, secondary school is divided into two distinct stages: lower secondary education and upper secondary education.

Lower secondary education is compulsory for children aged 11-14. Middle school students have 30 hours of classes per week, and the number of hours devoted to each subject is set by the Ministry of Education and is currently as follows: seven hours of Italian language, six hours of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, four hours of history and geography, three hours of foreign language, two hours of sports and one hour of religious studies.

Each subject is graded, and each student is given a report. In addition, at the end of the third year of lower secondary school, an examination is held that opens the door to upper secondary education.

Upper secondary education is compulsory for children aged 14-16 but normally lasts for five years (until 19). At this stage, students can decide which subjects they wish to specialize in, thus determining what they will study at university. The 'liceo' is academic training, while the 'istituto' is technical and practical training. Each province and municipality is home to several types of schools: Arts, Classics, Languages, Sciences, Teacher Training and Technical. At the end of secondary school, students take an exam, esame di stato or esame di maturità, and receive a diploma that qualifies them for university enrolment. This usually involves three written exams and an oral test.

Good to know:

Entry to upper secondary education is not competitive, and as long as there are enough places, students should be able to attend the school of their choice.

Higher education in Italy

All students are entitled to apply to university, provided they have completed their five-year secondary school course and have proof of graduation from upper secondary school, called Maturità.

The Italian university system is composed of a total of 97 university institutions, of which:

  • 67 are state universities ;
  • 19 are legally recognized non-state universities;
  • 11 are legally recognized non-state telematic universities.

In Italy, the university is often referred to with the term ateneo (from the Latin Athenaeum), and you will often read or hear this word during your stay in Italy. You will recognize public institutions by the term used, Università degli Studi (di Milano, di Roma, etc.). Please note that tuition fees vary greatly depending on whether you choose a public or private university, sometimes reaching €15,000 per year for the latter. In Rome, this is the case with Luiss, Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli.

There are also non-university colleges, such as design and fashion colleges, marketing colleges, integrated teaching colleges and language mediation colleges, which also provide good professional training.

Choosing a university in Italy

Studying in Italy offers a fantastic opportunity for any expatriate to broaden their horizons, enriching their learning experience with a plethora of subjects such as fine arts, music, culture, and architecture which are renowned for the quality of teaching. The context in which you study will give you the impression of living in a permanent open-air museum, with Italy's cultural heritage and architecture being particularly rich from the Alps to Sicily. You will be surrounded by history, beauty, gastronomy and beautiful landscapes.

Italy has a wide variety of universities, some of which are world-famous. Still, before choosing which institution to attend, it is advisable to first choose the university course and the subjects you wish to study. Many European countries offer student exchange programs, such as Erasmus, which allow you to study in Italy for three to twelve months. If your university has agreements with the Bel Paese, this will give you good reasons to study in Italy.

The Italian university system is based on the 3 cycles of the Bologna process (the reform of European higher education initiated in 1999 and completed in 2010). The main Italian degrees follow the LMD system (license, master, doctorate) in force in Europe. They are Laurea Triennale (1st cycle), Laurea Magistrale (2nd cycle) and Dottorato di Ricerca (3rd cycle). The system also offers other academic courses with corresponding degrees.

Types of university degrees in Italy

Laurea Triennale (Baccalaureate)

This undergraduate course is usually completed in three years if you study full-time. Subjects and streams vary considerably, covering health, science, humanities, social sciences and technology. The courses offered in this first cycle are aimed at mastering general methods and content, as well as acquiring specific professional knowledge.

To enter this first cycle, students must have passed the baccalaureate (general, vocational, or technological education) or the diploma di Maturità, also called esame di stato. At the end of this cycle, the student must have acquired 180 university training credits (CFU), equivalent to ECTS credits. A period of internship may be required as well as the discussion of a thesis or the preparation of a final essay. The degree title gives access to Laurea Magistrale and other graduate courses.

Laurea Specialistica or Magistrale (Master's degree)

This course usually lasts two years and is divided into four terms or semesters. It offers advanced training for highly qualified activities in specific fields. Access to the courses is subject to the possession of a university degree, laurea, or an equivalent foreign degree. To obtain the Master's degree, the student must have acquired 120 credits (CFU) and have presented a research thesis.

Some fields of study, e.g., medicine, architecture and law, are defined as "single cycle courses", Corsi di Laurea Magistrale a Ciclo Unico. Admission is subject to a selection test, and studies extend over 5 years (6 years for medicine).

Dottorato di Ricerca (PhD)

The Master's degree and the successful completion of a competitive examination give access to the PhD and other postgraduate courses. This course usually takes three to four years, during which time you will complete an individual research project.

The aim of the course is to acquire the correct methodology for advanced scientific research. To this end, it provides students with a variety of innovative methodologies and new technologies and includes internships abroad and visits to research laboratories.

Italian universities can set up study programs in cooperation with other Italian and/or foreign universities, leading to the award of joint or multiple degrees. Find out more from your university and from the university that will host you during your stay to Italy.

University enrolment in Italy

If you want to study in Italy or have an Erasmus experience there, contact your Italian university for precise eligibility requirements. You will also need to submit a pre-registration application to the Italian Embassy in your country of citizenship with the following documents:

  • a completed application form;
  • a pre-registration form for the university;
  • a certificate of completion of studies;
  • academic transcripts;
  • a copy of your identity card (and 2 photos) and a tax code;
  • the results of your Italian language test (if required);
  • Any other documentation that will depend on the destination university and/or the Italian authorities.

Some Italian universities have a real system for assisting international students because they have traditionally been involved in the international circuit for many years. This is particularly the case for universities such as:

  • University of Turin;
  • University of Bologna;
  • University of Padua;
  • University of Florence;
  • University of Palermo;
  • University of Venice;
  • University La Sapienza in Rome (preferred city by Erasmus students in 2021);
  • University of Naples;
  • University of Milan.

Students from the European Union do not need a visa for Italy, but they have to register with the municipality of their place of residence within eight days of their arrival in the country for any stay longer than 90 days. In addition, diplomas obtained abroad must be legalized in accordance with Italian law. Each document must be accompanied by an official translation into Italian and presented to an Italian diplomatic-consular representation. The Italian embassy or consulate will provide a declaration of value (Dichiarazione di valore), confirming that the grades are equivalent to those of the Italian education system.

Fees and funding for studying in Italy

Tuition fees in Italy vary depending on the university and the course of study chosen, especially if they are public or private. On average, being an international student in Italy has a certain cost compared to other European countries such as France or Belgium. In addition, in some cities such as Milan, the cost of living is high.

Universities in Italy set fees according to students' family income (ISEE). Students enrolled in public universities can apply for a state-funded DSU (Diritto allo studio) grant from the Grants Office. In addition, students studying physics, astronomy, engineering and ICR can benefit from scholarships from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare.

Good to know:

The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation offers scholarships to international students with the aim of fostering cooperation in the field of culture, science and technology but also promoting the diffusion of the Italian language and culture in the world. You can find the scholarship announcements for each academic year on the Study in Italy website.

Pedagogy and university culture in Italy

In Italy, university studies are more like a seminar, a lengthy research work where the student is required to do a lot of personal work. Attendance is sometimes optional (depending on the faculty and subject), and exams are mainly oral and are the culmination of the course. The student is faced with his or her responsibilities from the start and must therefore manage his or her course programs almost autonomously. This methodology is generally the norm throughout Italy.

Useful links:

Ministero dell'Istruzione dell'Università e della Ricerca

Instituto Nazionale Documentazione Innovazione Ricerca Educative


Study in Italy


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