The March 2014 edition of Monocle magazine is a single-country special devoted to Italy, a member of the G7 which despite suffering considerably from the eurozone crisis is probably – at least, after Germany – the most substantial Western European country most likely to emerge from the maelstrom with something resembling an economy. As Monocle underlines, Italy is still a world leader in sectors from fashion to industrial goods.
But much more can and should be done to ensure that a generation of young Italians are not turned into economic refugees: according to Giorgia Orlandi, a news producer for the Italian state broadcaster RAI, nearly 400,000 graduates have left Italy in the last decade; only 50,000 similarly qualified foreign nationals have arrived in their stead. There is now a serious national debate within the boot-shaped peninsula about the best way forward: one NGO, Io voglio restare, is campaigning on the slogan ‘Changing the country is better than changing countries.’
What follows are three ways in which education can help create a better Italy – all of them cost-efficient and mostly making use of existing resources:
- Export Higher Education (1). Italian universities may not be massively famous in the Anglosphere, but by European and global standards many of them are high-quality institutions which rank well in the relevant indices. The SDA Bocconi School of Management – one of Europe’s best business schools – has recently opened MISB Bocconi, a branch campus in Mumbai, but Italian higher education titans have been slow to grasp the opportunities available to them from internationalising their brands.
- Export Higher Education (2). With much of the Italian immigration debate centring on (the refutation of) wild stereotypes and fantastical figures, the sobering reality is that Italy is not regarded by most highly-qualified people worldwide as a country they see a professional future in; indeed, Italy is confronting a demographic crunch. One way to change this is to put resources into recruiting the best and brightest from around the world to study in Italy, and give them an automatic post-degree two-year right of residency. Forming a specific agency to do this would be an excellent initiative.
- Export Higher Education (3). Italy is a society of tremendous regional variation, but the biggest geographical cleavage by far in Italian society is between the affluent, industrialised north and a south dominated by agriculture and tourism. However, in a world of deep globalisation it is clear that the south can use its traditional strengths to great advantage, codifying its knowledge in these areas for tuition worldwide. An Neapolitan equivalent for pizza of the Gelato University – an ice-cream-making institution located in Bologna which is opening a branch campus in Dubai – cannot be built soon enough.
As a company headquartered in London, we at Mediolana have got used to being unusual in caring about what we eat: the dining culture of the UK’s capital is dominated by pre-packaged or cheap takeaway convenience foods, with high streets the length and breadth of the capital (though ironically not our very own Kensington High Street) dominated by fried chicken, sandwich, sushi and burger outlets – shrines to our desire for speed.
Of course, some are better than others – there is a big difference between gnawing down the pork hormone-infested chicken (‘chork’) proffered in the cheaper dives specialising in industrial meat products and tucking into a premium, pan-fried masterpiece of the kind available at Gourmet Burger Kitchen – but nevertheless, London is a city where food is outsourced and where many people’s idea of cooking stretches no further than the nearest microwave.
So it was with some shock that our Creative Director & CSO digested some recent figures on microwave ownership (.xls file) from Euromonitor: while a predictable 92.5% of households in the United Kingdom possess one of these devices, and this figure rises to 94.2% in Japan and a stunning 95.8% in the United States, not everyone has concluded that the microwave oven represents the pinnacle in culinary excellence. Only 67.5% of households in Singapore vaunt a microwave; under half of all Chilean residences have one; while nearly two-thirds of Brazilian households do not have a microwave. Most strikingly, nearly 94% of Turkish households are microwave-less.
Microwave ovens are ridiculously cheap devices, with a branded one available for around €50.00; therefore, they are not beyond the reach of any middle-income household virtually anywhere in the world. But these figures serve as a reminder that culture determines the uses of technology far more than we tend to realise.
Italy, a country which is not included in this set of statistics but which also has legendarily low microwave oven penetration levels (nearly 80% of Italian households do not possess this device), is presently experiencing a boom in home cooking – bestselling titles in Italian newsagents now include Cucina Economica (‘Economic Cooking’) and Cucina della Nonna (‘Grandmother’s Cooking’) – which would be unthinkable in London. But given that the Italian food resurgence is driven by economics, will even convenience-defined cultures be forced to change the habits of a lifetime?