First Steps in Research (1)

First Symposium


In May 2009 Collegio Volta is holding the first Graduate Symposium in the history of the University of Pavia.

The University of Pavia aspires to a place among the  'research-intensive' Universities in Europe and worldwide. A common feature of  these Universities is the strength of their graduate programmes and the role of young graduate members in University life.  The purpose of the first Graduate Symposium atthe University of Pavia is threefold: - to raise awareness of the research carried out by Ph students and postdoctoral fellows at Pavia, - to promote the exchange of ideas and contacts between students of different background (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics) and, finally - foster the birth of a Graduate Union. The Symposium is open to PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, their supervisors and all members of the academic community in Pavia. The rationale for this College initiative is explained further below.

In recent years the University of Pavia has considerably expanded the number of undergraduate Courses and has increased the number of undergraduates but has only achieved a moderate expansion in graduate studies. The University has a Collegiate system two currently supports nearly two thousand undergraduates and a limited number of postgraduates. The national and international standing of the University of Pavia however - and any University for that matter -, depends increasingly o research output, which in turn depends on highcalibre PhD students and postdoctoral fellows. It is essential, therefore, that the Collegiate system of the University of Pavia adapts to this need and puts increasing emphasis on graduate studies and students as these will play a pivotal role in the development and future strategyof the University. 

The last thirty years have witnessed unprecedented changes in University Education. These changes have taken place worldwide but have been particularly noticeable in European countries. European Universities have undergone constant expansion after World War II and, at first sight, the expansion may appear as a continuous process starting in the late fifties/early sixties but this is not true. There are important differences between the University expansion that took place in the sixties and the subsequent ones.

In the sixties the expansion was funded in full through additional government resources whereas after the mid seventies the expansion has not been matched by a corresponding increase in funding. Thus, although absolute University budgets increased throughout, the funding per student as eroded dramatically over the last 20-25 years. As a result, Universities have had to assess critically their teaching and research in order to cope with the changes, including internal competition, ie competition among educational establishments. While these important changes in the number of students were occurring, another major change has taken place, namely a switch towards postgraduate education.

This emerged largely from the realisation that the standard qualifications of young graduates were inadequate in order to meet the requirements of public or private employers, especially in Research & Development. This gap was initially most obvious in Science subjects but it gradually extended to other disciplines. In anglo-saxon Universities the gap was addressed through an expansion of postgraduate courses whereas in continental Europe the initial step was one of prolonging the duration and size of undergraduate courses. However, this latter approach has now been reversed and the current formula, even in Italy, is one of short (or shorter) undergraduate Courses followed by one or more post-graduate Courses, depending on subject and students.

Thus, the shift toward graduate education is now a general one across Europe and needs to be understood and supported in Italy as well. Collegio Volta intends to drive this process by promoting a number of initiatives that highlight the role of postgraduate education and research in University life and development and the 2008/09 Graduate Symposium is the first step in this direction.

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