Here I suggest a way that universities within the European Union - with Italy especially in mind - can increase their share of international students (particularly competitive ones from developing countries like India). I do not address the equally significant question of whether or not it is important to attract international students and faculty, but here I will assume the answer to this question is affirmative. In brief, my recommendation is to focus more on funding international students and faculty in foreign language study; to tie language programs to the scientific and financial degree programs which attract international students, particularly in developing nations; and to implement cultural and language outreaches in countries where recruiting of students will have the most pay-off for Italian academic and scientific markets. Chief among these is India, but also South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Language schools are an efficient, relatively low-cost means of attracting foreign students – the key is finding an appropriate program for international students to study Italian, to a lesser extent, recruiting these students to study and teach their own languages in a European setting is, of course, required to make this idea work.
Many European universities excel in language education, while most lack the massive technical funding and research endowments that characterize post-secondary education in the United States. Philology, language education, literary and technical translation and interpretation are far stronger disciplines in Europe than in the US, and are competitive with the best programs in the UK. One thinks of the faculties in Leiden, Mainz and Hamburg, among many others. Many Italian universities don't yet have the distribution of language training that is available in Northern Europe (there, ironically for English), but enough do possess comparable resources to offer plenty of Italian-as-a-second-language programs. It is however wise to increase (1) the number of Italian language training programs available foreign students in Italy; (2) the funding and course offerings of Italian faculties teaching Asian and African languages, (3) ties between language departments to engineering and medical faculties. This latter point may be most crucial – offering research degrees to promising international students that use both Italian and English, is only going to work if joining with Italian education in target countries.
The Bologna consensus has made European degrees more compatible across countries, but its results need to be better explained to potential international students, along with how these standards compare to their Anglo-American counterparts. This requires aggressive PR from Italian consulates, universities, corporations, trade unions. Additionally, faculty exchanges, short-term corporate language training, medical and technical translation workshops are useful.
Italian universities need dedicated scholarships for international students, perhaps exchange years as well. Italian language schools (from summer courses to language degrees) need better to communicate the access they provide to important training in design, science, and medicine: significant numbers of international students are not going to come to a European university to study the humanities, even if the most rigorous language and literature programs are located there. Given the general challenges to public funding of universities in Italy and across the West right now, I think significant corporate endowment for language programs may be necessary to provide the kinds of funds that international students look for, such as the stipends and tuition wavers like those offered in the United States, or at the negligible rates of tuition offered to students within the EU. Without the means to come to Europe and the serious possibility that studying in Italy will enhance their career, many international students will continue to choose what the current majority do – to seek education in the United States.
A second, and somewhat less important area than funding concerns the relative absence of language “outreach” in the developing world. Italian industry and culture are not being represented enough in developing markets and their corresponding schools: if and when they are, a whole class of students may opt for education in Italy. French, German, and even schools exist in India and Singapore, for instance. But in insufficient numbers to attract students the way that the British and American schools have already done. For Italy to gather intellectually and economically productive international students, subsidized Italian-language instruction needs to be offered at primary and secondary school levels in their home countries. ISI programs could offer the best students fellowships for study in Italy (this kind of scholarship is widespread in the Anglophone world, after all). To students from the developing world the prevalence of English language education in their home countries adds much to the draw of American schools. Combining Italian language schools with scholarships to Italian universities offers a similar appeal. Students in Bangalore or Singapore need to feel that, in choosing an education in a place like Bologna, they will not incur debt, and that their community is welcome and represented there. Language scholarships and ISI programs offer a plausible start.