Italy begins revamp of research strategy

September 10, 1999

In late July, Italy instated two commissions that should radically change research funding - the Comitato di Esperti per la Politica della Ricerca (CEPR) and the Comitato di Indirizzo per la Valutazione della Ricerca (CIVR), writes Paul Bompard.

Both can boast as members some of Italy's most illustrious academics, from Umberto Eco to star physicist Antonio Zichichi.

The two committees, working closely together and linked by a secretariat, will establish Italy's research policy and priorities. Their recommendations will form the basis of national policy through the ministry and the Interministerial Committee for Economic Programming, which influences the drafting of the annual national budgets.

The new system should usher in a new era. Gone will be the system under which money is distributed in small amounts to all and sundry regardless of a project's research value. In its place will be larger sums for progammes considered worthwhile. Schemes deemed pointless or redundant will get nothing.

"Requests for financing, be they from universities, research institutes or industry, are sent to the Ministry for Universities and Scientific and Technological Research (Murst)," explained Fabrizio Copis, an official of the ministry's research sector. "The ministry passes the request to the scientific and technical committee, which charges experts with evaluating the project and its costs. The committee will make its recommendations to the ministry, which, on the basis of guidelines established by the CEPR and the CIVR, will respond. The policy now is to put the money where it produces results."

The CEPR and the CIVR must now organise their internal workings and draw up a three-year national research programme to begin in mid-2000.

The basic roles are that the CEPR should look ahead, while the CIVR evaluates past and current research, in general terms rather than specifics.

This reform hinges on how well it is implemented and how entrenched is the old system.

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