For the sake of Italian science and culture

Italian scientific research and university systems are in a dramatic position. The poisonous fruit of the recently approved university reform—referred to as the Gelmini law— assisted by the actions of successive governments, are reaching their goal: downsizing the university system and introducing a political control, never attempted before, on basic research.

The first objective has been achieved through the reduction of 20% of the total funding allocated to higher education—namely, in the form of a cut of 90% of the recruitment and 100% of the projects of basic research. The second objective has been achieved through the creation of the evaluation agency (ANVUR), operating outside of any acceptable evaluation standards. The agency has been entrusted to a caste of professors—accustomed to leadership roles—chosen on the basis of criteria that are not known.

This situation—which has been exacerbated by the effects of the recession—is on the verge of putting the future of new generations of researchers in jeopardy. And it therefore threatens the survival of the entire research system itself. Similar situations—more directly related to economic policy imposed by Europe—are found in Greece, Spain, Portugal and France. In the latter case, large cohorts of young talent are forced to abandon their research careers while funding has been drastically reduced.

In contrast to the fiscal consolidation that is written into the constitution, the target of the Lisbon Treaty, which aimed at bringing 3% of GNP investment in research and development, remains unattained. This, in turns, emphasises even more the unbalance in terms of scientific development between EU Member States, which is at the root of the economic gap between North and South in Europe.

The State investment in research is undisputedly one of the main engines of economic development. However, there is currently no effort to direct public spending towards those areas of quality that could produce in the medium to long term, a solid basis to support the country productive structure. It is quite the opposite, in the field of research. There is a net transfer of financial and human resources from the countries of Southern Europe to the Northern ones. This, in turn, amplifies the differences and inhibits any hope of recovery of Southern countries from the economic crisis.

A vast movement of researchers across Europe is organising a series of initiatives during the autumn with the aim of bringing research and innovation to the public attention and at the centre of governments’ action. Scientists must effectively contribute to overcoming the economic and moral crisis that we are experiencing. In Italy, there will be a great mobilisation “For the sake of science and culture.”

This involves a request for the refinancing of basic research and to grant greater access to higher education, as well as for a new recruitment policy accompanied by a reduction in the level of bureaucracy of the university system. The latter must begin by the resignation of the board of directors of the evaluation agency, ANVUR. The agency needs to be subjected to radical rethinking as has, so far, proved detrimental and led to a senseless waste of human and finance resources.

Translated from an editorial which originally appeared in Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper on 8th September 2014.

Featured image credit: Francesco Sylos

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Francesco Sylos Labini

Francesco Sylos is specialised in cosmology, astrophysics and complex systems and is a founder and editor of the blog Return on Academic ReSearch (ROARS) dedicated to Italian Science Policy.
Francesco Sylos Labini

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5 thoughts on “For the sake of Italian science and culture”

  1. This mock up dialogue shows that real people don’t want to get involved in talking themselves out of a problem 🙁
    They have been trained to wait for top down solutions to become available “off-the-shelf”, preferably in a “one-stop-shop”, where “plug-and-play” bits and pieces are within reach of their “computer and future no sweat” ambitions.
    Shame on us!

    1. If I wear the hat of an old italian guy, with a strong concern for the future of his own four grandkids, born in France and in Spain, my reading of the opening sentence of this post can only be tantamount to a [social] system crash, or fatal system error.
      Information technology early days should have taught universities how to transpose system crash handling from a technical to a social context ….

      1. With all due respect, my dearest virtual self, what you are trying to say doesn’t mean a thing to anybody.
        The social aspects of the technological evolution [from IT to ICT] were overlooked, when the relationship between science and computing offered a great opportunity for its best appreciation, and here we are … frozen stiff by a cultural backlog …
        Take a look at this page … http://public-archive.web.cern.ch/public-archive/en/People/Zanella-en.html and ask yourself why civilisation is being “pushed and changed by ICT” …
        Will civilisation ever start “pushing and changing ICT”, like science has shown it should be done?
        I have made a Google Drive copy of the above referenced CERN site page, where comments may be posted, just in case …. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VNEldcewjFZkFW_Rrzr7X1D4yECp0MLwYyhyQENQJZE/edit?usp=sharing