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Second-cycle programmes


7.Higher education

7.3Second-cycle programmes

Last update: 21 December 2022

Second cycle programmes are provided by both universities and High level arts and music education (Afam) institutes.

Second cycle programmes can last either two years, corresponding to 120 Ects credits (CFU/CFA) or, in the case of single-cycle programmes, 5-6 years corresponding to 300-360 credits.

At the end of the relevant second cycle programme, university students obtain a laurea magistrale degree, whereas Afam students obtain a Diploma accademico di secondo livello (second level academic diploma).

The study courses offered by universities and Afam institutions are designed to provide students with advanced competencies for highly qualified activities in specific sectors as well as the acquisition of high-level professional competencies.

Beside the above mentioned qualifications, universities and Afam institutions offer further courses, described in the section 'Programmes outside the Bachelor and Master structure'.

All qualifications are described in the NQF. Qualifications issued by universities and Afam institutions are described also in the Italian qualification framework of Higher education (QTI).

Branches of Study

University Education

According to the National qualifications framework for higher education, both two-years and single-cycle university second-cycle programmes, lead to a laurea magistrale degree.

Studies are organised in the following study areas: sanitary, scientific, social and classical area.

Each study area is made up of courses and of so called 'laurea magistrale classes'. One 'class' groups together more courses with the same core objectives and the same core activities established at national level for each class (e.g. the laurea magistrale course 'Visual arts' and the laurea magistrale course 'Historical heritage', belong to the same class (LM-89) 'History of arts', included in the classical area). Universities decide to activate or not the courses within the various classes; their decision will be taken in the respect of their academic history and tradition as well as according to the labour market requirements and international competition.

Classes, with the relevant core objectives and minimum amount of credits required, are established at national level for all universities. At present, laurea magistrale classes are 94. A complete list of classes is available on a national data base, regularly updated.

Studies in medicine and surgery, pharmacy, veterinary science and dentistry studies, law, primary teacher education and, only for a few courses, building engineering-architecture, have a single-cycle organisation (6 or 5 years, corresponding to 300-360 credits). These courses lead directly to a second cycle qualification (single-cycle laurea magistrale).

Universities autonomously activate courses and regulate their teaching organisation (course title, objectives, curriculum and relevant study activities, credits, final assessment procedures) in their own regulations.

High Level Arts and Music Education (Afam)

According to the National qualifications framework for higher education, second cycle Afam programmes, which correspond to 120 Ects credits (CFA), lead to a Diploma accademico di secondo livello (second level academic diploma).

Afam institutions offer highly qualified specialisations in: 

  • visual arts (painting, sculpture, decoration, set designing photography, multimedia, new technologies for arts, film and TV set designing, preservation and restoration of modern and contemporary works of art)
  • drama (acting and direction)
  • dance (classic and contemporary dance, choreography)
  • music (all instruments, jazz and electronic music)
  • design (product design, communication, system and fashion design

Admission Requirements

University Education

Central regulations establish the general requirements to access university courses.

Admission is restricted for single-cycle courses in medicine and surgery, pharmacy, veterinary science and dentistry studies, primary teacher education and architecture; admission is also restricted for courses in health professions or for courses for which study plans foresee practical training and the use of laboratories. The selection of courses with limited admission takes places in Italian. In case of medicine and surgery courses, which teaching language is English, the selection for the admission is held in English Access to courses requires a laurea (first cycle qualification), or another equivalent qualification obtained abroad. To access single-cycle programmes an upper secondary school leaving certificate, or another equivalent qualification obtained abroad, is required. Each university, in its own regulations, establish specific admission criteria including the possession of certain curricular requirements and the verification of each student's preparation. All credits obtained in the previous cycle (180 CFU) will be recognised if the second cycle course is fully consistent with the contents of the completed three-year degree course; otherwise, the students will be enrolled with a 'debt' (debito formativo).

Single institutions decide on the acknowledgement of qualifications obtained abroad for the admission to courses, in coherence with European Union directives and regulations as well as with international agreements in force.

High Level Arts and Music Education (Afam)

Admission to courses requires a first-cycle qualification obtained either within Afam education (first level academic diploma) or through university education (laurea) or another equivalent qualification obtained abroad.

Single institutions decide on the acknowledgement of qualifications obtained abroad for the admission to courses, in coherence with European Union directives and regulations as well as with international agreements in force.


Central regulations establish the general criteria for the organisation of university and High level art and music education (Afam) studies, as well as the qualification that universities and Afam institutions issue.

As for university, at national level, the Ministry of university and research (Mur) has established the laurea classes and, for each class, the qualifying educational objectives and the subsequent learning activities necessary to reach these objectives.

According to central regulations, learning activities for each laurea class (university) and for each study course (Afam) are grouped as follows:

  • basic studies;
  • learning activities in one or more areas typical of each class or course of study.

Each class or course of study should also provide for:

  • learning activities in one or more study areas similar or supplementary to the study areas typical of the field of studies;
  • learning activities chosen by students;
  • learning activities aimed at the final examination to obtain the final qualification and at the evaluation of the knowledge of a foreign language;
  • further learning activities aimed at improving linguistic knowledge, as well as ICT skills, relational skills and any other skill useful to get into the labour market among which, in particular, training and guidance apprenticeships.

Furthermore, learning activities also include laboratory activities or artistic productions, where relevant.

Study courses can be subdivided into branches, each with its own specific curriculum.

The minimum number of credits that institutions, in their teaching regulations, should assign to learning activities and areas of study is established at central level. However, the total amount of reserved credits cannot exceed 66% and 60% in university and in Afam education, respectively.

Universities and Afam institutions issue their own regulations, approved by the Ministry of university and research. In particular, each regulation determines:

  • The name and training objectives of the respective study courses; general framework of the training activities that must be included in the curriculum; credits assigned to the various training activities; outline of the final examination for the final qualification attainment.
  • The organisational aspects of the teaching activities common to all study courses, such as objectives, times and methods to be adopted for planning, co-ordinating and evaluating the results of the activities; procedures to assign the annual teaching tasks to teachers and researchers; examination procedures; student assessment procedures,  within the limits established by central regulations; evaluation of the students' initial training and organisation of training activities preparatory to the assessment of the initial training; quality assurance.

Therefore, it is not possible to provide an in-depth picture of programmes and contents of each course.

Teaching regulations of study courses, establish the list of teachings; specific training objectives and credits; curriculum and requirements for the presentation of the individual study plans; provisions concerning any compulsory attendance.

The curriculum is the whole of the training activities (teaching courses, seminaries, practical work and laboratory, didactical activities in small groups, tutoring, guidance, apprenticeship, projects, thesis, individual study activities and self-learning) the students has to carry out to obtain the qualification.

The knowledge of a language of the European Union is required to obtain the final qualification.

The official teaching language is Italian. However, many institutions offer both activities (seminars, conferences) and study courses or single subject courses in a foreign language (mainly English).

Teaching Methods

Universities and High level arts and music education (Afam) institutions, in their own regulations, should establish the procedures to carry out the teaching activities, in the respect of teaching freedom as well as of teachers' and students' rights and duties.

Teachers are free to choose their teaching methods. They can be given just some not mandatory indications. The use of new technologies is more and more widespread, as well as seminars, working groups, etc.

Progression of Students

Students are expected to obtain the credits foreseen in the study plan for each academic year, upon passing the scheduled exams. Students who do not pass the scheduled exams cannot attend courses foreseen for the following academic year.

In order to graduate, students are required to have passed all the exams foreseen by their study plan. If they have not, students are expected to fulfil their duty within the terms established by regulations of each institution.

Students holding a university or Afam second cycle qualification, have access to the third-cycle programmes, within the limits of the admission requirements foreseen for this level of higher education.

At present, the teaching regulations of each university lay down procedures and criteria to be followed when students ask to switch from one degree course to another within the same or different university, or from a university to an Afam institution and vice versa. Regulations can provide for monitoring the acquired credits in order to check if the students' knowledge is not obsolete. As for the switch from one course to another or from one university to another, teaching regulations must guarantee the recognition of the possible highest number of credits obtained by the student. In the case of switch within the same class of studies the recognition of credits must not be lower than 50%. The non-recognition of credits must be adequately motivated.


University Education

According to the most recent labour legislation, (Decree issued on 20 September 2011) universities have a role of intermediation between students and the labour world, on condition that universities enrol in the Register of the employment agencies. This latter is the informative register that includes all the subjects authorised by Ministry of labour to carry out intermediation activities.

Cliclavoro’ is the portal where universities publish the CVs of their students and graduates (within 12 months) in order to make them available to employers who can advertise, in their turn, available posts.

Those willing to work freelance, in most cases (e.g. agronomists and forestry graduates, agrotechnicians, architects, social assistants, actuaries, biologists, chemists, geologists, engineers) are required to pass a qualifying State examination and then to enrol in the relevant registers. Registers, managed by Associations (Ordini) and Councils (Collegi), are divided into two sections, according to the level of ability and competence gained at the university: in section A enrol those who have a laurea specialistica/magistrale; in section B those who have a laurea. Separate sectors within the sections of the registers relate to specific educational paths corresponding to highly specific professional activities.

To favour the entry in the labour world, it is mandatory for universities to foresee guidance activities in their regulations. Guidance activities include indoor and outdoor initiatives, such as the promotion of consortia and agreements with enterprises foreseeing grants, apprenticeship or traineeship.

There are more types of apprenticeships, or traineeship:

  • Apprenticeship carried out during or after the university studies and combined with the qualifying State exam for practicing regulated professions (professional bodies and registers).
  • Apprenticeship explicitly foreseen in the teaching regulations of a study course
  • Apprenticeship carried out within international projects
  • Apprenticeship freely organised and offered to students and teachers by an enterprise.

Apprenticeships must be part of training and guidance projects, and according to agreements between the involved universities and enterprises or associations of employers, in some cases also involving other actors such as professional associations, local authorities and public bodies.

Moreover, trainee must be insured (civil liability and occupational accident) and be followed by a tutor who has responsibility for didactics and of the organisation of the activities must be foreseen; finally, trainee should be assigned credits (CFU) for the activities carried out.

Many universities have set up ad hoc offices to have a better organisation of the traineeships offer and to deliver a more efficient information to students. Beside these offices there are also student associations dealing with the apprenticeship offer. They are mainly international associations that group together students from certain study areas (economics, engineering, law, medicine, etc.) and act through a network of local seats. Many graduates' associations aim also at establishing a connection between university and enterprises and at facilitating the transition from the university to the labour market, also through the promotion of traineeships.

High Level Arts and Music Education (Afam)

Activities carried out by Afam institutions to facilitate the access of students to the labour market depend on the type of profession taught in each institute. Therefore, it is not possible to provide an overall description.

Student Assessment

Each University and Afam lays down in its own teaching regulation the procedures and methods for students' assessment. However, central regulations require that grades assigned at examinations should be calculated on a scale of 0 - 30, being 18 the minimum mark required for passing the exam. Final tests marks should be calculated on a scale of 0 – 110, being 66 the minimum mark required to be awarded the final qualification. In both cases, it is possible to graduate with honours (30 with honours; 110 with honours).

Both universities and Afam institutions have adopted a credit system for the recognition of students' learning workload. University students are assigned CFU (university formative credits), whereas Afam institutions assign CFA (academic formative credits). CFU and CFA have the same following characteristics:

  • credits represent the quantity of learning work, including study at individual level, students are required to carry out according to the teaching regulations of the study courses. A credit corresponds to 25 hours of study;
  • the average quantity of learning work carried out by a full-time student corresponds conventionally to 60 credits;
  • the total or partial acknowledgement of the credits obtained by a student who wants to continue his/her studies is responsibility of the educational institution that takes in the student;
  • teaching regulations of each university can provide for a recurrent verification of credits and indicate the minimum number of credits to be achieved within a fixed period of time;
  • on the basis of criteria fixed beforehand, universities can recognise as CFU professional abilities and skills certified in conformity with regulations in force on this subject, as well as other abilities and skills gained through educational activities of post-secondary level planned and carried out in collaboration with the university.

CFU and CFA correspond to Ects credits. Each institution, in its own regulations, establishes a specific conversion table to facilitate the conversion between the national marks and the ECTS grading.

To achieve the second-cycle qualification either at university or at an Afam institution, students have to sit for a final test in front of the examination committee. The test foresees the submission of a final work developed by the student under the guidance of a supervisor. To be admitted to the final test, students must have passed all the exams foreseen in their study plan, and been awarded a total of 120 credits (or 300-360 in case of single-cycle programmes), corresponding to the two years of studies.


University students, who have completed a second cycle programme, have been assigned the corresponding 120 CFU credits (or 300-360 for single-cycle programmes) and and have successfully passed the final test, obtain a laurea magistrale. Under the same circumstances, Afam students obtain a Diploma accademico di secondo livello (Second level academic diploma).

The university rector and the Afam institution director, who represent the university and the Afam institution, are responsible for the qualifications issue. University titles have academic value and do not qualify to work freelance in one of the regulated professions; instead, they give access to the qualifying State exam required to enrol in the relevant register.

University and Afam institutions, in their teaching regulations, establish methods and procedures to issue both the certification and the Diploma supplement, in compliance with the models adopted in the European countries, providing the main information on the curriculum followed by the student to obtain the certification concerned.

According to specific agreements, the institutions can release qualifications together with other Italian and foreign institutions of the same level, qualified to issue qualifications recognised in Italy according to the international and European community law (joint qualification).

Legislative references

Ministerial Decree of 8 February 2013, no. 45 (accreditation of doctoral courses)

Law of 30 December 2010, no. 240 (organisation of universities)

Decree of the President of the Republic (DPR) of 8 July 2005, no. 212 (organisation of the Afam sector)

Decree of the President of the Republic (DPR) of 28 February 2003, no. 132 (autonomy of Afam institutions)

Ministerial Decree of 22 October 2004, no. 270 (organisation of universities)

Law 2 August 1999, no. 264 (general requirements to access university courses)

Regulation of 3 November 1999, no. 509 (autonomy of universities)

Law of 21 December 1999, no. 508 (Afam)

Ministerial Decree 21 July 1997, no. 245 (general dispositions on pre-enrolment and design of university courses)