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Italy plans to extend PON scholarships nationwide

The Italian government is planning to extend its European high school study abroad scholarship programme, PON, to all of Italy’s 20 regions, as new research shows that the number of outbound Italian high school students embarking on long-term study abroad has risen by 55% in three years.

Puglia, Italy - one of the current designated PON regions. Photo: Patrick Nouhailler.

Some 7,300 Italian high school students undertook long-term study abroad programmes in 2014

Discussion and industry consultation is currently underway as to the scale and continued implementation of the programme. Industry stakeholders have cautiously welcomed the news, observing that this year, logistics proved difficult because of the late timing of the limited PON funding.

The scheme – providing scholarships of between €2,500 and €3,375 to high school students – was offered in four regions in southern Italy, despite previous speculation that it would be scrapped.

“We heard that there are ideas to extend the scheme, but we are also careful about it as we know there are many ways the money could be spent,” Lorenzo Agati, President of Italian agency association IALCA, told The PIE News. “We just hope things will be less complicated than this year because, as you know, the process is not so smooth for schools and agencies.”

“We’re having more and more students developing their own personal mobility plan”

Speaking with The PIE News, Gisella Langé, Foreign Languages Inspector at the Ministry of Education, said: “We are just right now defining the new way of organising PON.”

Langé explained that the Ministry is also considering how to promote a greater focus on overseas work experience in addition to its language-based study abroad initiatives.

Italy has seen a rise in outbound student mobility in recent years; a survey published this month showed that the number of Italian students studying abroad during high school has risen 55% since 2011 – a rise Langé attributes in no small way to PON.

“We have been lucky for some Italian regions to have some special funding for students, so the PON scheme has emphasised the number of pupils going abroad,” she commented, adding that the planned rollout will “definitely” boost outgoing numbers further.

Some 7,300 Italian high school students undertook long-term study abroad programmes in 2014, the survey, entitled Generation Unemployed? No thanks and carried out by the International Research Foundation and Telecom Italia, shows.

And around a quarter of the 500 staff interviewed said that limited access to funding is the primary barrier to study abroad.

Langé however said she believed that the most significant barrier to student mobility is the Italian public’s attitude to study abroad.

“We just hope things will be less complicated than this year because the process is not so smooth for schools and agencies”

She added: “Things have changed now; we’re having more and more students developing their own personal mobility plan, and also parents are more and more aware of having [students] attend courses or a school year in another country.”

Agati at IALCA noted, “A good idea would be to give scholarships to students so they can make their choice regarding the kind of course and the agencies they like, as it happens in other European countries.”

Read the full interview with Gisella Langé here.

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