Italy takes down nepotists...

October 14, 2005

Italy's Conservative Government is bulldozing through radical reforms to the system under which academics are recruited and employed.

Letizia Moratti, the Education Minister, said the aim was to stamp out nepotism in assigning posts and to encourage productivity by eliminating lifelong jobs on the low rungs of the academic ladder.

The Government made the reforms an "issue of confidence" in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The move pre-empts objections or amendments from MPs, including its own supporters.

The Rectors Conference - which is furious at not being consulted - has called for a "states general" assembly of all those concerned with higher education to draft new reforms. The Government has ignored the proposal.

The National Association of University Teachers (Andu) condemned the reforms as the final nail in the coffin of Italy's universities. It accused the Government of undermining democracy and called on its members to hold a five-day strike this week.

University rectors and Andu are angry that funding for higher education has not been increased to support the changes. They also appear irritated by Ms Moratti's suggestion that universities should generate resources from the private sector.

Under the reform, only professors and associate professors will receive lifelong tenure, with its long holidays and generous pensions.

Universities will be able to recruit "contract professors" from Italy or abroad for specific tasks. Researchers, who have enjoyed lifelong security, will be employed for a maximum of two three-year contracts.

Those who do not win a post as associate professor within that time will be out of a job.

Critics said this would mean a person could not obtain a ricercatore (researcher) contract before the age of 30-35 and the first permanent post with a decent salary until 40 or later. They argued that this would encourage more Italian graduates to seek jobs abroad.

Today's researchers with tenure will compete for a limited number of associate professorships. Those who fail to gain one will automatically become "aggregate professors".

The reforms would eventually get rid of concorsi - competitive exams run by commissions that include senior academics from the university that has the vacancy - and replace them with a central national panel that will assess the competence of candidates.

According to Ms Moratti, this will combat local nepotism. But doubts remain. One rector commented: "The system is not at fault but rather the ethics of the academics who use it."

So far, protests by rectors and Andu have had no effect. The legislation has been approved by the Senate and awaits ratification in the Chamber of Deputies.

If it passes intact, it will be the first time that the massive presence in Parliament and politics of those with academic posts or with friends or family in universities has failed to take the heart out of a higher education reform before it becomes law.

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