If you know anything about the Italian university system you will know that up until relatively recently a degree course lasted five years. Italians start university when they are about 19 0r 20. However, the five year degree courses often took (take, they still exist) more than five years to complete. Seven years is quite common and ten years is not uncommon. The time it takes to complete degree courses in Italy is linked to how fast you can pass exams, and it is not all that easy to pass the exams first time. Fail a few exams and it becomes nigh on impossible to finish the course in 5 years.
Now, a new ‘laurea breve’ or ‘short degree’ has been introduced, the degree course lasts only three years and I have been seeing quite a number of students doing masters who are under 25. Yes, they have done the 3 year course. Some still believe that the five year courses are more prestigous, and, on paper, they are. But, the fact remains that Italian degrees are highly thoretical and this means that further training is needed to turn a raw graduate into a high potential employee. This is why post degree master courses are popular, because they give their participants a more practical angle on the world of work. These courses also include a two or three month ‘stage’ – ‘internship’ which allows participants to get their feet in the doors of some good potential employers. Indeed, the masters are used as a cherry-picking exercise by some of the course lecturers, who often work for top firms in Milan and Italy. High potential individuals are often offered an internship well before they finish the master courses. And now, it is those those sub-25 year olds with the 3 year degrees who are finding work more easily, despite the ‘prestige’ of the 5 year degrees, which, remember, often mean that the graduate is almost 30 by the time he or she finishes university here.
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I’ve noticed that the 5 year degree course graduates are often worried that their younger 3 year degree course colleagues will find it easier to find a decent job. Their worries are justified in my opinion. It’s not too difficult to understand why those with three year degrees are often considered to be better potential employees, especially by the multi-nationals, though not by Italian companies, due to the fact that youth is still very much associated with inexperience. Younger people are often more enthusiastic, more flexible, and more energetic and it is much easier to instil corporate culture in them. Older 5 year types who have often spent 7 years+ at university can be a little bit too demanding in their job requirements, and are starting to think about settling down and starting families. This obviously means that in today’s flexible job climate, these people are not as flexible as they could be, and that they want higher pay.
I predict that the 5 year degree course will soon become extinct here, especially seeing as there is a wee bit more flexibility in the job market as a result the introduction of Article 18 – the Biagi law, which means that it is possible for enterprises to assess whether individuals will make good employees, before offering them a full time work contract. The Italian government also has an interest here, in that people who start work when they are 25 will start paying taxes and contributing to pension schemes earlier. This means less of a strain on government coffers and may go some way towards ensuring that state pension funds do not run out.
Italian graduates need to start work earlier, as it make sense for the country and for them.