Professori face tenure delays until their 50s

January 30, 2004

Italy's government has attacked the job security and freedom from control enjoyed by Italian academics.

The cabinet has approved legislation that, pending passage though parliament, will introduce limited contracts for associate professors and researchers, who often also have teaching duties. The annual workload will rise from 280 to 350 hours, 120 of which will be teaching. Much of the legislation, however, will apply to new contracts only.

A reform of the system of competitive exams or concorsi for filling posts is also expected. Central national commissions of senior academics will select the lecturers. Universities will no longer have a say in whom they hire, a move designed to stop local candidates being favoured.

Italian academics are divided into three ranks: researchers, second-level professors and first-level professors. Once employed, staff in all three have a job for life and independence - often an opportunity to neglect their duties to do private work.

Under the new regime, academic careers will begin with one or two five-year contracts as a researcher. A concorso will then open the way to one or two three-year trial periods as a second-level professor. The academic can then win a concorso for a top-tier professorship, have the existing post permanently confirmed or be sacked.

The government's move deepens the rift with the Rectors' Conference, which was not consulted on the legislation.

Piero Tosi, president of the conference and rector of Siena University, said: "This (evaluation) must go hand in hand with a plan of investments.

These reforms are of vital importance, and should be developed in discussion with those who will have to apply them."

The government insists the system will introduce greater competition and responsibility.

But Flaminia Sacca', opposition party spokesperson for universities, warned that discontented academics would join the brain drain. "Academics will have a secure job after only three or four years for a doctorate, a few years with research grants, five or ten as a researcher, and three or six as a professor 'on trial'. This means they'll be in their late 40s and 50s by the time they get tenure. Of course, those with connections and patronage will continue to get ahead much faster."

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