What change with the introduction of Bologna Process in Italy
The Bologna process has been introduced in Italy in 2001 and it was presented as an effort to change a university system that was too selective and too demanding. Indeed the old system was almost completely undifferentiated and the universities offered only long courses (four to six years). Moreover, the study workload for the exams and for the final dissertation was high and the tutoring of students was rare and alternative methods to frontal teaching were extremely uncommon. After thirty years of failures to reform Italian universities, the Bologna process has been regarded as a unique opportunity to approve a systemic reform with a “European legitimacy”.
With the Bologna process, the old unitary system comprising only long degree programs has been replaced by a sequential 3+2(+3) system, which comprises a 3-years bachelor, which awards the laurea triennale, and a 2-years master which leads to the laurea magistrale. Only the latter grants access to third cycle doctoral programs, which usually take three years to complete. Moreover, the first two cycles was designed in terms of credits. The important difference relative to the old system is that since 2001 the expected student workload is clearly defined and constrained. It has been widely agreed that the time and efforts needed to arrive at a university studies have been substantially reduced by the reform.
The long-run effects of Bologna Process in Italy
The previuos studies show how this reform was able to enhance the enrolment rate, but looking at the time series of the enrolment rate2 (figure 1, blue line) it is clear that after few years from the introduction of the Bologna process there is a decline in the enrolment rate. As a consequence, it become central to investigate the long-run effects of the reform. The research question could be summarized as follow : “What would have been the enrolment rate in the absence of the reform ?” In order to assess the long term effects of the 2001 reform of HE we use a counterfactual-like time series analysis. We considered, first, the time-series of the gross enrollment rates in Italian universities during the period 1980/81 – 2009/10. Then we compared the actual observed trend of these rates to a “counterfactual” one. To obtain these estimates we interpolated the actual time series in the period 1980/81-2000/2001 through a double exponential model. Then the resulting trend was projected onwards up to 2009/10. It is interesting to notice that after few years the actual and the estimated enrollment rate perfectly coincide (figure 1). At least provisionally, this result can be interpreted as a first empirical evidence suggesting that the Bologna process could have acted as a bubble.
Figure 1. Trends in enrollment rate to university. Italy, 1980-2009
This dramatic decrease could be explained with reference to some negative changes that have affected the opportunity costs of investments in university attendance and material returns to them. In fact, we observe an increase in the cost connected to higher education, in particular in Italy there is a constant growth in the university fees. Moreover, the real income of both working class and white collars used to be quite low and that, since the beginning of the Twenty-first century, they have been declining. Therefore these families could have found increasingly difficult to afford direct and indirect costs of university attendance of their offspring. At the same time, there is a quite impressive decline (about 10 percentage points) of employment rates of bachelors recorded in Italy since 2005. The negative effect of the above situation on the propensity to invest in higher education has been further worsened by the recent and rapid reduction of monthly salaries earned, on average, by young Italian bachelors. In conclusion, we find that the positive effect of the Bologna process tends to vanish in the long period and that the new scenario characterized by an increase in the costs of university and decline in the economic returns could enhance social inequalities in the access to higher education.