The rectors of Rome's three state universities have lashed out at spending cuts on higher education in this year's budget. The cuts coincide with a sudden surge in enrolments after years in which they were stable or had declined slightly.
Enrolments increased by 12 per cent at La Sapienza, 22 per cent at Tor Vergata and more than 30 per cent at Roma Tre. Under the budget prepared by the Berlusconi government, which has yet to be approved in parliament, spending on higher education will be cut by E11 million (£6.75 million) in 2002 with a further cut in 2003.
Giuseppe D'Ascenzo, rector of La Sapienza, which has more than 150,000 students, declared: "Either it is understood that the universities are the marrow of the nation, or the situation will become desperate. A policy of reducing resources for universities is suicidal."
On research, he complained: "If we do not guarantee researchers the same economic level that they are offered abroad, we will never get them to return."
Guido Fabiani, rector of Roma Tre, which has more than 30,000 students, said: "Bearing in mind these enrolment figures, we cannot but raise an alarm over budget legislation that proposes unsustainable cuts in both ordinary spending and resources for building work."
Alessandro Finazzi Agrò, rector of the 20,000-strong Tor Vergata, said: "If these cuts are not modified by parliament, I fear we may not be able to work in the best interests of the students. I expect some changes [to the budget], otherwise it would mean that universities are not considered of strategic importance for the country, and this would be surprising."