Italian police probe exam 'fix'

September 27, 2002

Police in Bari last week raided a room in which an exam for an academic post was being held after a report alleging that the winner had been chosen beforehand.

The University of Bari, in southern Italy, suspended the concorso for the post of associate professor of odontostomatology, pending an investigation.

The selection system in Italy's university system is designed to be fair and impersonal. But in practice it is complex and cumbersome. Many concorsi end in appeals, litigation and investigations.

Italy's government has announced reform of the system, but few believe it will provide a definitive solution. At the root of the problem is the almost feudal system that reigns in many areas of higher education, particularly in the humanities and professions.

The baroni control allocation of posts, through the concorsi . Until 1999, national commissions made up of senior academics from different universities filled vacancies in each field countrywide. Posts were often assigned to disciples of those sitting on the commission, or as trade-offs for previous favours.

After 1999, each university was given responsibility for filling posts, on the assumption that it would lead to the appointment of the best-qualified candidate. But it usually results in the local candidate, with roots in that university, getting the post.

The others who take part hope to be rated "suitable but not chosen". They can then be called to a post at another university without a concorso . The "suitable" candidate is called to a university where he or she has acquired patronage.

Flaminia Sacca, president of the Italian Association of Doctoral Students, said: "The point is that nobody is held responsible for not choosing the best candidate.

"It is an impersonal system that saddles no single person with responsibility. And the university prefers someone who is loyal and obedient and can be counted on not to rock the boat in future."

Psychology professor Cristiano Violani, a member of the National University Council, added: "What the ministry is suggesting is the creation of a single national pool of academics who are professionally competent and suitable for a post in a given field. Hopefully, it will be an improvement on the old system, which tended to empower cliques of academics from the big universities, and on the existing system, which instead empowers locally."

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