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Why we need to speak (a bit more) English in our Italian University campuses

How much English-based should be the Italian University system? How much should we fear
the growth of undergraduate and graduate programs in English? The reader can find (in Italian…) the conservative position arguing against the spreading of English-based programs in our curricula in an article that just came out in the Corriere della Sera. This position has serious backers, like the prestigious Accademia della Crusca (which has nonetheless an English url too) which quotes as its main activities: “… acquiring and spreading, in Italian society as a whole and especially in schools, historical knowledge of the Italian language and awareness of its present evolution, in the context of the cross-linguistic exchanges that are so common in the present world  and collaborating with the most important foreign institutions as well as  with Italian and European Governments, to support the cause of multilinguism on our continent.”

The article depicts the peninsula pushed to a larger and larger internationalization of its degrees,  supposedly making the access to the University for Italian that are non-English speakers more difficult. The article goes on to say that English is little used (and little useful) in the Italian  workplace and that if a Greek student in Italy studies Engineering in English he won’t be able to acquire the “scientific Italian” necessary to work in Italy. It is a poor defense. First of all, one should mention we do not see this in the data at all, English-based degrees, while rising,  are very very  few, in absolute value and compared to other non-English speaking countries. Second, if we use  ittle English in the workplace, we should worry about a factor that reduces our global  competitiveness and we should encourage reforms that reduce this lagging behind.

But, most of all, we should remember that it is only though the wider availability (not a dominant one!) of English-spoken and taught degrees that we can attract in our campuses foreign students. By doing so we obtain 4 goals at the same time:

a)      We help the process of cultural vicinity across younger generations that stimulates understanding across countries, less barriers and greater opportunities for peaceful relations;

b)      We help Italian firms to hire foreign graduates that will help those same firms to access more easily foreign markets and thus increase their exports;

c)       We allow the entrance of foreigners in our country that would never otherwise consider studying in Italy and thus will be able to have them become more acquainted with our culture and remain linked to us in the remaining part of their life;

d)      Last but not least, by taxing more the students that have a desire to study in English (who have typically a higher willingness to pay for it) Italian Universities will be able to obtain a large
amount of resources which will reduce their funding needs in these times of hardship and push them to invest those funds into better recruiting and into better research and teaching supporting material.

The next Minister of the University should push hard, much harder than has been done so far,  to make  the system far more open to English-based programs without at all giving up on the strength of our Italian-language programs, especially there where they are most needed.

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