Brussels, 07 Apr 2004
No doubt conscious of the turmoil in France's research community, Italy is taking a timely look at its own system of scientific funding and organisation, according to reports.
Letizia Moratti, Italy's minister for education, universities and research, recently unveiled a scheme to evaluate comprehensively the nation's research system. The core of the plan is to replace the prevailing system of "indiscriminate funding" with one founded on research merit.
Individual committees covering 20 scientific research areas, which can call on around 30 000 experts to evaluate the current state of Italian research production, will attempt to better regulate how funding is distributed to researchers, reports The Scientist.
The Committee for the Evaluation of Research (CIVR) will be responsible for organising the nation-wide assessment. It was set up five years ago to carry out a similar – albeit more limited – role of analysing the work of the ministry-run research centres, such as the National Research Centre. From March onwards, the seven-member government appointed committee will broaden their remit to include projects by universities, too.
Catch up game
Called the 'Moratti Decree' after the minister, the scheme came into effect on 19 March, and calls on all those who have carried out scientific work between 2001 and 2003 to forward their documentation to the committee in the coming weeks. CIVR's president, Franco Cuccurullo, explains that self-evaluation by research centres is the first step in the process.
"Each research centre must be aware of the value of its research and select the best works," he comments. "We estimate that about 20 000 products, which include books, journal articles, patents, projects… and theses, will be evaluated." Using peer reviews by at least three experts, projects will be evaluated according to their "quality, importance, originality, innovation, and internationalisation and/or international competitive potential", CIVR's guidelines note.
Italy's efforts to streamline research funding should pay dividends in the long run, potentially warding off the kind of scenes witnessed in France last month, as researchers protested against government budget cuts and layoffs. But despite moderate increases in research and development spending in 2004, Italy still lags behind many of its fellow EU members. In terms of R&D intensity – the amount Italians spend on R&D as a percentage of GDP – Italy is one of the lowest in the current EU-15, spending 1.07% in 2001, compared with Sweden which spends 4.% and Germany's 2.50%. As part of its 'Barcelona Objectives', the Union is calling for all countries to raise their R&D spending to 3.0% by 2010.
"We all know that Italian research needs more money," Cuccurullo is quoted as saying. He says distributing funds using a merit-based mechanism is a necessary part of the overall streamlining of research. It is also an opportunity to highlight the weak and strong points of the country's research system, he stresses.