Italians: end corrupt selection

September 17, 2004

Twelve of Italy's most illustrious scholars and scientists have called for reform of the country's corrupt system for filling academic posts, writes Paul Bompard.

In an open letter, the signatories, who include leading rectors and Nobel laureates, appeal to the Government to tackle the higher education sector's "credibility crisis".

They point to judicial investigations, arrests and legal battles that highlight a recruiting system based on nepotism and favouritism rather than merit.

"We must recover a strong impetus in the ethics of university life, restoring the absolute priority of criteria of objective evaluation of scientific merit," they say.

Academic appointments are based, at least theoretically, on exams called concorsi.

But recent scandals have shown that these are often manipulated by cliques of academic barons to assign jobs to relatives, spouses, lovers or long-serving proteges, irrespective of merit or academic credentials.

Until 1998, Italy used a centralised system of concorsi to fill vacancies throughout the country. But this was abandoned to prevent it being manipulated to favour the proteges of the senior academics sitting on the national commission.

A new system was adopted that allowed each university to choose from the available candidates.

But this resulted in the local candidate, backed by local patronage, almost always winning.

The signatories of the open letter want a return to the national system, but with guarantees that merit will be respected in the process.

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