As Times Higher Education has reported, British and other foreign nationals working as language teachers within Italian universities, where they are known as lettori, have been battling for equal pay and conditions with their Italian counterparts.
While Italian academics are paid from the public purse, lettori are given contracts with individual universities, renewable for six years at a time, with no access to benefits, health insurance or pensions.
This has led to a long series of legal claims about parity of rights, continuity of employment and unilateral downgrading, many of which have been accepted by the local courts and upheld by the European Court of Justice.
Now, in what is being hailed as a significant step forward, ¬Maria¬stella Gelmini, the Italian minister for education, universities and research, has met with David ¬Willetts, the UK’s universities and science minister, to discuss the issue.
At the meeting in Rome, Ms Gelmini is reported to have made clear that she was anxious to ensure that foreign lecturers should receive equal rights.
In a separate development, the Italian government has until 23 November to address the concerns of the European Commission about the legitimacy of the so-called Gelmini law, introduced in January, which declared that the many “pending court cases relating to these matters are forthwith extinguished”.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office described the ministers’ meeting on 22 September as “welcoming and positive”.
“We are confident that progress has been made and that closure is in sight,”
said David Petrie, president of the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy, who has led the campaign for the lettori and referred to the current system as “apartheid”.
“I would expect officials from the UK and Italian authorities to be working closely in the coming weeks.”