AMSTERDAM - The Italian cabinet wants to liberalize the country’s higher education sector. In order to increase competition among universities, all official state accreditation would be abandoned. Can the market alone guarantee for quality? (ScienceGuide 15 February 2012).
Mario Monti, Italy's new Prime Minister, has launched a number of liberalization reforms ever since he took office last November. One target is the higher education market. The Italian cabinet decided recently that it wants to abolish the legal validity of all degrees in order to increase competition among universities.
Leaving it to the market
Following the American approach, the value of university degrees would no longer be determined legally, but simply by the reputation of the individual university. Italy's Education Minister, Francesco Profumo, argues that the current official accreditation is not fit to evaluate nuances between different universities.
Part of this accreditation process takes into account study success. This, however, is unreasonable given that universities differ substantially in the extent that they give out good grades.
After wide-spread protests by professors, university officials and students, Monti decided to postpone the issue. Still, he firmly believes that it is important to overcome "the formalism surrounding university degrees."
State needs to guarantee a minimum level of quality
Higher education stakeholders, meanwhile, remain skeptical. Andrea Ichino from the University of Bologna, and Daniele Terlizzese, economist at the Italian central bank commented that "without creating the basis for real competition in terms of research and education among universities, abolishing the legal status of degrees alone is ineffective. The state has to guarantee a minimum level of quality. Anything beyond that can be assessed by other professional agencies."
ESU Chairman, Allan Päll, further added that the higher education sector "is not just a sector of the market as any other. This is about the future of people's lives, about the future of a society. This cannot just be handed over to the free market which, as we have seen in the past years, is anything but perfect."