Improving the standing of vocational and technical education and devising ways to link vocational education and training (VET) and higher education in Europe has been a major concern since the early 2000s. Indeed, education, training and lifelong learning play a key role in the achievement of the priorities of the Lisbon Strategy and the “Europe 2020” follow up, in particular when it comes to smart and inclusive growth for facing the challenges of globalisation, demographic change and the knowledge society.

Given this European context, and in the framework of the recent reform of higher education, the Italian VET system is experiencing a process of wide challenges as the development of a competitive labour market depends on a successful implementation of well-defined education policies able to answer the requirements of the new public and market mechanisms.

The forthcoming  implementation of 58 higher technical institutes (Istituti Tecnici Superiori – ITS), as a specific post-secondary education and training path, represents one of the flagship initiatives of the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR). It is carried out in a wide joint effort with local and regional authorities, education and training institutions and private enterprises, aimed at ensuring the adaptability of the education system so as to provide valuable knowledge and sound skills.

The higher technical institutes are mixed public-private institutions: they are autonomous bodies established under private law and aim at providing a service of public utility, in a dynamic governance process among public and private sector.

They can be set up by:

- upper secondary schools belonging to the technical/vocational branch (as defined by law 40/2007);

- training institutions accredited by a Region for the purpose of higher level training;

- enterprises belonging to the same productive branch as the ITS;

- university departments or any other body belonging to the technological/scientific research system;

- local authorities (municipality, province, extended urban area, etc).

The 58 new ITS, which will be operational from school year 2011-2012, are the result of a strong synergy between different actors: 110 upper technical and vocational institutes, more than 60 provinces and municipalities, 16 regions, 200 enterprises, 67 universities and research centres, 87 training institutions, public and private bodies have so far cooperated for their implementation on a multi-level basis with the aim of providing genuine opportunities for entering and succeeding in the labour market, enhancing the effectiveness of lifelong learning and career guidance and representing an effective and parallel path to the academic tertiary education.

Moreover, according to the recent reform of the apprenticeship contract, with the introduction of a “High Apprenticeship”, participants to ITS courses will also have the opportunity to obtain a higher education qualification.

ITS courses are meant for young students and adults holding an upper-secondary school diploma who, employed or unemployed, wish to specialise for a quick transition to or requalification in the labour market. The courses lead to a Diploma of High Level Technician – corresponding to the Level V of the EQF - with reference to the technological areas considered as priorities by the national guidelines of economic planning: Energy Efficiency, New technologies of life, New technologies for Made in Italy, Innovative technologies for culture, Information and Communication technologies.

Among the main features of ITS courses are their strong links with the labour market. These are created through the promotion of the didactic laboratory as a research and learning environment, a compulsory traineeship covering 30 % of the total course hours (around 1 800-2 000 hours) which can also be carried out abroad, the recruitment of 50 % of the teachers and trainers directly from the labour market itself.

At the end of the courses promoted by the higher technical institutes, a final certification is obtained following a final assessment of the competences acquired carried out by examination boards made up of representatives of the training provider (e.g. school, university, vocational training) and experts coming from the labour market.

With the aim of sharing the technical and scientific culture and to systematically support the economic development and competitiveness of the Italian production system, ITS courses are implemented with a strong focus on local needs, individualised training routes and the promotion of the participation of employed adults. At the same time, they respond to the European certification standards.

Improving the equity and efficiency of EU education and training system is essential to increase employability, reduce inequalities and improve the adaptability of young people and adults through upgraded skills allowing them to match the requirements of the new jobs available on the labour market. In this sense, the implementation of higher technical institutes and their focus on technical and vocational education as an engine of development of the country, represents a strong tool for facing the challenges of globalisation and technological change.

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