In the Italian system all public universities offer doctoral programmes and emphasise their research orientation. There are no ‘non-research’ universities. Research is also carried out in laboratories and structures linked to the National Research Council, and to the Superior Higher Education Schools, of which the most significant are in Pisa (Scuola Normale Superiore and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna – as well as by industries and public bodies. There are a few private universities in Italy: in the fields of interest for Europlata we may mention the Bocconi University of Milan.
The public universities, of which there are nearly 90, have from a few thousand to around 100.000 students; the University of Pisa has about 52.000 students in 11 Faculties. All University professors and the research staff are expected to carry out high level research, and the Universities are evaluated on their research by an independent body.
Young researchers are prepared in “Doctoral Schools”, which offer not only the specialised guidance of experienced research staff, but also interdisciplinary seminars and activities aimed at forming the broad competences necessary for society’s most highly educated citizens.
In most disciplines the doctoral candidate will do research for, write and defend a dissertation based on original research, and of a level suitable for international publication.
In the case of Pisa, the research environment is exceptionally strong, as the University, the two ‘Superior Schools’ and a very large research centre of the National Research council all collaborate to create synergies and a particularly stimulating environment for ‘initial stage researchers’.
As a result of the Bologna process that aims to create a common higher education area in Europe, in 1999 Italy introduced the three-cycle structure of first cycle (“Laurea”: three years), second cycle (“Laurea specialistica” or “Laurea magistrale” (two years) and the third cycle Research Doctorate. Additionally, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) based on student workload was implemented in all Italian HE institutions. One academic year represents 60 ECTS, 1 ECTS generally corresponding to 25 to 30 hours of work.
In Italy, the third cycle, the Research Doctorate, takes three years, or, with permission, four. A PhD in Italy mainly involves carrying out research, although there are also some doctoral seminars and other activities designed to give a broad critical background to doctoral studies. No ECTS credits are given during the third cycle, although approximately one semester (30 ECTS) of coursework is usually part of a doctorate. In most cases, a master’s or second cycle degree is required for students to be admitted to a PhD programme.
Most Research Doctorate students in Italy work on an individual research project in close collaboration with their supervisor(s) in the framework of a Doctoral School. Admission is through a national/international competition. With regard to Erasmus Mundus it is necessary for any prospective PhD student or any visiting researcher to be pre-accepted by the Doctoral School, preferably having determined that there are professors specialised in the chosen area of research. A letter of pre-acceptance and a full CV should be enclosed with your application.
Research Language: Italian or English
Research in Italy is normally carried out in Italian (there are Italian courses for international students), however some programmes are held in English, and it is nearly always possible to use English or other widely used languages for international theses.