Italy is currently in a transformational phase when it comes to studying and student accommodation. While the number of Italian students has been decreasing to about 1.8 million, the amount of international student numbers has been rising. There are about 90,400 international students in Italy, compared to approximately 73,600 in 2011[1]. With this increased share of internationals, it becomes more and more interesting to investigate what brings them to Italy, or what could be improved in order to attract the global student.

While the great Italian food, the lovely weather, and the (relatively) affordability of tuition fees and living expenses definitely play a role in the international students’ decision to choose Italy, it is the Italian history and culture as well that triggers many of them to study in Italy. It is not without a reason that Italy has the highest share of students in Arts and Humanities (15.8%) in Europe [2].

While a part of these students initially come for the fine arts, some of them often end up in applied arts such as fashion, industrial design, architecture, and graphic design. Others dive into even more modern arts such as multimedia or visual arts.

Most internationals study at the larger universities. Politecnico di Milano for example attracts over 5,000 international students alone. Their Art & Design faculty is ranked #5 globally, and its Architecture faculty is ranked #9 [3], and are thus high on target lists. The Architecture faculty of Politecnico di Torino is also in a good position (#41) and there are more schools that rank well in the global Art & Design and/or Architecture top 200, like Accademia Belle Arti Roma, Sapienza University of Rome, University of Bologna, University of Naples, and Università IUAV di Venezia.

Next to the universities there are also numerous design institutes. For the northern part of Italy alone we already indicated more than 50 of these, among them world renowned institutes such as Polimoda in Florence, Instituto Marangoni International (in Florence and Milan), and the European Institute of Design (IED; multiple locations). These 3 institutes – who are all in the global top 50 of fashion schools [4] – attract a combined 2,400 international students. Most institutes, however, are relatively small (100-200 students) and have a modest number of international students.

While some universities and design institutes are performing very good, there are still some growth constraints. Although the number has been increasing in recent years, Italy still has one of the lowest shares in English Taught Programs (ETP’s) in Europe [5]. If a course is given in English, the same course has to be given in Italian as well according to Italian ruling. This ruling however creates a division between Italian and international students, and at the moment it does not look like most schools make much effort to integrate them.

It is quite clear, however, that the Italian universities and institutes have a great potential. If the smaller design institutes would join forces and create a platform where one can find information about these institutes – let’s say Top Italian Design Institutes (TopIDI, pronounce as: top idea) – this would make it much easier for international students to see what is being offered, and might even trigger them to choose for a study in Italy.

Especially with Brexit coming up, such clustered offering could be a huge advantage in attracting students from other EU-countries. After Brexit it will become more expensive for EU-students to study in the UK, especially as the popular Erasmus programme stops. For non-EU students the largest disadvantage seems that they will not be able to freely visit other EU countries anymore during studies, which matters for internships.

For students in doubt between a study at one of the top institutes in the UK or Italy, this might be a reason the choose for Italy. There are almost 15,000 students from other EU-countries studying architecture or art & design in the UK, and about 28,350 more from non-EU countries [6]. So, if even a small percentage decides to choose for a study in Italy, we’re talking about hundreds of students, and possibly even more than a thousand students who might come to Italy. Since every extra student adds about €24,000 to the economy, and 0.25FTE to the labour market [7], this extra inflow of international students will be of great impact to both universities and cities. Next to this, there are of course many other advantages that can’t be monetarized, such as cultural exchange in and around the classroom.

Finally, for both the institutes as the universities it is a condition that courses have to be available in English, and that for optimal creativity it would be best to integrate international and Italian students. This way, a strong collaboration between all students might give birth to a new renaissance in Italian design education.

[1] Unesco, Inbound internationally mobile students by region of origin
[2] Eurostat, Distribution of tertiary education graduates by field, 2015
[3] QS University World Ranking 2018
[4] Business of Fashion, Global Fashion School Rankings 2017
[5] ICEF Monitor, English-taught programmes in Europe up more than 300%
[6] HESA, What do HE students study?
[7] The Class of 2020/StudentMarketing, Nederland als Europese talent hub