Italian university — Politecnico di Milano — switches to English

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.

The 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…

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…

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. “I would have preferred if Italian was the common language, it would have been easier for me – but we have to accept real life,” he says.

When English is the language of international business, he also believes that learning in English will make his students more employable…

The need to attract overseas students and researchers, including from the UK and non-English speaking countries, is another important reason for switching to English as the primary language…

But Professor Azzone also pointed to the bigger economic geography of higher education.

European universities face being caught between two competing powers – the wealthy heavy weights in the United States and the rising countries of Asia.

RTFA for many more details, arguments for and against. Poisonally, I think Azzone has hit on a good idea though much of the argument he raises is only window dressing. It’s unlikely that the major centers for education in Italy will switch exclusively to English. But, he’ll be in a position to attract students who want that environment for one or another of the projected reasons.

His premise that European universities must choose between the United States and Asia is absurd. And if it were a fact, I’d suggest he come down on the side of some American CEOs who have their grandchildren learning Chinese. 🙂

3 thoughts on “Italian university — Politecnico di Milano — switches to English

  1. exult49 says:

    Reblogged this on Exult49's Blog and commented:
    Even Bocconi is becoming an academic hypermarket. Idiocy can be translated in many different languages. Still my dear Mr.Azzone peracottari still remain peracottari .

  2. exult49 says:

    Ed , congratulations for the attention you give to my country. You offered me today a great occasion to send a fellow indigen to f…

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