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In February 2018, after a one-year long querelle between the Italian University Politecnico di Milano and the Italian justice system, the Italian Council of State (a legal-administrative consultative body that ensures the legality of public administration in Italy) has declared once and for all that programmes fully-taught in English cannot be provided at the Italian public universities. The news has obviously sparked several polemics in the Italian academic world.
It all started in 2012, when the academic senate of the Politecnico di Milano approved the launch of English-only taught courses as of 2014. A group of professors contested this decision, claiming that this not only constituted a threat to the primacy of the Italian language, but also discriminated those students who would not be able to follow a programme entirely in English. They therefore brought the matter to the attention of the regional administrative court, which sided with the contestant. At that point, the academic senate of the Politecnico di Milano appealed to the Council of State and, after one year, on 30 January 2018, the verdict confirmed what the regional administrative court had decided: providing courses taught only in English is not legally possible, as it harms the “primacy of the Italian language”.
In a country where youth unemployment continues to force more and more brilliant minds to move abroad, such a decision, that goes against the internationalisation trends in most other European countries, seems a bit short-sighted. Even France, which has been traditionally very protective of its national language, provides increasingly more programmes taught in English. In Estonia, a country of roughly 1,3 million inhabitants, the government has put in place a strategy for the attractiveness of the country as a study destination: according to ACA Estonian member, the Archimedes Foundation, from 2006 to 2017 the number of international students has increased from 1,3% to 10%. Providing courses fully-taught in English is a must for attracting international students and, possibly, the only way to actually promote the Estonian language (international students are given the chance to learn Estonian during their studies). The same reasoning can be applied to many other countries across Europe.
In the light of this verdict, which however shows much more openness with regard to English-taught programmes if mirrored by Italian-taught ones, the Italian Ministry of Education has announced a meeting with the Italian Rectors Conference (CRUI) to plan the academic offer post 2019. This might be a little step forward in the internationalisation process of the Italian academic system, which so far appears only at the bottom of the rankings of the EU countries providing English-taught programmes (20 out of 28, according to the ACA study English-Taught Programmes in European Higher Education: The State of Play in 2014).