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PhD Study in Italy - A Guide for 2019

Situated in Southern Europe and surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, Italy has become a synonym for culture, entertainment, fashion and good food. Its history of excellence and tradition in the sphere of higher education allows it to boast a number of PhD opportunities at prestigious higher education institutions.

This page covers everything you need to know if you’re considering Italy for your PhD, with information on universities, application requirements, funding and more.

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PhD opportunities in Italy - what's on offer for 2019?

With its rich history, beautiful climate and extraordinary artistic heritage, it’s no wonder that Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world – and if you are considering doing a PhD here, perhaps the road will indeed lead you to Rome at some point in the future.

Home to more UNESCO world heritage sites than anywhere else, Italy has also played an important role in shaping European higher education. As the home of the Bologna Process, Italy has been at the forefront of the system that standardises different degree systems and helps to make international study possible. Ideal for a PhD abroad then!

Here are a few reasons why you should pursue your doctorate in Italy this year:

  • Historic universities - Italy is home to several prestigious higher education institutions, including the University of Bologna, the oldest continuously functioning university in the Western world.
  • Student mobility and international Relations - Diverse and multicultural, Italian universities are strong participants in international research programmes and initiatives such as the Coimbra Group, the International Association of Universities (IAU), the European University Association (EUA), the Utrecht Network as well as regional partnerships.
  • Cultural wealth - Italian influence has shaped the profile of Western civilisation through the ages, with contributions in architecture, art, music and science, along with the works of world-famous scholars and explorers such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Columbus and more.

FAP Overview Table
Universities 96
Noble prizes 20
Oldest University University of Bologna (1088)
International Students 90, 000
Typical fees €850-1,000
Academic Year October to September

Italian universities

There are four types of higher education institutions in Italy:

  • Universities (polytechnics included), which offer qualifications up to a PhD level.
  • High level Arts and Music Education institutions (Alta formazione artistica e musicale - Afam), also offer Masters and PhD degrees in appropriate subjects . In addition, these institutions may award Diploma di perfezionamento o Master I (In-depth diploma or master I) leading to a second-cycle (Masters level) diploma or, as well as more advanced Diploma accademico di specializzazione II (Specialisation academic diploma II) and Diploma di perfezionamento o Master II (In-depth diploma or master II) qualifications.
  • Higher schools for language mediators (Scuole superiori per mediatori linguistici - SSML) offer three-year programmes that award a first-cycle degree (laurea) in translation and linguistics subjects.
  • Higher technical institutes (Its) are specialised technical schools, open to students who have completed secondary education. These institutions organise short-cycle non-university higher education courses and issue a Higher technician qualification (Diploma di tecnico superior ).

As a PhD student you will likely be pursuing your qualification at one of the Italian universities but specialised qualifications may be offered at other institutions for certain fields.

The universities in Italy fall into two categories:

  • The 67 state universities comprise the majority of the universities, particularly the larger ones, along with 9 so-called higher schools/institutions, known as 'special system higher schools’. These universities are funded and run by the state.
  • The 29 non-state universities and are financially supported by other public authorities (such as the province) or are private institutions i.e. rely on private contributors and income from tuition. These include 11 online universities.

Italy university rankings

Italian universities are highly reputable and maintain strong connections with other universities across Europe and the rest of the world. Their educational excellence, student mobility principles and research networks have been attracting increasing numbers of PhD students in recent years.


Top 15 Italian Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna =153 167 -
Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa =161 =175 501-600-
University of Bologna 180 =180 201-300
Vita-Salute San Raffaele University 201-250 - 401-500
Sapienza University of Rome 251-300 217 201-300
University of Trento 251-300 426 -
Polytechnic University of Milan 301-350 =156 201-300
University of Milan 301-350 325 151-200
University of Naples Federico II 301-350 =472 201-300
University of Pisa 301-350 =422 201-300
Polytechnic University of Milan 301-350 =156 201-300
Free University of Bozen-Bolzano 351-400 - 701-800
University of Modena and Reggio Emilia 351-400 801-1000 601-700
University of Perugia 351-400 751-800 501-600
University of Salerno 351-400 - 701-800
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Italy university cities

Italy’s rich history and cultural legacy has given shape and character to its various towns and cities. Postgraduate students looking to conduct research here will have a long list of options to choose from for their place of study.

PhD structure

Italy (the home of the University of Bologna), follows (unsurprisingly) the Bologna Process. This organises different levels of study into a three-cycle system, with the third cycle equivalent to the British PhD qualification.

PhD programmes

There are two types of PhDs available from Italian higher education institutions: the Dottorato (PhD), awarded by universities, and the Diploma accademico di formazione alla ricerca (research academic diploma) that can be obtained at one of the High level Arts and Music Education institutions (Afams).

Some universities also offer collaborative doctorates, with modules and programmes organised in partnership with universities abroad (international doctorate) or industries (industrial doctorate), although the institution issuing the qualification will be the institution of enrolment.

Programme length

The Italian academic year runs from October to September and includes two teaching semesters and two examination periods:

  • First semester – teaching: October - December, examinations January - February
  • Second semester – teaching: March - May, examinations June - July

Of course, as a PhD student enrolled on a full-time course, your work schedule is likely to differ from the above due to any programme-related obligations, training or modules.

The usual length of study is 3 to 4 years, depending on the institution and course structure.

The Italian PhD process

Your PhD programme can vary from university to university and from course to course. Normally, the Italian PhD process consists mostly of original research work, with some taught courses in the first year.

You may also be expected (or invited) to take part in tutoring or teaching during your PhD, with these activities limited to 40 hours per year (an excellent opportunity to gain some transferrable skills).

At the end of your course, you will be expected to have written a doctoral thesis according to your department’s requirements.

Supervision

Supervision criteria can vary between institutions, but in general every course has its own coordinator and a teaching board.

Your coordinator (i.e. supervisor) will be the person you will working with closely to conduct research and who will be monitoring your progress. The teaching board consists of researchers, professors and qualified experts (including from abroad) who organise and manage your course proceedings and assessment.

Types of PhD

Our guides offer more information on the types of PhD (and other doctorates) available in Italy and around the world.

Assessment and examination

At the end of your PhD, you will be expected to submit a final piece of original research work (thesis) in both English and Italian, along with a report detailing activities and publications from the period of your study.

The submitted project will undergo review by a minimum of two external examiners to judge its quality and contribution to the chosen topic. If they are satisfied, the thesis will qualify for public defence or an additional six months of corrections.

The defence is similar to the UK viva, wherein you present your work and answer any questions raised by a commission of experts. However, unlike the viva, the Italian final assessment is also open to the public.

Some institutions in Italy implement the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) which includes completing a number of credits (most of which attributed to the thesis) in order to obtain your doctorate. However, this isn’t the case with all institutions.

Fees and funding

The costs of pursuing a doctorate in Italy are relatively low compared to other European countries and overall, there is no difference between students of different nationalities in terms of fees.

PhD fees

In state universities , the application process might include a fee of around €30-50, whereas the tuition fee can range €800-1,000 per year, although annual enrolment in some institutions can be as low as €150.

It’s worth noting that private universities can be much more expensive than public ones.

PhD scholarships

International students in Italy can apply for the same financial assistance as Italian students. There are a number of scholarships and bursaries that can assist with living costs and tuition fees for PhD study:

  • Scholarships from universities - many institutions award scholarships based on academic merit, with sums ranging from €12,000 to 20,000 per year.
  • Italian Government Scholarships for Foreign Students – this type of financial assistance is offered to students studying in Italy (both Italian students or foreigners) as well as Italian citizens who study abroad. It amounts to €900 per month for the duration of the study. For more information on the scheme, check here.
  • Company-funded projects - certain companies and organisations may advertise partial or full funding for certain PhD projects.

PhD funding guides

Finding out about PhD funding (for Italy and beyond) can be tricky. Our PhD funding guides will walk you through your options.

Applying for a PhD in Italy

Entry requirements onto a PhD programme can vary, depending on the subject, department and institution. Normally, you will be expected to submit an online application and pass an oral exam.

Entry requirements

To do a PhD in Italy, you need to hold a second-cycle qualification (laurea magistrale) or equivalent, in a related field.

You are also eligible to apply if you will have obtained the required qualification by the time your PhD is due to commence.

Students who have acquired their degree outside of Italy will need to obtain academic recognition of their diploma. It’s a good idea to contact your university of choice before you apply and ask them for a prior assessment of your eligibility.

You will then need to obtain the official document recognising your qualification. To do so, you will need to submit an application to the university administration office, where it will be reviewed for suitability.

For students who aren’t residents of Italy, the application and documents must be submitted to the Italian diplomatic representative in their country of residence.

Language requirements

Depending on the programme type and your nationality, you may need to demonstrate proficiency in English and / or Italian by providing a language certificate.

The requirements vary between universities and are based on your nationality. For instance, you may be asked to demonstrate English proficiency at minimum Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), with suitable certificates including any of the following:

  • TOEFL
  • TOEIC
  • IELTS
  • C1 Advanced

Recognised language certificates for sufficient level of Italian include:

  • CILS
  • CELI

Application process

In order to be accepted on a PhD course, you will need to pass a competitive application process, which is also available for students who have obtained their qualifications outside of Italy. Institutions will advertise doctoral opportunities (in both English and Italian) in various places, including here, on FindAPhD.

Each institution establishes the parameters of the course they offer, including the eligibility criteria, regulations, assessment, research goals and fees. This information will be included along with the advertised project or competition call.

The application process is usually online and could include the following:

  • Academic documentation – this includes certificates (which you need to have acquired recognition for), academic transcript and / or CV
  • Academic references reference letters are usually require from one or two academics that have worked with you
  • Letter of motivation / personal statement - this document will need to outline your motivation for applying, your goals and why you believe to be suitable for the programme
  • Research proposal - you may be required to submit a research proposal even if you are applying for a particular project
  • Language certificate

As part of your application you may also need to submit relevant portfolio and list of publications (if any).

Ordinarily, the process of selection is completed by 30 September each year.

Student visas

Whether you need a visa to study in Italy and what you will need in order to obtain one, depends on your nationality.

Students from the EU / EEA and Switzerland

Students from the EU / EEA and Switzerland don’t need a student visa to study in Italy. You will only require a valid proof of identity (passport or national identity card).

As your stay in the country will exceed three months, you are required to register with the local police department when you arrive.

Other international students

If you are not from the EU / EEA or Switzerland, you will need a student visa to study in Italy. In particular, you will need to submit documents for a long-stay type D student visa at your local Italian Embassy or similar body. The application documents will likely include the following:

  • Identification documents – valid passport with at least two blank visa pages and passport-sized photo
  • University document – this includes a letter of acceptance from the Italian university of choice
  • Proof of finance - document verifying your ability to support yourself financially, such as scholarship documents or a recent bank statement showing sufficient funds
  • Health and accommodation documents - proof that you have secured accommodation and paid health insurance for the first year of your stay
  • Travel itinerary

The visa application usually costs roughly €50 and should be secured sufficiently in advance, so make sure to check all the necessary deadlines.

Health insurance

All students in Italy are required to have a health insurance. If you are an EU / EEA student, you will normally be covered by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Other students may need to purchase a health insurance policy in their home country, buy one in Italy or subscribe to the Italian National Health Service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale - S.S.N.).

Next steps

Achieving a doctorate in Italy will enhance your employability skills in a number of ways. And, if three or more years of research in Italy have persuaded you to stay longer, your PhD may help you to do so.

Can I work in Italy after my PhD?

As with the visa regulations, the requirements for you to be able to work in Italy will depend on your nationality. Students from the EU / EEA won’t need additional documentation to be employed in Italy after the completion of their course.

Students outside the EU can apply for temporary stay permit that lasts 6-12 months after the completion of their doctorate. You can use this time to find a job in your field of qualification with a company that is interested in your skillset and is willing to accept foreign employees. Note that some knowledge of Italian will normally be important if you’re looking to establish a career in Italy.

Once you’ve secured a job offer, you can apply for an EU Blue Card which you should be eligible to obtain if your annual salary is sufficient. This will allow you to live and work in Italy on a longer-term basis.

Find a PhD in Italy

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Italy? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 30/11/2018

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