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State universities are public entities endowed with scientific, teaching, managerial, financial and book-keeping autonomy; they have full legal capacity in matters of both public and private law. Their major tasks are scientific research and higher education. Due to the principle of university autonomy, each university may draw up its own statutes and regulations, issued by rectoral decrees. At this implementation stage of the 1999 reform, all universities have adopted their autonomous statutes which define the organs for institutional governance, and teaching and research structures.
The main governing authorities within a university are the Rector, the Academic Senate, the Board of Directors.
- The Rector chiars the Academic Senate and the Board of Directors, supervises the general running of all university structures and services, is responsible for disciplinary matters, draws up agreements for external cooperation, plans all the teaching and research activities of the institution. The Rector is elected among full professors and is the legal representative of the university.
- The Academic Senate establishes the general guidelines for the activities of the university and plans its development. It approves the university regulations, coordinates teaching activities and has the authority to plan, coordinate and control university autonomy. The Senate is made up of the Rector, the Faculty Deans, and other representatives of the academic community, all elected in conformity to the rules of the university statute.
- The Board of Directors supervises the whole administrative, financial, patrimonial and personnel management of the university; in particular, it approves the budget. It is made up of the Rector, th Head of Administration, and other representatives of both the academic and external business community according to the rules laid down in the statute.
Universities reach their institutional goals in teaching and research through specific structures: faculties, degree programmes, departments, institutes, and service centres.
- Through the faculties universities organise their action in the various subject areas. Faculties coordinate subject courses and arrange them within the different degree programmes; they appoint academic staff and decide -always respectful of the principle of teaching freedom- how to distribute roles and workload among university teachers and researchers. The Faculty is run by the Faculty Council and the Dean.
- Departments organise those research sectors that are homogeneous by objectives or methods, and group all related subjects courses. They promote and manage research, organise doctoral programmes, carry out research and consultancy work -according to specific agreements and contracts- on request of external organisations. The Department is run by the Department Council and the Director.
- Institutes deal each with a homogeneous scientific sector; their role is to carry out teaching and develop research. The Institute is run by the Institute Council and the Director.
- Service centres may be set up by individual Faculties or by the university itself to provide services of general interest.
For the achievement of common research or teaching purposes, a university may establish interuniversity centres or consortia with other universities or with public and private organisations. Interdepartmental research centres and interdepartmental service centres may also be set up; the first to carry out research work of special relevance, the second to fully exploit particularly complex services and equipment.
Taken for granted the unity of the teaching function, university teachers are organised in two different categories sharing the same guarantees of teaching and research freedom:
a) full professors (first category)
b) associate professors (second category).
The following profiles are also a part of the teaching staff:
d) assistants (a category in extinction) and a few similar categories.
Besides, a university may call to cooperate to its teaching activities the so-called:
e) contract teachers.
At the university structures the holders of research stipends and post-doctoral fellowships carry out research, while postgraduates enrolled in doctoral programmes or in specialisation schools attend seminars and/or subject courses and carry out research as well.
Non-State universities may be recognised by a decree of the Minister of Education. Legal recognition takes place after an evaluation process concerning the university statute, its organisation model, budget, etc. The degrees awarded by non-State universities legally recognised by the State have the same legal value as those of State universities.
Non-State universities have to comply with the same general principles and criteria as defined by the national university legislation for State institutions. The differences between State and non-State universities concern funding and governance.
In the Italian system those universities are named "Politecnici" (techincal universities) that concentrate exclusively in the subject fields of the two Faculties of Engineering and Architecture.
They adopt the same institutional model as that of State universities.
Universities for foreigners are State institutions specialised in teaching and research for the development and diffusion of the Italian language, literature and culture.
Higher schools regulated by special legislation are institutions specialised in postgraduate university studies and scientific research. They offer 3rd cycle programmes (research doctorates).
Telematic universities are non-State universities specialised in e-learning. They, when legally recognised, provide distance programmes accredited by the State.