Italian dons come under scrutiny...

April 23, 1999

The Italian government has approved legislation that for the first time will establish systematic evaluation of universities, departments and individual academics. The laws will also introduce economic incentives for lecturers and universities that score well, writes Paul Bompard.

The aim is to reduce drop-out rates and "eternal" students. Sixty per cent of students enrol but fail to get a degree and others only graduate well beyond the number of years established for a degree course.

The legislative package, largely a brainchild of university and research minister Ortensio Zecchino, sets up a three-way system of evaluation.

A national panel, named by the ministry, will analyse all universities.

At the same time, each university will have its own panel, a maximum of nine people including three outside experts, which will report to the ministry on efficiency and standards of teaching and research.

Third, students will evaluate each academic's teaching, competence and availability. This should encourage academics - widely regarded as neglectful teachers - to dedicate more time to their students.

The programmes of each institution to improve efficiency, together with the diagnosis of the university panels, will be evaluated by the national panel, which will authorise financial incentives. A campus that obtains financing by presenting an ambitious programme but fails to implement it, will have to return the money.

The legislation has earmarked e143 million (Pounds 97 million) for institutions faring well.

The universities will be able to use some of this cash as bonuses for their most productive academics, a dramatic break with the rigid, nationally set salaries of the past.

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