English-only Italian Universities? No, grazie.

English Only

From some days there is a political debate about language policy in Italian Universities, following the decision by a court to (re-)assert Italian as the national language of Italy and henceforth not to permit English-only courses, which would be a discrimination of Italian University students — mainly graduate and PhD — as Politecnico di Milano pretended — some other local Universities, such as Udine’s, are trying to do the adopt the same English-only policy. Nota bene: qui c’è il testo della sentenza del TAR sul sito ufficiale per chi volesse farsi un’idea. [Rough translation: link to the original Italian text with the motivations, for people interested.]

First, this is good news per se, that such a topic is finally debated in my country, as in the last 20 years Italy was mentioned in the international public opinion almost only for the marvellous adventures of Mr Bunga Bunga. At least, this is a topic worth a public debate!

To have a comparison, in the same days the French left-winged newspaper Libération opened its first page in English on order to welcome the new law that let some courses to be taught in English in French Universities, because foreign students in French are only 12 per cent.

Please note the difference: in France they are debate to have some University classes in English, while in Italy we debate to have English-only Universities.

In Italian University courses, Italian-English bilingualism is the de facto standard in many hard science curricula. This is easy to explain, as professors and researchers live in a situation of academic diglossia: we teach in Italian but publish in English. That’s why many presentations, slides, textbooks and so forth are available only in English, for a lot of disciplines. Nevertheless, there are a lot of disciplines which are deeply linked to the language used to give lectures. For example, do you think that learning the history of Europe in English or Italian would be the same? Of course not! And please, stop repeating the mantra: “this is valid only for the humanities”, because mathematics, logics, chemistry, natural sciences have a amount of literature also in French and German — at least.

Bur there is another argument against an English-only policy in Universities. it is completely unfair for Italians to force classes with only Italians in to be taught in English, as suggested by the Politecnico’s proposal. And rather stupid: in the global market of English-speaking Universities, an Italian English-only one would be marginal: if I were a foreign student who wants to go to an English-speaking University, I would definitely not choose Italy as my first choice, but the UK and Ireland (first choice), or a University in the North countries (second choice). Again, not surprisingly: in the North countries they speak English better than in the South countries — after all, English is a German language, such as German, Dutch, Swedish, and so on, so that they put less effort to learn English than people speaking a Romance language such as French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian.

That said, I’m not living in the Moon. I am perfectly aware that in the present-day European Union, only a good command of English let people, researchers, professors and students move abroad more or less easily. But this does not imply that we should use only English in Universities! Multilingualism is the European strength: for example, foreign students at the University of L’Aquila follow international degree courses in English and take classes of the Italian language at the same time. Joint degrees between Universities from different countries is a good way to have multilingual curricula — I’m not saying necessarily in English, take care! Some friends told me that Italy and France have international degrees where the thesis is written in French, with summaries in Italian, and discussed twice so to be valid in Italy and in France either. I think is a good strategy.

We should consider a bilingual curricula as a plus, comparing to English-only countries, which are often prisoned behind their monolingualism. A great book by Robert Phillipson told us about the risks of an English-only EU (suggested reading).

And, in case of any doubt, I think we have other options than English for the role of vehicular language in the European Union, as I already publicly said in 2005 in a journal paper. Please download and enjoy.

Concept Reengineering Needed For Our Hyperconnected Era

IMG_3032 Recently the European Commission has launched the Online Initiative, officially presented the 8th of February in Brussels. I was there, and I want to share same ideas that swarmed around during the lively discussions we had.

It was Robert Madelin, the Director-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, who opened the session and revealed a marvellous chair during the whole day: he briefly added a note to the panelists, so to encourage us, the participants, to give our thoughts. The presentation of the Onlife Manifesto was done by Luciano Floridi, who took a little walk on the (wild?) side of the Manifesto, which is a result of a collective work of 13 scholars devoted to Computing & Philosohpy (download it here to have a glance).

IMG_3029The essential metaphor was the estuary, where a river meets the sea: there, we cannot be sure if water is salty or still trinkable: the real world is the sea, while the virtual world is the river. We live more and more in an interactive environment, where the traditional distinctions (e.g., real/virtual, human/machine/nature) do not stand anymore. Take for example 3D printing, or the global videogame market, which is a reification of the virtual. The new imperative is the centrality of interaction: for the Millennials, to be is to be interactable, and if you don’t interact with me, you don’t exist. In sum, the Manifesto is a constructive contribution to rethink us in a hyperconnected world, towards a new InfoEthics. For more information, see Floridi’s slides.

Then, Jean-Gabriel Ganascia gave us highlights on what does hyperconnectivity mean. The hyper- prefix is taken from physics (think about ‘hyperconductivity’), and it is very productive, because it is concerned with hyper-diffusibility (e.g., e-books), hyper-memorisability (e.g., clouding), or even hyper-history, recently introduced by Floridi himselfe, causing a political apoptosis. We are in a phase of transition, and henceforth forced to rethink concepts like policy, politics, democracy and so on.

This passage lead us the the problem of distributed responsibility: we have Multi-Agent Systems, drones, software, robots, and so no, which work in the same environment with humans (remember the estuary!) and pose new challenges. These were the topics addressed by Judith Simon, who argues that the state’s monopoly of power and legitimate violence are now inadequate, and we need knowledge practices for an epistemic dimension of reasoning that takes the ethic values from the start, not appended at the end. So we re-design governance through ICT tools. After her talk, Robert Madelin raised a key question: how can we avoid paternalism?

IMG_3035 Then, it was the turn of the anthropologist: Stefana Broadbent introduced the notion of gray ecology, which is a measure of the pollution brought by digital technologies. In other words, hwo can we reach “clean technologies”, for our mind? Put in other words: how a hyperconnected, relational self, can protect oneself? She gave us as an example the Millennials’ practice of Facebook time: me and my peers know that I will be online in Facebook only one hour, more precisely 12:00-13:00 (lunch time, more or less). Why? Because attention is a scarse resource, and we need to put in charge attention economy strategies.

Peter-Paul Verbeek addressed the blurring of the traditional dichotomy public/private: on one side, we have to reconfigure privacy; on the other side, we have to reconfigure citizenship. The question is: what kind of democracy we will have in an onlife world?

I hope that you enjoyed this post. Now, you can participate directly. First, take a look to the user manual of the Onlife Initiative; then, co-create the vision of Europe 2050, signing up in Futurium.

And don’t forget to follow the official Twitter hashtag #onlifeeu for last news.