Italian university reform 'too slow'

January 15, 1999

Luciano Modica, president of the Italian Rectors Conference, believes the reform of Italy's university system is too slow.

Professor Modica, rector of Pisa University, approves of the reforms masterminded by former university minister Luigi Berl-inguer but feels it will take a little time for many of these changes to make themselves felt.

"We are in a phase of transition, a transition that has proved slower than we hoped. The picture will really change when we change the basic architecture of our courses. Slowly, too slowly, the wheels are starting to turn to change the existing structure; on the one hand the introduction of a basic, three-year degree, followed by an optional second and third stage; on the other, the freedom for each university to design its own degree courses. This has not happened yet.

"Where the reform is already working is in the 'right to study'. There has been a vast increase in scholarships, grants, loans, hostels, canteens, and so on. At Pisa, for students beyond their first year, we can now provide free tuition and accommodation for all those who have a right to it on the basis of their families' means."

One of the obstacles to reform is the "legal status" of degrees, which by law attributes identical value to a degree from any university as a qualification for public- sector jobs and many jobs in the private sector where national contracts apply. Another is that a university cannot hire, fire or transfer its academics. An academic job is a job for life, leaving little scope to form the best possible staff of lecturers. The new system of hiring academics involves a competitive examination. To many it still appears as a complex mechanism that does not give a university real freedom of choice.

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