Matchmakers fail to inspire true amore

October 11, 2002

Universities revitalise local economies, providing jobs and bringing students and their cash to town. The THES reports on their impact worldwide

Over the past ten years, a succession of Italian governments has tried to encourage universities to work more closely with local companies while urging the private sector to support research and teaching in universities.

This has had varying success, but has largely failed as a major element of economic "re-fuelling" of the state university system.

But the money and jobs that a university can bring to a town has become one of the most important features for many local economies.

Bologna has about 370,000 residents. It also has about 120,000 students from the state university and several thousand more in offshoots of foreign universities, together with several hundred non-resident lecturers. "This bumps Bologna up from a provincial city to a metropolis," a city spokesman said.

"It means that everything from the transport system to refuse collection, to the restaurants and shops has developed for a much larger city. And while the resident population is among the oldest in Italy, the students bring the average age in Bologna right down."

Bologna's city administration has signed an agreement with the university for a wide range of joint ventures and for the sharing of facilities such as libraries between city and university.

Mayor Giorgio Guazzaloca said it underlined "the value of the university in terms of culture, knowledge, know-how and economics".

The university in Camerino, in the Marche region, has an even more dominant role. Camerino, a medieval hilltop town close to the Adriatic, has 7,000 residents and a student population of about 10,000, plus more than 250 lecturers.

Mario Giannella, Camerino's mayor and a former university rector, said: "At a rough estimate I'd say that 75 to 80 per cent of Camerino's economic turnover depends on the university. The rest is tourism, and what remains of local agriculture."

But the economic weight of a university can also have sinister effects. In the economically depressed Sicilian city of Messina, the university became a Mafia stamping ground in the 1990s. As a source of millions of euros a year in salaries and local contracts, it was the single most important economic entity in Messina.

The result was a war among rival Mafia clans, extortion, with payoffs and threats, the Mafia-style killing of one academic, at least two bombings and the resignation of the rector under a cloud of corruption.

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