London: Keen to attract students from India, China and other countries, a leading Italian university has decided to teach its courses exclusively in the English language, signifying a major shift in Italy's higher education sector.
Amidst increasing global competition in the higher education sector, top officials of the Politecnico di Milano, established in 1863, believe that if it retains Italian as its language of instruction, it risked isolation and will not be able to compete as an international institution.
As the university's move reinforcing English as an international language sent ripples across other Italian universities, the higher education minister, Francesco Profumo, told La Stampa newspaper that he hoped other leading institutions in the country would follow suit.
Switching to English by the Milan-based university has been described as a 'cultural earthquake', attracting much criticism within the country.
The university has announced that from 2014, most of its degree courses will be taught and assessed entirely in English.
Making English the language of instruction will enable the university to attract students from India, China and other countries, as well as "contribute to the growth of the country", the rector, Giovanni Azzone, told the BBC.
Azzone acknowledged that the Italian language was an entry barrier for overseas students, particularly when recruiting from places such as China and India.
The move is likely to attract some UK students due to the steep increase in university fees in the country and the comparatively lower fees levied in Italian universities.
Azzone said: "We strongly believe our classes should be international classes - and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language".
He added: "It's very important for our students not only to have very good technical skills, but also to work in an international environment."
The Italian university switching to English reflects the trend in several non-English speaking countries to adopt the language as the medium of instruction, particularly some universities in China and South Korea.
English has been the medium of instruction in most Indian universities since independence in 1947.
Thousands of Indian students enrol in courses in universities in the US, UK and elsewhere every year, reflecting increasingly globalised nature of higher education.
First Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012, 18:20