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Matteo Sgarzi - International Relations and Projects, Inter-University Consortium AlmaLaurea

Developed in a narrow basement of the University of Bologna, the AlmaLaurea Project has become a highly qualified component of the entire Italian university system in the course of its first 14 years of activity. It aims to monitor the quality of the educational processes of graduates as well as their occupational status and to facilitate the matching of demand and supply of qualified labour. The institutionalisation as an Inter-University Consortium and the growing voluntary membership of an ever more substantial number of universities (51 universities, with 1,000,000 curricula vitae stored in a databank, in May 2008) has made AlmaLaurea a virtually indispensable point of reference for university governing bodies, analysts, students, teachers, and for businesses seeking qualified personnel. AlmaLaurea's uniqueness lies in having created an integrated system capable of guaranteeing documentation which is complete (universities are accepted into the Consortium on condition that they make available information on their entire graduate body); periodic (the surveys are taken at regular intervals); well-timed (year after year, a "snapshot" of the universities' internal and external performances may be obtained); and updatable (the databank is kept "alive" to the extent that the curricula vitae are updated by the graduates themselves and therefore keep up with the graduates' professional pursuits). 

How does AlmaLaurea traditionally get its data about graduates?

The AlmaLaurea database
All of the above factors are made possible by the extended use of information technologies, both for managing the graduate databank and for disseminating its services via the internet. The database collects detailed information on all graduates directly from the universities. Graduates register to the AlmaLaurea website; they fill in an electronic questionnaire that, merged with the certified data transmitted by the university builds a CV made available to employers. In the mean time, even more information is made available for statistical purposes allowing for a deep and detailed analysis of graduate profiles. The database is further enriched with information about training and work experience after graduation collected by CAWI/CATI (Computer Assisted Web/Telephone Interview) technologies. The surveys are collected one, three and five years after graduation with response rates ranging from 76 to 88 percent.

The Graduate Profile
The Graduate Profile is an annual survey that seeks to trace the main characteristics of graduates who are awarded their degree in the course of a calendar year. The most recent investigation examined a total of 190,000 graduates who completed their degrees in 2007 from 46 universities and that have been members of the AlmaLaurea Consortium for less than one year. Almost 100,000 of them were awarded a first level post-reform degree (3 years Bachelor's degree) while 38,000 received a second level degree programme (2 years Master's). The survey will be soon presented in Modena on 29 May 2008.

The collected and processed data are a useful source of information for assessment and government bodies that deal with training processes1 in their efforts to improve quality standards.

The provision of relevant information on graduates becomes more and more important in light of the current Italian education environment. The university reform DM 509/99 implemented by most Italian universities in academic year 2001/02, began a transition process from a one-level education system (with just one qualification at the end of courses lasting four, five or six years) to a multiple-tier structure which comprises first level degrees (three-year courses) and second-level degrees (more specialized and obtained after an additional two-year course) with a view to extending the provision of university master and PhD courses.

The data collected from administrative sources deals with the students' personal information (gender, age at graduation, address...), their academic performance at university (exam results, obtaining a degree, programme duration...) and information on their high school education (type of high school, final high school grades...).

All the other components derive from the questionnaires answered by students who are just about to graduate and address their social background, educational experiences —including study abroad—, work experience, evaluation of the institution and of their degree course, language skills, information technology skills, plans to continue studying and employment prospects.

All the statistics shown are then processed in the checked and corrected database and are mainly presented in tables for the annual report. Part of the publication is in printed form, while the entire document is available online on the AlmaLaurea Consortium's website.

The occupational status of graduates
The AlmaLaurea survey on the occupational status of graduates, which started in experimental form at the University of Bologna in 1995 and was expanded in 1997 to cover a growing number of Italian universities, was designed to investigate the training and employment experience of graduates after gaining their university qualifications.

The exercise is grounded in the belief that analysing the effectiveness of the university system necessarily means evaluating the "success" of a degree in terms of the participation of graduates in the labour market.

For the purpose of achieving greater accuracy when investigating the multiple aspects linked to the process of entering the labour market, the graduates are contacted on repeated occasions, i.e. after one year, then after three years and again after five years from the date of graduation. Accordingly, it is possible to reconstruct both reliably and promptly the employment history of the graduates during the first five-year period following graduation. To make the most of this opportunity, several longitudinal studies have been conducted (to assess, for example, the graduates' occupational status and job security and the effectiveness their degree qualification), by isolating the graduates who were interviewed in each of the three periods under examination.

In the most recent survey, carried out between September and November 2007, all 45,000 graduates from the summer session of 2006 (from 45 Italian universities), the 28,000 graduates from the 2004 summer session (from 34 universities) and the 21,000 graduates from the 2002 summer session (from 25 universities) were contacted.

The information about the training and employment activities undertaken after graduation were collected from questionnaires supplied through the CATI method. This is a well-known procedure that allows the computer to deal directly with the questionnaires and related filters, where the questions are asked by the interviewers as they appear on the screen and the answers are recorded directly on the computer. Furthermore, the answers and their consistency are checked by the computer at the time of recording, which saves time in the subsequent quality control stages. The opportunity of using CATI technology has also enabled the formulation of a highly-structured questionnaire with a wealth of filter-questions and conditioned questions.

The extremely high response rate to the survey demonstrates both the deep interest it aroused among graduates and the care with which it was conducted. The response rate was 88 percent of graduates one year after graduation, 84 percent after three years and 76 percent after five years. The detailed information can be found online on the AlmaLaurea Consortium's website.

The recruitment services
AlmaLaurea provides both Italian and foreign companies which specific services which make it easy to select and recruit graduates. Using the tools made available on the website (database, job postings, job alerts...) recruiters can search for candidates in accordance with the profile required, thus obtaining a restricted number of graduates. This pre-screening can be performed online by the recruiters themselves or supported by AlmaLaurea consultants specialized in recruiting, assessment and direct selection.

The recruitment system relies on the database which contains one million curricula. All users (graduates, companies and universities) have access to the various functions by means of the online system controlled by the inter-university computing centre CINECA. The database is searched by means of an advanced procedure which makes it possible to combine over 110 different selection variables. Compared to other e-recruitment solutions, the AlmaLaurea database has the advantage of organizing the CVs in highly structured records. This feature is possible because the database is not meant to contain generic CVs but is specialized and centred on university qualifications. Information on the degree is standardized, structured and, above all, certified by the university where the qualification has been obtained.

In addition to this, the companies which use the AlmaLaurea services have their own personal area on the website (called AlmaScelta) which allows them to: manage/edit their user profile; save/edit the candidates' profile requirements; save the CVs downloaded from the AlmaLaurea database with access to an updated version of the CV; save, edit and re-publish their job postings online; save, analyse and assess the CVs received following the publication of an online job posting.

Keynotes on the former EAL-NET project
In order to provide young people with additional work opportunities and favour better allocation of human resources, the AlmaLaurea Interuniversity Consortium has promoted the EuroAlmaLaurea-Net Project to extend the well-established and widely recognized Italian system. The Project’s first pilot phase —funded by the European Commission— started in July 2005 and concluded its activities in March 2007. The new European database has been developed allowing access to European and international companies and organizations in 6 different languages, namely the languages of the 5 participating countries plus English.

Information on the graduates' educational careers and on their first work experience is provided directly by the graduates who can complete an online questionnaire which generates the curricula vitae which —as far as university training is concerned— are certified by the awarding university. The Project —coordinated by the AlmaLaurea Consortium— involved the universities of Warsaw (Poland), Maastricht (The Netherlands), Marne-la-Vallée/Paris Est (France) and Budapest-ELTE (Hungary).

The main goal of the Project was to develop a "functioning" prototype of a European graduates' database including the CVs of graduates from the French, Dutch, Polish, Hungarian and Italian Universities which are part of the AlmaLaurea Consortium. The planned activities also included an assessment of the economic feasibility of the system as well as its dissemination and extension to other Universities which may be interested in participating. Furthermore, EAL-NET was planned to be flexible and easily adaptable to different university settings so as to allow for the entrance of new Universities in the countries which are already represented in the Project but also of Universities from other countries, including non-European ones. This flexible approach and system architecture represent today the core of the new AlmaLaurea.net system developed starting by the main achievement of the EAL-NET prototype and available online by next June 2008.

1 Such as scientific research bodies, the Department of Education, and in universities: boards of directors, faculty boards, education committees and the Academic Senate.


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