Italian academics protest reforms

Last month, the Italian Parliament approved a debated reform proposed by University and Research Minister Letizia Moratti that eliminates permanent contracts for all but professors and establishes a national exam for those who wish to qualify as a professor.

Dec 5, 2005
Marta Paterlini

Last month, the Italian Parliament approved a debated reform proposed by University and Research Minister Letizia Moratti that eliminates permanent contracts for all but professors and establishes a national exam for those who wish to qualify as a professor. More than 50,000 university members protested in Rome, and the universities appealed to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who must sign all measures approved by Parliament before they become law.

"The reform is extremely messy, does not ameliorate the current situation, and penalizes those outside the system, that is, the young generation," says Giulio Peruzzi, a historian of physics and science at Padua University. Flaminia Saccà, a sociologist at Cassino University and member of the opposition party, agrees. "As it stands, the reform will, if anything, make the already precarious life of young researchers even more insecure and does not solve the chronic plague of patronage of this country, because Moratti does not introduce any serious evaluation criteria."

Under the current system, Italian researchers who want to become professors must pass an exam for each university, guaranteeing them a position at that school if they succeed. However, scientists argue this system is rife with corruption, because students who are connected to well-placed professors are frequently more likely to pass the exam, regardless of their test results.

The core of the new law is the reorganization of the career scheme, with the goal of speeding up the process of becoming a professor. Alessandro Fatica, a researcher at La Sapienza University in Rome, explains the current situation: "In Italy, you will spend what is supposed to be the most productive period of your career depending on a sponsor senior professor, with a heavy burden of teaching on your shoulders, most of it not paid, and not being able to have decent funding to do what you really want to pursue."