The Italian Higher Education System includes:

  • Universities
  • The Higher Education for Fine Arts, Music and Dance sector (AFAM- acronym for Alta Formazione Artistica e Musicale)
  • Higher Technical Institutes (ITS – acronym for Istituti Tecnici Superiori)

Universities are also divided into private and publicly funded institutions. The quality of the education, however, is comparably high at all institutions of higher education.

International students can apply to Italian Universities only if they have an educational qualification that allows them to enroll. This qualification of secondary education has to be awarded after a study period of at least 12 years. If the educational qualification has been awarded in less than 12 years, it has to be accompanied by the academic certification of the examinations taken or a post-secondary title to compensate for any missing years of secondary education (check Recognition of Qualifications)



Universities offer strong theoretical and academically-oriented degree programmes and a broad range of disciplines. Some universities are specialized in certain subject areas, such as Polytechnics.

The University sector is organized as follows:

Undergraduate Degree: Laurea

Graduate Degree: Laurea Magistrale

Postgraduate Degree (PhD): Dottorato di Ricerca

Specializing Masters and Continuing Education Programs


Undergraduate Degree: Laurea                         

The Laurea, which is equivalent to a Bachelor of Science in the European university system, is an undergraduate degree obtained after a three-year programme of study. The requirement for admission to first cycle degree (laurea triennale/corso di laurea di primo livello) is the diploma awarded at the end of secondary school.  Students are admitted if they have a high school diploma or another qualification taken abroad and recognized in Italy.

Entry to undergraduate degree programs can either be restricted or open, or can be subject to a motivational test or entry examination.

Once the student obtains the Laurea, he can either directly enter the job market or continue his studies applying to the Laurea Magistrale (equivalent to Master of Science) or to a 1st level university Master’s Degree.


Graduate Degree: Laurea Magistrale

The Laurea Magistrale degree, which is equivalent to a Master of Science in the European university system, is obtained after two years of graduate studies and aims to provide rigorous, advanced training in specific sectors. A first cycle degree is required for admission. They offer training in specific sectors and  have a focus on professional skills.

Those who already hold a Laurea in a different field and want to obtain a Laurea Magistrale certificate must first obtain the necessary credits. Students are admitted with a degree or a qualification taken abroad and recognized in Italy.

Once completed, the Laurea Magistrale program gives access to a Doctoral program.

The University sector also offers Lauree Magistrali a Ciclo Unico, they can be five or six year degree program.

Lauree Magistrali a Ciclo Unico are usually offered in the following fields of study: Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacy, Architecture, Law. (see the complete list of lauree magistrali a ciclo unico available in Italy on this webite.


Postgraduate Degree (PhD): Dottorato di Ricerca

The PhD degree is the highest level of university education and requires that candidates pass a comprehensive examination and complete original research leading to a dissertation. The PhD academic qualification is obtained after a program of study and research lasting at least three years under the supervision of a Board of Professors. The aim of this course is to provide students with a high level of education in order to prepare students for college faculty and research scholar positions, or for other careers that require advanced knowledge and research skills.


Specializing Masters and Continuing Education Programs

Some universities also offer a specialization or post-graduate degree course aimed at increasing students’ professional education (1st and 2nd level university Master’s Degrees).

These courses aim to provide the knowledge and skills required for carrying out the functions required by particular professional activities. They qualify people to work in such professions and aim to train specialists for certain professional sectors.

Please remember that this qualifications are not part of the European university system as defined in Bologna in 1999 and the qualifications are not always internationally recognized.



University studies are based on a system of university credits (Crediti Formativi Universitari) to evaluate and measure the workload teaching hours and the higher education effort of every single course. 

Credits also measure the student workload.

  1. The credits represent the total student workload which is required to pass the examination and include class attendance, classwork, laboratory work and individual study (It is also possible to obtain credits for other training courses, or project works or theses, internships, foreign languages, basic computing skills, training in communication and public relations and group work).
  2. One credit corresponds to a workload of about 25 hours and the yearly workload for an average study course corresponds to about 60 credits which is equivalent to 1500 hours.
  3. Each subject is assigned a number of credits which the student can obtain after passing the final examination. Exams are graded using a grading scale of 30, where 18 is the minimum passing grade and 30 cum laude the highest grade.
  4. It is strictly necessary to obtain 180 credits (CFU) to accomplish the Undergraduate Degree (Laurea Triennale) and subsequently you must achieve other 120 credits (CFU) to accomplish the Graduate Degree (Laurea Magistrale). Lauree Magistrali a Ciclo Unico require 300 or 360 credits (CFU) to accomplish the Graduate Degree. 



AFAM institutions offer a wide range of courses in the artistic field such as visual arts, musical, dance, drama and design.

AFAM institutions are divided as following:

  • Academies of Fine Arts (State and legally recognized)
  • Higher Schools of Design (ISIA)
  • State Music Conservatories
  • Higher Institutes for Musical Studies
  • National Dance Academy
  • National Academy of Drama

The AFAM system is organized in three cycles:


First cycle

It includes courses of the “Diploma accademico di primo livello” (“First level academic degree”) which have the aim of guaranteeing to students a sufficient command of artistic methods and techniques and the acquisition of specific professional competences.

The minimum requirement is the “Diploma di Maturità” or an equivalent foreign qualification and admission is dependent upon passing eventual entry tests designed to verify a sufficient initial competence.

Classification: Bologna process first cycle qualification/EQF level 6

Workload: 180 ECTS

Duration: 3 years

Further studies: admission to Diploma accademico di secondo livello; Diploma accademico di specializzazione (I) and Diploma di perfezionamento or Master (I).


Second cycle

It is composed of “Diploma accademico di secondo livello” (“Second level academic degree”) courses which offer the student an advanced level of education for the full command of artistic methods and techniques and for the acquisition of highly qualified professional competences. Access to these courses is subsequent to the First level academic degree or a comparable foreign qualification and admission is regulated by specific requirements.

Classification: Bologna process second cycle qualification/EQF level 7

Workload: 120 ECTS

Duration: 2 years

Further studies: admission to Diploma accademico di formazione alla ricerca; Diploma accademico di specializzazione (II) and Diploma di perfezionamento or Master (II).


Third cycle

It comprises “Diploma accademico di formazione alla ricerca” courses which have the aim of supplying the necessary competences for research activities.

Access: by a Second level academic degree or a comparable foreign degree.

Duration: minimum 3 years.



Higher Technical Institutes are strongly practice-oriented. Programs provide theoretical background and prepare students for the real-world requirements of professional life. Internships and practical semesters form an integral part of the course: students are asked to work in a private company for at least 30% of the course or to apply for an internship abroad. This requirement creates a strong linkage between students and firms in order to develop innovation skills. At least 50% of teachers come from companies and firms to share their expertise with students.

The courses cover 6 main technological areas:

  1. Energy efficiency
  2. Sustainable Mobility
  3. New Technologies for Life
  4. Innovation Technologies for Cultural activities and Tourism
  5. Information and Communication Technologies
  6. New Technologies for Made in Italy

At the end of the courses, students are evaluated with a final test; frequency of at least 80% of the course is a mandatory requirement.

Students obtain a “Diploma di Tecnico Superiore”, together with the EUROPASS diploma supplement – which facilitate the Diploma circulation in both Italy and the European Union.

Classification: Diploma of Higher Education/EQF level 5.

Duration: 2/3 years.