Universities' teaching program, aided by the pandemic, has undergone a profound change in the last two years. Similarly to what has happened in the manufacturing world, which has had to redesign organisational structures and usual processes to cope with the various lockdowns and the remotionalisation of a large part of the workforce, university teaching program has been urged to embrace a hybrid model that would allow for continuity in the performance of academic activities. Not only, therefore, has the student population been enabled to access services remotely, but teaching and administrative staff have also been involved in this transformation. A transformation that was also supported by the legislator, as can be seen, for example, from Ministerial Decree no. 435 of 6 August 2020, which states that the Ministry of Universities and Research "has provided the institutions of higher education and research with the indications for a shared and coordinated planning aimed at coping with the successive phases of the epidemiological emergency".
5 current teaching program actions
According to the Decree, university teaching program must be divided into the following five actions:
blended teaching offer plan, able to be delivered both in presence and remotely, in a synchronous and/or asynchronous mode, guaranteeing the same possibilities in terms of accessibility and quality of education to in-presence and distance students.
space access (classrooms, laboratories, libraries, etc.) and personal protective equipment use plan capable of guaranteeing the necessary levels of security.
institutions' digital infrastructure enhancement plan, in terms of classroom equipment, network connectivity, internal organisation and the provision of devices for students, teaching, research and administrative technical staff.
dematerialisation of administrative procedures plan, through the enhancement of the digital systems in use.
training plan for administrative technical staff in support of the above points.
The importance of communication and digital services
It is probably thanks to these indications, accompanied by the exceptional measures to support the right to study introduced with the Relaunch Decree of 2020, that the feared collapse in enrolments in our country's universities did not happen. On the contrary, the 2020-2021 academic year has seen an increase in enrolment of +4.4%, as reported in the latest university ranking produced by Censis. The ranking consists of a composite analysis of the university system based on the evaluation of state and non-state universities, which examines various aspects such as available facilities, services provided, scholarships, level of internationalisation, communication and digital services, and employability. Looking at the top of most universities in their respective categories (mega, large, medium, small state and non-state universities and polytechnics), there is one indicator in particular that affects their ranking: communication and digital services. This is a distinctive element in today's teaching program.
Blended teaching program, an opportunity for all
In the methodological note accompanying its ranking, Censis explains that the score for communication and digital services results "from the analysis of university websites' features and functionalities, their official social profiles and the efficiency of the response returned by these channels". This is, of course, a kind of litmus test of an educational programme delivered in a hybrid mode, as it gives an insight into whether the interaction between student and university is running smoothly and effectively. Underpinning this must be the enhancement of digital infrastructures that support both face-to-face and distance teaching, as well as the dematerialisation of administrative procedures for all related activities. Only in this way can blended teaching program become an opportunity for all the actors involved, including university institutions. So much so that another of the most important items for Censis is internationalisation. Universities with a higher ranking are often those that attract more students from abroad.