Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

As Italy’s demographic crisis continues to worsen, a falling number of students in the country's schools is expected to mean smaller classes - but also fewer teaching staff and a lower education budget.

Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further
Will Italy’s declining population mean overcrowded classrooms become a thing of the past? Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Classes in schools across Italy are expected to shrink over the next five years, according to the latest demographic data from Italy’s national statistics institute (Istat).

While this is expected to spell the beginning of the end for the country’s so-called classi pollaio (overcrowded classrooms; literally ‘chicken coop’ classes), it also reportedly means major cuts to the national education budget are around the corner.

READ ALSO: Italy heading for demographic ‘crisis’ as population set to shrink by a fifth

In line with Italy’s long-standing demographic downtrend, the number of Italian students is yet again projected to drop in the school year starting next September.

According to Istat, there will be some 123,000 fewer pupils in the 2022-2023 year, bringing the total down from 7,407,000 to 7,284,000. 

The figure is expected to plummet even further over the next five years, with the latest data predicting that the number of pupils in Italy will decrease by 726,000 by 2027.

The drop is attributed to Italy’s chronic population decline, as deaths have surpassed births each year since 2007 – a trend which worsened further amid the pandemic.

Italy is now on track to lose a fifth of its population within 50 years, data suggests.

According to Istat, the country registered only 399,000 newborns in 2021: a 1.3 percent decrease against the previous year and, perhaps more alarmingly, a 31 per cent drop compared to 2008.

In 2020, the average number of children per Italian-born woman hit an all-time low of 1.17.

While the falling number of school pupils is bound to shrink the size of Italian classes, the phenomenon is also expected to mean further cuts to the country’s education budget. 

The 2022 Document for Economy and Finance, a yearly joint report drawn up by the Prime Minister and the Economy and Finance Minister, projects a whopping 7-billion-euro cut to resources destined for national education over the next five years.

READ ALSO: ‘Educational crisis’: Italy’s schools compare badly with the rest of Europe, study finds

This is expected to result in layoffs among teaching staff up and down the country, Italian newspaper Repubblica reported on Sunday.

“It’s unacceptable that, after years of cuts, the government has yet again decided to get their hands on the education budget,” a spokesperson for the Italian Teachers Union (Gilda degli Insegnanti) told Repubblica:

Staff cuts are expected to affect schools in small towns and big cities alike.

According to Massimiliano Sambruna, the General Secretary of Cisl Scuola Milano (a union representing Milan-based teaching staff), the city of Milan alone will have “24 fewer primary school classes and 180 fewer teaching jobs” come next September. 

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‘It’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's universities minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

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“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

READ ALSO: Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.