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Third-cycle (PhD) programmes


7.Higher education

7.5Third-cycle (PhD) programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023

Both universities and High level arts and music education (Afam) institutes organise third-cycle programmes, lasting a minimum of 3 years.

Courses aim at providing the competencies required to carry out highly qualified research activities.

University third-cycle programmes lead to a Dottorato (PhD), while Afam programmes lead to a Diploma accademico di formazione alla ricerca (research academic diploma).

Beside the above-mentioned programmes, universities and Afam institutions also offer further courses, leading to qualifications falling outside the Bachelor and Master structure.

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

Organisation of Doctoral Studies

Doctoral studies are offered in all areas and sectors of study and research.

Courses, as well as institutions hosting the courses, should have the accreditation from the Ministry of university and research (Mur), upon advice National agency for the evaluation of the university and research system (Anvur).

Universities and any Italian institution of advanced training and research can submit for accreditation.

Accredited institutions establish, in their own regulations, the access requirements to courses, methods to obtain the final qualification, learning objectives and programmes, length of courses, fees, the number of fellowships available, methods for awarding grants and their amount.

Courses can also be organised through consortia and agreements with other public and/or private, Italian or foreign universities and research institutes (international doctorate) and with enterprises involved in research and development (industrial doctorate). However, qualifications are always issued by university institutions.

High level arts and music education institutions (Afam) offer third-cycle courses called equivalent to university PhDs.

Courses are organised in all areas and sectors of high level arts, music and dance education.

Afam institutions can offer third-cycle courses also through consortia and agreements with other Afam institutions, universities and other public or private, Italian or foreign institutions.

Both university and Afam third-cycle courses have a minimum length of 3 years.

Admission Requirements

Access to third-cycle programmes at both universities and Afam institutions requires passing a public competition.

To access the public competition for university third-cycle programmes, a second-cycle qualification (laurea magistrale), or other equivalent qualification obtained abroad, is required.

Access to the competition is open also to those who, at the date of the competition, do not have the qualification required. However, in case of positive outcome, they should get the qualification within the 31st October subsequent to the competition.

The call should be in both Italian and English and be published on the website of the institution offering the doctoral course, on the Ministry's website and on Euraxess. Moreover, the call should indicate the number of available posts, access requirements, assessment criteria, tests (written and/or oral), grants available and costs for future PhD students.

Selection procedures should end by the 30th September of each year.

Access the public competition at Afam requires a second-cycle qualification, attained at an Italian or foreign university or Afam institution.

The call for the selection should be published on the Official Journal, and the Miur should be informed. The call should indicate the number of available posts, tests, the number of grants available and their amount.

Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates

Doctoral students have the status of university full time students with and exclusive engagement with the institution. During doctoral studies, students can carry out tutoring and, within the limit of 40 hours/year, teaching activities.

In case a student is also a civil servant, he/she has the right to unpaid leave for the official duration of the course (e.g. if the course has an official duration of three years and the student needs one more year to finish his/her studies, the fourth year is not covered by the leave). Female students have the right to maternity leave.

Students receive yearly grants renewable upon fulfilment of all activities foreseen in the study plan of the previous year. Grants have a minimum amount established nationwide through Ministerial Decree. The amount can be increased to cover additional costs for research activities to be carried out abroad. Grants covers also social security costs.

Supervision Arrangements

Each university and Afam institution establishes its own assessment and supervision criteria.

Each university doctoral course has its own Teachers' board, with its own coordinator. The board plans and organises the course. The board is made up of professors, researchers coming from both Italian and foreign universities and research institutes and highly qualified experts. Single regulations regulates the participation in the assembly.

Tutoring is available according to criteria and methods established by each institution.

Each Afam PhD course has its own board, with its own coordinator. The board is made up of all professors of the course and is engaged with the organisation of the course, the definition of study plans and of assessment procedures, etc.


As for the third-cycle studies, questions concerning guidance and transition to active life are foreseen within the teaching activities of each study course; therefore, they fall within the responsibility of the teaching structure which manages the respective study courses. Please also refer to 'Employability' in the first and second-cycle programmes.


Assessment of university and Afam doctoral students takes place every year at the time of their admission to the subsequent year. Single institutions establish the assessment methods in their own regulations.

At the end of the whole course, students should pass a final assessment.

University doctoral students’ submit a final research work, written both in Italian and in English, contributing to the advancement of knowledge and methodologies in the subject area chosen by the student. Students should also submit a report on the activities carried out during the doctoral course and on publications made.

At least two external highly qualified professors evaluate the student’s work and write an analytical assessment. If the evaluation is positive the student is admitted to debate his/her work publicly. In case of non-positive assessment, the public dissertation is postponed up to six months to allow the student to amend and integrate his/her work.

The student debates the final work in front of a commission, which composition is defined in universities regulations. The commission approves or reject the work with motivation and can assign the laude to particularly significant works.

Also Afam doctoral students debate their work publically. The final research work should be original and previously approved by relevant bodies of the course. The commission is made up of highly qualified experts of whom at least three should be external.


At completion of a third-cycle programme, universities issue the qualification Dottorato di ricerca and award the title of Dottore di ricerca (Dott. Ric.) or PhD.

Afam institutions issue the Diploma accademico di formazione alla ricerca (Academic research diploma) and the relevant title of Academic research Doctor.

This subject is regulated by single institutions through their own regulations.

Organisational Variation

For some university courses, distance learning is provided. The universities can provide this type of didactic organisation, also in the form of a consortium with several universities or with the support of other public and private bodies.

Teaching regulations of each university and of the study courses lay down the organisation of possible training activities for students who do not attend full-time and the typology of courses, including distance learning provisions, examinations and other monitoring forms of the students' performances.

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)

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

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