The University Colleges of Merit are legally recognized private institutions with purposes of public interest.
The history of the Colleges from the legislative point of view, started on August the 31th 1933 with the Royal Decree n. 1592 (Consolidated Law on Higher Education), which established in the art. 191 that "bodies and foundations whose aim is the increasing of higher education and the assistance in various forms to study in universities and higher education institutes, are under the supervision of the Ministry of Education."
This article was the legal basis for the recognition of the existence of some institutions, including private bodies, which, by statute, had the purpose to widen the access to higher education and to assist students during their university studies. Because of these purposes, these institutions were under the supervision of the Ministry od Education.
As a result of a thorough analysis of their functions, the Colleges remained within the State’s jurisdiction. Educational and training functions of these bodies were therefore considered prevailing over those for welfare services, which were committed to the Regions.
The Italian State was not only aware of the functions and the aims of the Colleges, but also became their ‘warrantor’, as the following legislative and administrative acts demonstrate, all now fixed in the text of the art. 25, paragraph III of the Law N. 390 (2 December 1991) about "Rules about the right to higher education". In this text we can read “the current regulations in force concerning Colleges legally recognized are confirmed and they are placed under the supervision of the Ministry of University and Scientific and Technological Research” (that meanwhile replaced the Ministry of Education). In 1997, the University Colleges decided to form a body which would represent them externally and which would fulfil the role of co-ordinating and promoting their common actions: the permanent Conference of University Colleges. In 2011, the Conference set itself up as Association in Rome; in the same time the Statute was approved.
The recent Decree of the University Reform (Law 240/2010), in the art. 5 provides for the objective of enhancing the Colleges of Merit, through the definition of a specific regulation, which is the final step of a process that will define the institutional, juridical and administrative role of the Colleges as a tool to improve the quality of the Italian university and promote the merit.