Evaluation of the 2001 reform of higher education in Italy
This research project aims to assess the effects of the reform of Higher Education (HE) approved in 1999 in Italy and implemented in 2001. The reform was aimed at increasing access to university and at decreasing the traditionally high drop-out rates as well as the long duration of tertiary studies in our country. Its main strategy was replacing the former one-tier structure of HE with a two-tier structure, in the context of the so-called Bologna process. The reform was also presented as an effort to reduce social inequalities in Italian HE, characterized by a strong selectivity in favour of upper class students. This research project assesses whether the reform has achieved its two-fold purpose of increasing access and reducing inequality in HE.
Previous studies who applied a counterfactual approach to evaluate the effectiveness of the HE reform in Italy are mainly based on a before-after design, showing that the Bologna process was able to increase the access to HE and to reduce inequalities in the first year of implementation of the reform. We plan to re-assess these conclusions in three respects. First, we implemented an over-identification test to stress that the assumptions that permit the before-after approach are violated. In fact, it clearly emerged that the enrolment rates in Italy are deeply affected by pre-reform trends that do not permit the application of this identification strategy. Second, using aggregated data at regional level, we showed that economic condition and HE labour market returns deeply influence enrolment rates. Moreover, these aggregated data gave us the chance to estimate the enrolment rate that one should have observed if the university reform had not been issued. From these analyses, it emerged that the Bologna process had a remarkable influence on enrolment rate, but only in the short period. Finally, using individual data coming from the Istat survey on upper secondary graduates, we showed that the effects of social origins, measured via parental education and social class, did not vary after the implementation of the Bologna process. In this way, it is possible to maintain that the reform was not able to reduce social inequalities in HE access.