It is one of the oldest universities in the world, with a list of old boys that includes Erasmus and Umberto Eco, Antonio Gramsci and Primo Levi, along with several Italian premiers and a host of Nobel Prize winners. But the Università di Torino – known as UNITO – is always looking ahead.
“We have more than six centuries of history,” says Professor Gianmaria Ajani, the university’s Rector, “but we understand that universities need to change. It is not enough to pat students on the back after three years and wish them the best. We are on a mission to provide work placements, create new jobs and pioneer new industries.”
Industry and culture
Until recently, industry in Turin was dominated by the car giant Fiat. “There’s still some Fiat production here but it is largely irrelevant these days,” says Professor Ajani. “In many ways, Turin has become a post-industrial city. Much like Manchester, it’s moved from industrial to post-industrial to cultural city.”
The university maintains a strong, successful dialogue with many of the new firms that are now emerging in Turin. “Our chemistry department is in collaboration with local biotech start-ups,” says Professor Ajani, “while our department of agrarian research is working with wine producers on soil chemistry, sulphites and other areas of viniculture.” UNITO has also successfully obtained funds from the EU’s Horizon 2020 scheme. One key innovation as part of this has been a series of incubator projects for business start-ups.
Many of UNITO’s 67,000 students benefit from its numerous international partnerships. It shares five double-degrees and several research facilities with universities in Lyon, and its department of physics manages many relevant projects at CERN, just across the Alps in Geneva. PhD students tend to spend one year out of three abroad, while MBA students divide their three years between Paris, London and Turin. And UNITO’s law school offers programmes in association with universities around Europe, North America and Israel.
“My aim is to extend these partnerships to Latin America, Russia and China,” says Professor Ajani. “We’ve already launched a project to help Chinese students become fluent in Italian before they enrol at university, and made our website available in Chinese.” UNITO has long had links with Russia. “Our physics and mathematics departments have had exchange programmes with Soviet universities going back to the 1950s, and we want to build on that,” adds Professor Ajani. “There is also an increasing flow of very good students from Eastern Europe, including Poland, Romania and Albania.”
Strength in depth
As well as having world-renowned departments in medicine, physics, maths and biology, UNITO consistently rates as one of Italy’s top universities in law, literature, history and philosophy. “It’s not just in the fields of engineering and medicine where there is room for business growth,” says Professor Ajani. “Humanities graduates can use the ideas that they learn to contribute to the cultural industry. We need people who can maintain cultural heritage, who can become cultural mediators in a multicultural environment. It’s one strategy to help overcome the current unemployment in the younger generation.”
It is this awareness of the world beyond university that helps to affirm UNITO’s age-old stature, no less its provision of the necessary skills and opportunities to succeed in the working world – an offering that proves much more useful than a mere pat on the back at graduation.