When a single cog goes rusty, they say, the whole machine breaks down. Sure, but not every time. Sometimes the mechanism just creaks along, and the person manning the machine becomes the scapegoat: in this case a student, standing puzzled in front of a closed office door.
Università Bocconi, known across Europe for high-quality education and for its famed business school SDA Bocconi - ranked 21st among European business schools by Financial Times in 2008 - is an example of such a rusty engine.
Today the Milan-based university has more than 12,000 students, including over a thousand international students. No doubt it takes serious organization to deal with these numbers: applications, fees, scholarships, classes, exams, exchanges and internship programs for each and every student adds up to a lot of data entry.
Bocconi does have an online system to manage student life. It’s called “Punto Blu” and students use it to do things like register for the courses, reserve graduation seats and print out certificates.
But the system can’t cope with everything so there’s still a labyrinth of offices and people to go through in order to get your life straight.
And this is exactly where a lot of hapless business students get caught out, not realizing how much pain awaits them. The waiting. The office hours. The bureaucracy.
For a student enrolling for a finance or management or business-related degree in a posh European university, it’s crucial to understand how much activity is going on behind the scenes, outside the academic stuff.
For instance, to apply for a scholarship for an exchange program at Bocconi, you have to first obtain all your family’s financial documents, then legalize them in your home country, then have them translated, and then legalize the translation at the Italian Embassy.
When the so-called “portfolio” is submitted (and assuming you’re accepted), you go through the exchange and finally receive the scholarship funds three or four months after the exchange is done. It might sound ok in theory, but it’s still tough in practice.
For non-EU students the situation is even worse. The trials of getting an Italian permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay) would fill a book.
To look at the glass half full, I guess I did learn a few things from Italian academic bureaucracy. To start with, going through all the offices, standing in lines, signing numerous forms and hearing many different answers to the same question does prepare you for real life. There’ll be formalities, closed doors, and so patience to exercise.
Plus, as one recent Bocconi graduate said: “It’s ironic that in the questionnaire we fill out on graduation there’s a box asking us to: ‘Please mark if Bocconi has developed your resistance to stress.’ Are they kidding? Bocconi’s done a great job!”
Tuition fees at Bocconi are currently about ten thousand euros per year. Neither the most expensive in Europe, nor the cheapest. Pondering where the money actually goes, it’s safe to assume that along with the office clerks and secretaries, a decent cut goes to the cleaning staff.
Whereas the clerks and secretaries tend to send students away with an all-too-easy snap of their fingers - all bossy and self-important – the cleaners appear to be doing a wonderful job.
For me the question is not when the first two finally raise their game to cleaner level, but when the cleaning lady starts demanding a stamped form to drop a cigarette butt in the trashcan.