Detailed Program of the Conference

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Overall view of the program
Parallel sessions - E.11.1 Tertiary Education in Italy: The Prism of Differences
Friday, 04/June/2021:
9:00am - 11:15am

Session Chair: Alessandra Petrucci
Session Chair: Mariano Porcu
Session Chair: Giancarlo Ragozini
Location: Room 8

Session Panels:
E.11. Tertiary Education in Italy: The Prism of Differences

External Resource:


Isabella Sulis1, Barbara Barbieri1, Luisa Salaris1, Gabriella Melis2, Mariano Porcu1

1Department of Political and Social Sciences, University of Cagliari, Italy; 2Department of Public Health, Policy and Systems, Institute of Population Health; University of Liverpool, UK

Gender differences in the educational field have been extensively addressed in the literature, along with the differential effects of social class background. Although data for Italy documents in the last decade best female performances in secondary school and a female advantage in terms of tertiary education enrolment rates and qualifications, statistics on employment conditions show a persistent gap in the employment rates of graduates in favour of males. This result is only in part explained by the employment perspectives related to the differences between genders in the choices of the subject of study and the low participation of women in disciplinary fields which present higher employment rates. Nonetheless, it is well known that a high variability in graduates' employment rates is detected between universities and that these differences are mainly related to the location of the universities in geographical areas which offer different employment opportunities and to their connections with the local labour market.

Moving from this framework this study focuses on investigating gender differences in university students’ mobility choices, as mobility is considered an indirect indicator of the quality of the university and reflects families information and aspirations on future employment perspectives. Divergences between genders in the choice of attending a no local university and the chosen disciplinary subject are analysed by focusing on students’ mobility choices for first-year students who enrol in a bachelor degree (three years or single cycle) in 2017 . We consider in mobility those students who attend their university studies in a region different from the region of residence and in a university at least 90 minutes of travel time from their city of residence. Thus, the main objectives of the analysis are: (1) to analyse university applicants’ choice to study away from the region of residence, in particular by looking into gender differences in subject choice; (2) to assess differences in mobility and subject choice across students belonging to different geographical areas, with a specific focus on the comparisons between the two main Islands of Sardinia and Sicily, the Southern Italy and the rest of the country, after assessing the national structure of gender biased mobility. To sum up the main research questions addressed in this study are: Do we observe gender bias in the propensity to be a mover ? If we observe it, does gender bias change conditional on area of origin? Which are the main differences in the behaviour of the sub-populations compared? To answer these questions we adopt a methodological approach based on Multilevel logit models with random slopes for gender which allows us to take into account simultaneously two aspects, the different propensity in students’ mobility choice with respect to the choice of university subject, as well as gender differences in the propensity to choose a specific university subject.


Italo Testa

University of Naples Federico II, Italy

Literature has thoroughly shown that a significant gender gap exists in the field of Physics in western countries. As a result, students perceive physics as a male-dominated discipline. For instance, in Italy, only 35% of bachelor graduate are female students. Furthermore, the duration of the course of study is on average longer for woman than for male peers. However, prior studies in Italy have not addressed in detail whether gender differences exist also for performances in physics exams and whether such differences affect the duration of the study course. The present study addresses these issues by investigating the performances of about 900 students in four mandatory introductory physics courses, two theoretical and two laboratory-based, held at the first two year of the bachelor’s degree in physics. The involved students were enrolled between 2014 and 2019 at the University of Naples. Results of repeated t-tests on the whole sample show significant differences with a small effect size in the final grades of the two theoretical introductory physics courses, while this is not the case for the experimental courses. When considering the subsample of graduate students (N=230) we found gender differences in the performance of students who graduate within 3 year and a half in the two introductory physics exams at the second year, while for students who graduate after the third year, gender differences appear only in the theoretical introductory course of the first year. When considering the subsample of active students (N=432) and of the students who dropped out (N=244), performances in the introductory exams do not show gender differences. More generally, for active and dropped-out students, a chi-square test shows that to pass the introductory physics exams is not significantly associated with gender. Finally, for female graduate students, a regression analysis shows a significant effect on the duration of the study course of the performance in the theoretical introductory course of the first year, while for male graduate students, the duration is significantly affected by the performances in the introductory courses of the second year. While overall results suggest that the performance on exams do not strongly depend on gender, our study calls for more research to understand possible causes for the detected small differences in introductory courses that may negatively impact on females’ future career in physics


Valentina Tocchioni1, Alessandra Petrucci1, Alessandra Minello2

1University of Florence, Italy; 2University of Padua, Italy

In the last years, there has been a large increase in high-educated and high-skilled people’s mobility as a consequence of the internationalization and globalization, the weakening of research and university systems of sending countries (the “brain drain” process), the increase in skilled demand and improvements in higher education of host countries (the “brain gain” process). At the micro-level, academic mobility has positive consequences on occupational prospects and careers of researchers, both in the short- and long- run. Nevertheless, numerous research studies have demonstrated the challenges of engaging in international academic mobility for people with caring responsibilities, particularly women. The conflict might be exacerbated in Italy, since the care responsibilities for women compared to men are higher than elsewhere in Europe. Despite it, the literature on Italy is missing on this topic.

Using Italian data on occupational conditions of PhDs collected in 2018 by Istat and modelling multinomial logistic regression analyses, we intend to verify if female researchers are associated with a lower international mobility irrespective their field of study, and the extent to which gender interacts differently in the various fields of study in affecting the probability of moving abroad after PhD qualification. Also, the distinction between long-term and short-term mobility, which has been mainly neglected in the literature concentrating on longer stays, has taken into account.

Our analyses show how women with a PhD qualification have a lower propensity to mobility compared with their male counterparts. A lower gender gap in mobility emerges among short-term stays in comparison with long-term stays and potential international relocations. In this respect, short-term mobility is presumably an investment that may be pursued also by those researchers who cannot move for longer periods, such as women with caring responsibilities. Concentrating on the field of study, the highest gender gap in international mobility is among women and men in hard-STEM, whereas the lowest among those researchers in the Humanities. Nevertheless, international mobility of female researchers in hard-STEM seems to be the highest among the three fields of study. Thus, a higher gender gap in international mobility in the hard-STEM could depend - at least partly - from the higher overall mobility of those researchers, and in particular that of men.

In the literature, it is acknowledged that an experience abroad during early career may have positive effects on future occupational prospects. With our work, we intend to shed light on potential disparities on moving abroad that may exist among researchers in their early career by gender, and which could contribute to leave behind women in academia.


Dalit Contini1, Roberto Zotti2

1Università di Torino, Italy; 2Università di Torino, Italy

A large strand of research in the economics and sociology of education has highlighted the existence of deeply rooted inequalities in educational choices along socioeconomic lines, even net of prior performance. These disparities may take different forms at different stages of schooling and across institutional systems. Yet, due to the lack of data, it is often difficult to disentangle the role played by the various dimensions of socioeconomic background on students’ educational careers. While parental education and occupation may shape aspirations (and thus the wish to undertake ambitious educational programs), the lack of income could represent a material obstacle to the continuation of the studies. In this chapter, we focus on the effect of economic conditions on the probability to drop out from university. Italy is an interesting study case because the education system is mainly public and university tuition fees are relatively low and income-progressive. Since direct costs are low, we could expect income not to be highly relevant in this context. By exploiting a unique data set of the University of Torino linking administrative data of students’ university careers and information on parental characteristics collected at matriculation, we analyze how socioeconomic background influences the first-year dropout probability. While extremely relevant in earlier educational outcomes, parental education and occupation no longer exert a sizable effect at this point of student lives. Instead, we find that economic conditions greatly influence the chances to complete university. This result suggests that low tuition fees may be insufficient to foster the participation of low-income high school graduates, and that additional forms of support might be needed in order to ensure equity and at the same time raise the share of young people with higher education degrees, still too low in Italy.


Antonella D'Agostino1, Giulio Ghellini2, Gabriele Lombardi2

1Università di Napoli Parthenope, Italy; 2Università degli Studi di Siena, Italy

In this paper, we explore if gender affects the chances of suffering for the so called “transfer shock”, that in Anglo-Saxon literature is defined as a temporary decrease in academic performance by transfer students immediately following the transition to a new institution and the corresponding recovery prevalent for most students in succeeding semesters. Despite the fact that the gender issue is very relevant in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) studies because there is currently a low proportion of women studying and graduating in STEM subjects, no gender analysis has been conducted in this particular framework. Nonetheless, as Italy experiments relevant migration flows of students between Secondary Education (SE) graduation and Higher Education (HE) (almost unidirectional from South to North/Centre), we study the presence/effect of transfer shock in this specific point of the students’ career. In particular, the purpose of this paper is to measure whether internal mobility differentiated by gender has an effect on the first-year performance of students enrolled in STEM programmes. In other words, we develop an approach borrowed from intersectional studies, which try to identify multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage.

Using micro-data provided by the Italian Ministry of University and Research (MUR) and collected into the Italian University Student Register (ANS), we find that students moving from the southern to northern regions of the country for their higher education actually suffer for the transfer shock. Interestingly, even if women are under-represented in STEM area, they seem to be more resilient than their male peers and faster in recovering their academic performance.