Italy Country Profile - Education System

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System structure

The Italian education system is administered by the Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca, commonly known as MIUR. School is compulsory in Italy between the ages of 6 and 16, and with the exception of private schools and some international schools, it is free to all children regardless of their nationality. However, with lessons normally taught in Italian, many expats prefer to send their children to an international school where they can study in their own language. Those who choose to enter the state-school system can expect five years of primary education followed by three years of lower secondary school and between two and five years of upper secondary school.

Academic year

The school year in Italy runs from mid-September to the end of June. The hours spent at school can vary from region to region, and in some parts of Italy there are regular school classes on Saturdays. Universities typically run two semesters, beginning the year in September/October and ending in July with a break in January.

Higher education

Italy is home to around a hundred higher education institutions, including some of the world’s most historic universities. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088, making it the oldest in Europe and part of a proud academic tradition in Italy. Italian higher education institutions can be broadly categorised as:

  • Università statali – state-run universities which make up the majority of higher education institutions in Italy
  • Università non statali – private universities that are not run by the state but which have been approved by the Ministry of Education and whose qualifications have the same value as those of state universities
  • Politecnici – technical universities specialising in subjects like engineering or architecture
  • Università per stranieri – literally a ‘university for foreigners’, these enable non-Italians to study the country’s language, culture and literature
  • Università telematiche – institutions that provide online distance learning to state-accredited programmes
  • Scuola superiore – a type of autonomous specialist graduate school


Most universities in Italy receive at least some state funding, but also charge tuition fees. Universities are free to set their own fees within the confines of a legal maximum and minimum. Generally speaking, course fees are equitable or slightly lower than the rest of Europe, but private universities will cost more to attend. Most universities offer scholarship schemes that are open to both Italian students and foreign nationals, and some regional authorities will also assist with funding.


University education in Italy falls in line with the Bologna Process, which was designed to standardise the system for awarding degrees in Europe. As a result, the main course structures are similar to those at other universities around the continent. Most teach predominantly in Italian, but some offer courses in English. The application process can be confusing for foreign nationals, so it’s best to contact the university directly for advice.


The field of academic research is well established in Italy and there are many channels to locate opportunities and secure funding for your work. For more information, visit the Research Italy website.

Primary and secondary education

Italian primary schools and lower secondary schools largely follow the same curriculum, with the subjects and time spent in each lesson mandated by MIUR. However, when students reach upper secondary school, they select one of three types of school:

  • Liceo – a traditionally academic institution focusing on theoretical study
  • Istituto tecnico – combines academic theory with practical application, usually with a view to entering a professional career after further study or work experience
  • Istituto professionale – a vocationally-orientated school teaching practical courses which can enable students to go straight into work after the minimum three years of attendance

Within these categories, schools tend to specialise towards a particular academic area, so Italian students may make career-defining decisions relatively early.

Preschool and childcare options

Although it is not compulsory, every child in Italy aged between 3 and 5 is entitled to a place at a state-run kindergarten or preschool. With private nurseries and childcare a costly alternative, uptake is high and many resident foreign nationals see this period as a good time for their children to learn some Italian before deciding whether they should attend state school or international school.

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