The centrality of the education sector within the economies of countries around the world is an indisputable fact, and is, indeed, used by political economy scholars on every occasion when it is necessary to determine the competitiveness of a country’s system. An excellent university system is decisive for the training of high-level professionals, who, in turn, determine the competitiveness of a nation’s economy. In this respect, Italy still lags behind the average of OECD countries in a number of indicators of the level of education and still has a long way to go. The endowment of adequate facilities where education activities can be established and conducted, from kindergartens to large universities, is also a relevant aspect. In particular, there are few Italian universities that can boast the endowment of advanced, central, and large-capacity facilities, while, on the other hand, obsolete and inadequate facilities, both in terms of quality and capacity, are more widespread.
The foreign experience of investment in university facilities is quite varied. In the United States, large universities enjoy donations from wealthy individuals and large listed companies, who derive great tax benefits from the donation. This is in addition to funding from the federal government, which is increasingly limited, generating a context of competition in attracting more and more funds from large benefactors, especially where large amounts of capital are needed for research.
The Italian experience
In Italy, the preponderance of funds supporting the education system comes from the public administration, as well as from fees. Investment in real estate for educational functions is, in fact, a very recent reality. In particular, there are still few investment companies that invest in real estate with uses such as schools and universities; on the other hand, the sector of student residences is mature, which, however, is closer to a residential than an ‘educational’ destination. To date, the most consolidated reality in this market is represented by an asset management company whose share capital is wholly owned by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, which operates with the aim of enhancing the value of the Italian State’s enormous assets. In fact, a specialized fund has been set up within it that invests mainly in real estate assets destined for university buildings (also for residential use) and public research institutes (from universities, public bodies, and the State) with the main objective of creating value on the properties contributed by optimizing the portfolio’s profitability and enhancing or reconverting through ordinary and extraordinary maintenance work for those properties that are not attractive and usable in their current state.
In addition to the assets owned by the State, through the “Agenzia del Demanio”, in Italy, the great real estate that lends itself to being converted into school and university buildings is represented by the ecclesiastical heritage. This can, in fact, count on buildings already used as schools, former colleges, or monasteries that, due to their conformation and type, lend themselves well to being converted into school buildings. This is the case of the Real Collegio di Moncalieri, belonging to the Confraternity of the Barnabite Fathers, which once served as a school for the ruling class of the Kingdom, and today lends itself well to hosting university buildings, higher education schools, private institutes, etc.