Prodi Government fails to deliver cash

December 1, 2006

Anger erupts as Italy cuts university spending, writes Paul Bompard

Italian academics feel disappointed and betrayed by spending cuts made by the centre-left coalition Government led by Romano Prodi.

During the campaign for the April 2006 elections, Mr Prodi and his allies insisted that education and research were key to future prosperity and savagely attacked the cuts made by the outgoing right-wing coalition led by media mogul Silvio Berlusconi.

In those elections, academics, intellectuals, scientists and students voted overwhelmingly for the Centre Left. Now they are faced with a 2007 budget that will leave universities and research struggling. Some rectors are suggesting they might close down their universities for a few weeks to limit spending.

Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel laureate for medicine in 1986 and now a life-senator in the Prodi coalition, threatened to vote against the budget. A small increase was written in and she backed down. Last month, thousands of university and research employees demonstrated in the streets of Rome, calling for more money and more permanent jobs.

The budget, which includes spending decisions for higher education and research, is under discussion in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate.

Amendments are still possible but seem unlikely before the budget becomes law at the end of December. "There is no money for universities' day-to-day running," Guido Trombetti, president of the Rectors Conference and rector of Naples University, said. "It is not a question of belt-tightening - further tightening will produce suffocation."

Roberto Petronzio, president of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, a flagship of Italian research, warned: "Without greater resources the institute will have to pull out of international projects, throwing away investment already made."

Giulio Boselli, secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party, a coalition partner, defended the Government's overall budget policy but criticised cuts to education and research. "These are cuts into Italy's future. I believe they are a mistake," he said. "The Government has chosen to satisfy the demands of employers, unions and others but to penalise universities and research."

However, he added: "In only one year Italy's economy will be pulled back into European Union parameters, and if there is an economic recovery, greater resources will, I hope, become available."

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