Photographer:Fotograaf: Elias Schäfer
Aside from the ‘usual suspects’ – the Dutch, Germans and Belgians – the number of Italians at Maastricht University is growing more quickly than any other nationality. Two-hundred and twenty-five were added for a bachelor’s and 150 for a master’s in 2019. The second places in these categories: France with 125 new bachelor’s, and Spain with 75 new master’s students. A total of four hundred Italians is now studying at the UM, most of them at SBE, FASoS and Law. The number was only two hundred in 2016. What makes the UM so interesting for Italians?
They give various reasons, but it appears difficult to really discover why. One thing is certain, Italians don’t come to Maastricht for the food, Bruno Mizzulinich, master’s student of Sustainable Finance from Rome, laughs. “The food and the weather are the only real things that we miss here. I came to Maastricht for my bachelor’s in 2014, mainly because there are better perspectives abroad than in Italy. It is almost impossible to build a career for yourself in Italy, unless you know someone.”
It is a problem in businesses, but also in biomedical sciences or in care. “If you are the son or daughter of, you will get a look in, gain some experience and get preferential treatment,” says third-year student of Medicine Nikkie Verhagen, who was born and raised in Italy. “The labour market is very difficult for starters. Employers always want experience and there is a lot more competition in Italy. There are more people with university degrees. Nursing, for example is also an academic study there.”
But why Maastricht? Olsi Sokolli and Chiara Russo chose the UM because of European Studies; Sokolli for the bachelor’s and Russo for the research masters. Sokolli: “I looked at various universities in Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, and of course the Netherlands, but the Maastricht programme is unique, especially because of the emphasis on international relations.” In order to find out if the UM was really for him, he attended the open day, after which he knew for sure. “I saw how Problem-based Learning worked: small classes, a lot of personal attention. That is inconceivable in Italy. University education is very traditional there. You attend lectures with two hundred other students and at the end of the semester you take an exam. You are a number. Here in Maastricht, you feel more like a human being because of the personal contact with the tutors.”
Verhagen also chose Maastricht for this reason. “I went to the open day in Nijmegen, where my father studied, but I didn’t like it. There is a classical system there, like there is in Italy.” It was the same in secondary school. “There is a lot of distance between pupils and teachers. I didn’t feel that at all at the open day in Maastricht. The contact feels equal, very easy-going.” More than that even, according to Sokolli, there is a “feeling of being part of a family.”
“And that for only two thousand euro a year,” says Mariolina Eliantonio, professor of European and Comparative Administrative Law and Procedure. Not a lot of money and look at the amount of personal contact: “That is quite a deal.” Russo: “Training at a good university, a private university, in Italy, costs about ten thousand a year. The same level or even higher here is five times cheaper.”
Eliantonio has noticed that the number of fellow-countrymen at her faculty is on the increase. This group is so significant by now that a number of them have approached her for extracurricular material on Italian law. “With two other people, I put together a programme of ten hours. This is the third year that the additional subject has been given.”
Eliantonio herself came to Maastricht as a student in 2002, for a master’s in European Law. “At the time, I was one of the few Italians to leave the country to study abroad. It was unusual, but it is becoming more and more of a general trend.” The current generation speaks much better English than before and distances are becoming much smaller in relative terms, the professor reckons. “You can be back in Italy within a couple of hours for just a few euros.”
The UM is interesting for international law students because of the European programmes and the practical character of PBL, says Eliantonio. “Education at law faculties in Italy is very theoretical.”
Are the increasing number of Italians not just the result of marketing? Yes and no, says marketing officer Saskia Cluistra. “The past few years, there have been a lot of recruitment activities in Italy.” Things such as visits to secondary schools or education fairs. “But nothing special has been set up in Italy. No more than in Spain or France, for example.”
Italian students are finding their own way to the UM more and more, says Cluistra. “I regularly hear at fairs that pupils have nephews or friends who study here. This word-of-mouth advertising creates a snowball effect.” But the Italians also find their way to the UM through the Internet and social media. That is why in the coming years the number of visits to fairs and schools will be reduced: “We will concentrate more on online marketing; for example live streams in which potential new students can ask their questions about studying at UM.
And what about Brexit? Is the uncertainty ‘forcing’ the Italians to choose more often for UM instead of a British university? “That could be”, says Cluistra. “But I think that it is not a notable factor in the case of Italy. For countries such as Poland or Bulgaria, which are more focussed on the UK, Brexit might be an explanation for student increases elsewhere. For Italy see no signs of that.”