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The Hon. Minister Alfano’s Address to the University of Urbino “Carlo Bo” – Internationalisation of universities and Italian foreign policy

Urbino, 15 June 2017

(The authentic text is only the one actually spoken)

Illustrious Rector,

Dear professors,

Dear students,


I am very happy to be here today, in one of Italy’s and Europe’s oldest universities.

Urbino has always been a city open to the world.  Its illustrious representatives, like Raffaello, used the global language of culture and art to interpret and change the world.

And, still today, we feel we must take on this attitude of openness and internationalisation and never of closure. Studying will not offer refuge from the roughness of the world, but should be a pattern to improve our reality, to say it in the words of Carlo Bo, when speaking about literature.

In a world that questions ‘fake news’, here, at the University of Urbino, you are safe as it is the temple of free thought and critical analysis, where the quest for truth is ultimately the most important value. 

I am very pleased that the Foreign Ministry is collaborating with this magnificent historic city of knowledge on the Urbino Press Award which, year after year, confers a recognition to a North American reporter or columnist that distinguished him/herself for his/her work. It is a prestigious prize which, over the years, has been granted to top-ranking members of  American journalism.

The fact of being Italian gives us a competitive edge in adopting this approach of openness to the world because Italy has always been a superpower in terms of culture, ingeniousness and creativity.

Ours is a country that has always been inclined towards dialoguing with different peoples, cultures and faiths, because of its geographical position in the centre of the Mediterranean and of our traditional predisposition to trade with the peoples from the four corners of the world.

This inclination is also reflected in world of Academia. The figures are self-evident: Italian universities today host more than 70,000 foreign students. And another interesting aspect is that for American students, Italy ranks second in terms of university enrollments only after the United Kingdom.

People across the world are profoundly fond of Italy.

Proof of this is the fact that over 2 million foreigners choose to study our language every year, and that the Italian language today is spoken by 80 million people of Italian descent.

An increasing number of companies, not only Italian, are using Italian in their communication campaigns and choose Italian names for their biusinesses. Italian is the second most widely used language, after English, for retail shop names worldwide.

We must never give up our language to the advantage of a globalised English. It is important to speak foreign languages but it would be wrong not to promote our very beautiful language.

Giving up our langauge would mean giving up part of ourselves. That is why I insisted on including Italian as a working language in which to sit for EU competions. And the European Court of Justice has proved us right.

Today, I am here to speak to you about the internationalisation of our university system which, in my opinion, means placing the youth back at the centre of the system. We mjust give absolute priority to training, entrepreneuship and access to the labour market.

Unleashing young energies means investing in cultural innovation strategies and in the quality of the educational system.

An Italian student who chooses to go abroad or a foreign student who decides to come to Italy thanks to internationalisation opportunities, generates wealth in our countries, both ways. 

We thus create ‘young ambassadors’ of Italian culture, lifestyle, way of thinking and of ‘Made in Italy’ products.

I would like to tell you the story of Shatha Bannoura, a young Palestinian who studied in Italy – a story that caught my attention a little while ago.

“From Bethlehem to Milan, return trip”. This is how Shatha dubbed her educational experience in Italy, saying that it was the best thing she experienced in her life.

After graduating from the University of Bethlehem, Shatha attended a Master’s course in International Relations (at Milan’s Sacred Heart Catholic University).

Shatha retuned to Palestine where she  started working for an NGO which has become a member of the World “Fair Trade” Organization, catering to the needs of the craftsmen in Bethlehem.

Shatha thus contributed to the growth of her country – Palestine. And this is also in the interest of Italy.

There are also many Italians who choose to go abroad, and represent an extraordinary asset for our country.

I was very impressed by the story of Livio Valenti, who was granted a fellowship some years ago to study in the United States – at Harvard – and therefore started off on his journey to Boston from Milan.

Livio has been elected by Forbes among the most influential  “30 under 30” in the world in the science and health sectors.  

His idea is simple and ingenious. If it is difficult to freeze and ship vaccines to Developing Countries, we should produce vaccines that do not need to be refrigerated! So, he got his start-up going.

A few weeks ago, Livio was invited to speak before  the United Nations Forum of Science, Technology and Innovation, in New York City, where he personified Italian ingeniousness.

Both stories – Shatha’s and Livio’s – are fascinating, and invite us to grasp the opportunities offered to us by our global world. But, travelling abroad to study, specialise or work must be a free personal choice, not an obligation due to the lack of opportunities.

When a choice is made freely it is the key to the ‘global citizenship’. And, when these young men and women return Italy with a ‘global training’, they make an essential contribution to our country.

Internationalisation is good for students, because it is like a cultural arena that will make you students  become stronger and bolder in facing future challenges.

Internationalisation creates a long-lasting value for students, as they will thus be able to rely on a network of acquaintances and friendships that will be useful to them throughout their life.

Internationalisation is also good for businesses, because they will be able to select the most brilliant students in the world from the most internationalised universities.

Internationalisation is good for foreign policy, as it strengthens relations between Italy and the countries of origin or destination of students.

For all these reasons, the Foreign Ministry, in association with the MIUR [Ministry of Education, Universities and Research], has drafted a Strategic Plan for the Internationalisation of Universities 2017-2020.

The Plan was launched on 28 March, at the Farnesina, on the occasion of the Joint Action for the Promotion of Italian Higher Education Abroad, involving ministries, universities, associations and enterprises because we believe that it is important  to work with people who, one day, will hire young university graduates.

The Plan sets out geographical priorities and a working programme. Along with the Mediterranean and Balkan countries – which will always be a priority for us – we have planned new actions in China, India, the U.S., Argentina, Ethiopia, Iran, Israel and Mexico.

Every year we will choose a different country in which to organise our Roadshow and launch and promote the Italian higher education system.

In 2017, we will begin with China and India. In 2018, we will aim for the United States, participating in the NAFSA (Association of International Educators), the largest fair in the world  on higher education.

We intend to leverage the subject matters and sectors that might be of interest for our entrepreneurial system, research, high tech, artistic creativity and design.

I can assure you that the Foreign Ministry is doing its best in this sense!

Last year we  issued more than 100,000 study visas. And today, the students who, for whatever reason, have had to stop studying, are offered a re-entry visa to enable them to resume their studies where they were left off.

Among the other innovations to improve access procedures to education, I wish to mention the Marco Polo and Turandot Programmes, facilitating access to Chinese students. Starting from this academic year, they will be able to attend 8-month Italian language courses before attending university lectures.

Much needs to be done in terms of communication, to make our educational offer more attractive and more visible.

On our part, we are committed in revamping the UniversItaly website. If we really want to attract qualified foreign students, we need to design targeted university websites, translated into many different languages.

Allow me to say goodbye to you with well-wishing message, as I often do when I am with young men and women.

My  messagge is to be open to the world at all times and not to be afraid of the crises affecting the world, nor of your ideas, as they can contribute to change and improve reality.

And, if you feel discouraged by reality, let me tell you: “Take the future in your hands and do your best to change it. But never be indifferent.”

I wish you to always be free and ready to fearlessly defend your ideas and values.

This, in my opinion, is the most important lesson that the University can teach you.

Thank you.