English courses in Italy

Italian university switches to English

The Politecnico di MilanoBy Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent The highly-regarded Politecnico di Milano is going to become an English-speaking university

From opera at La Scala to football at the San Siro stadium, from the catwalks of fashion week to the soaring architecture of the cathedral, Milan is crowded with Italian icons.

Which makes it even more of a cultural earthquake that one of Italy's leading universities - the Politecnico di Milano - is going to switch to the English language.

Giovanni AzzoniThe university has announced that from 2014 most of its degree courses - including all its graduate courses - will be taught and assessed entirely in English rather than Italian.

The waters of globalisation are rising around higher education - and the university believes that if it remains Italian-speaking it risks isolation and will be unable to compete as an international institution.

"We strongly believe our classes should be international classes - and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language, " says the university's rector, Giovanni Azzone.

Italy might have been the cradle of the last great global language - Latin - but now this university is planning to adopt English as the new common language.

'Window of change'

Antonello Cherubini"Universities are in a more competitive world, if you want to stay with the other global universities - you have no other choice, " says Professor Azzone.

Giovanni Azzoni says the choice is between isolation or competing as a global university

He says that his university's experiment will "open up a window of change for other universities", predicting that in five to 10 years other Italian universities with global ambitions will also switch to English.

Anna RealiniThis is one of the oldest universities in Milan and a flagship institution for science, engineering and architecture, which lays claim to a Nobel prize winner. Almost one in three of all Italy's architects are claimed as graduates. So this is a significant step.

But what is driving this cultural change? Is it the intellectual equivalent of pop bands like Abba singing in English to reach a wider market?

Professor Azzone says a university wants to reach the widest market in ideas - and English has become the language of higher education, particularly in science and engineering.

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