16/05/2012 09:36 BST | Updated 16/05/2012 10:20 BST

Italian University Politecnico di Milano Switching Degrees To English

A leading Italian university is switching to the English language, saying it was left with "no other choice" in order to be able to compete internationally.

Politecnico di Milano will be teaching and assessing its courses almost entirely in English as of 2014. But the announcement has already divided opinion, the BBC reported.

The university's rector Giovanni Azzone says the decision will "open a window of change" for what is one of the oldest universities in Milan. Established in 1863, the institution is famed for its architecture, design and engineering courses. Nearly a third (29%) of architects in Italy graduated from the Politecnico di Milano, while 78% of Italian designers are alumni of the university.

Azzone insists switching to English was the university's only hope of competing on a wider scale.

"Universities are in a more competitive world, if you want to stay with the other global universities - you have no other choice.

"We strongly believe our classes should be international classes - and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language."

He added the decision was made in part to cater to the need for students to gain access to the international job market and said he felt students would "immensely benefit" from the move, although he was still "proud" of the university's Italian roots.

The institution will be investing €3.2m into recruiting foreign academics, according to Italian broadcaster Rai.

Azzone added the choice was a reluctant one: "I would have preferred if Italian was the common language, it would have been easier for me - but we have to accept real-life."

But Professor Emilio Matricciani has launched "An Appeal in Defence of Freedom in Tuition" in protest at the university officials' decision, according to the University World News, dubbing the move akin to a "dictatorship".

According to petition's instigator: "The point is that English is being imposed on students as a kind of linguistic dictatorship… and what we might call ‘low-definition’ English (the English of conferences and so on) is also being confused with the ‘high-definition’ language of teaching."

He added:

"Speaking Italian to our countrymen is like watching a movie in colour, high definition, very clear pictures. On the contrary, speaking English to them, even with our best effort, is, on the average, like watching a movie in black and white, with very poor definition, with blurred pictures."

In 2011's QS University Rankings, the institution was ranked the best civil and structural engineering university in Italy and was rated the 18th best in Europe.

Famous alumni include Giovanni Battista Pirelli, Nobel Prize winner Giulio Natta and famous architect Renzo Piano.