How to Combine Professionalism with Modernisation in Today’s Higher Education in Italy: A Case Study at Bologna University

Susi Poli, Thomas Georgas


This article contextualises the Higher Education in Italy from the outset by describing deeply rooted but accepted practices, such as the long-term dominance of academic groups in decision making - baroni and their ‘court’ - and also the widespread custom of ‘Raccomandazioni’ as the means to lead mechanisms of recruitment among “peers”, being these academics or professional staff. However, assuming that forms of professionalism exist in this sector, our aim is to look for evidence of this professionalism; this will be done by looking at the most recent reform and at how this has been implemented within one of the professional communities. Later on, after taking into account the case-study of this group of professionals within the wider community, we explain why this can be regarded as a good practice of professionalism in HE management in the sector: in this case, modernisation and changes, backed by collective attitudes aiming at valorising domains of expertise, have been implemented across parts of the community and have also affected the whole institution. Overall, these collective understandings have facilitated the process of modernisation and its assimilation, since they have arisen from professionalism opportunely contextualised. Findings show how forms of professionalism are more likely to be found in small communities; and also how these, acting as communities of practice, can valorise one’s knowledge and be driving forces at the time of any restructuring. Whilst, implications from this study aim to back further research into higher education management in Italy as well as into professional staff.

Keywords: Higher Education, Italy, professionalism

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