Italy. Late last year, while Italy's front pages were devoted to the daily twists of the ongoing political chaos, a relatively unnoticed survey revealed the equally profound crisis facing the country's education system.
ISTAT, the central statistics body, found that only 43 per cent of 1992 graduates have full-time jobs. Just over a quarter still have only casual work, and 22 per cent remain unemployed.
Typical of the fortunate minority is 29-year-old Carla Lamego from Imola. Despite a first in natural sciences from Bologna, she endured three frustrating years of casual work and unemployment before recently becoming environmental advisor to a regional authority. Ecology degrees were said to have good job prospects, recalls Carla. "There were 40 students who started my course. Only 20 finished. Of those, eight now have full-time jobs. But only four work in the field they spent six years studying."
It is a story repeated up and down the country. Antiquated institutions, out-of-date courses, and the absence of student grants provoke Italy's drop-out rate of 66 per cent. Average age at graduation is 26.
In Milan, Marica Eoli, 32, persevered to graduate in medicine. After ten years at Pavia (Padua) and Milan, including one year at Cambridge's Addenbrookes Hospital, she is a qualified neurologist. She speaks English and German, and finished the equivalent of a PhD in 1992. But she still has no stable job.
ISTAT says only a quarter of 1992 medics do have full-time posts. Half have casual positions. Dr Eoli relies instead on some classically Italian improvisation, receiving a short-term "study bursary" funded by the health ministry to work at the Milan hospital that trained her. While, effectively, she works as a neurologist on less than half pay, 22 per cent of her peers have no job at all.
"The general atmosphere is one of crisis," she says. "The hospital is not able to offer long-term contracts. It is partly a problem of money, and partly of lack of organisation both of the health service and of Italy in general."
Dr Eoli laments the lack of urgently needed political initiatives to stem the scandalous waste of human resources, but adds: "Education reform cannot be looked at separately from other problems, such as the economic crisis, corruption, 'clientelism' and so on."
In Cremona, an hour's train journey south-east of Milan, 25-year-old philosophy graduate Giusi De Lauro is more philosophical about her own predicament.
She took the maximum 110 score with a much-coveted Lode distinction from the University of Pavia followed by a year at the Sorbonne, Paris, but was unable to find an academic post. Ms De Lauro is now trying her hand at journalism. Standing amid the 15th-century splendour of the Palazzo Fodri, where she temps as a museum guide, she admits to being "resigned to her lack of commercial attractiveness".
"Universities are continuing to produce graduates but there are no posts for them to go to," she says. "All the most educated Italians go abroad. The medics go to Switzerland, the architects to London or Paris."
Walter Passerini, editor of Corriere della Sera's jobs supplement, Corriere Lavoro, is, however, surprisingly sanguine. "The crisis of unemployment, of the economy, is a crisis of the big company. Their day is gone," he says, enthusiastically citing 200,000 new self-employed in 1995.
"The problem for Italy is that there is no real coherence between the world of the university courses, and the modern world of work, the market," he asserts.