The Politecnico di Milano, an Italian university that’s known throughout the world for its architectural and engineering programs, just made a surprising announcement: starting in 2014, most degree programs will be offered in English only. No Italian.
Why would an Italian school move to an English-only policy? In an interview with the BBC, the school’s rector, Giovanni Azzone, explained that he believed the school had no choice if it wanted to stay competitive worldwide:
“We strongly believe our classes should be international classes – and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language… It’s very important for our students not only to have very good technical skills, but also to work in an international environment.”
The school wants to be able to attract students from the US and the UK, as well as from India and Asian countries where English is a common second language. He continued, “We are very proud of our city and culture, but we acknowledge that the Italian language is an entry barrier for overseas students.”
Learning English as a second language can open up doors, and some of the Italian students interviewed by the BBC approved of the idea because it would give them a chance to improve their English proficiency via immersion, without having to leave the country. Other teachers and students were concerned that the quality of instruction would suffer once everyone had to switch to a foreign language.
Professor Emilio Matricciani, who has started a petition against the decision, explained:
“Speaking Italian to our countrymen is like watching a movie in colour, high definition, very clear pictures. On the contrary, speaking English to them, even with our best effort, is, on the average, like watching a movie in black and white, with very poor definition, with blurred pictures.”
What do you think? Is it right for a public university to adopt another country’s language? If all the degrees are in English, will students who travel there to study be missing out on the chance to experience the local culture?