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ERIC Number: EJ994266
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Apr-29
Pages: N/A
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0009-5982
In Italy, a Dysfunctional University System Sinks Deeper into Decay
Williams, Megan
Chronicle of Higher Education, Apr 2012
Since 2008, Italian universities have seen their budgets slashed by 14 percent. And in late 2010 the Italian government passed a law that drastically reduced the number of contract university workers, effectively laying off thousands of postdocs, assistants, researchers, and lecturers. The law also included a planned decrease in the number of full-time professors, associate professors, and researchers in the coming years from 58,000 to an estimated 40,000 by not replacing professors as they retire. Critics charge that the government's real goal was political: to erode the right to publicly financed, widely accessible higher education that is enshrined in Italy's Constitution. The reforms, they say, push the system toward the American model, with high student fees, reduced access, and differentiation in the quality of institutions, such that students will no longer be able to attend a reliable local institution. Whatever the long-term impact of the reforms, many academics are reeling from the immediate effects of the cuts and layoffs. From 2008 to 2013, 1.5 billion euros will have been sliced from the country's higher-education budget, acutely intensifying distrust among critics. Many of those protesting the government's moves were part of the vast underclass of precariously employed assistants, researchers, and professors, who came to form the pillars upon which Italy's universities largely rest. The institutions employ about 60,000 tenured professors. By contrast, there are about 41,000 instructors who work under contract, and an additional 40,000 researchers, assistants, and postdocs who also teach, according to the education ministry and the Italian Association of Doctorate Graduates. A conservative estimate of contract workers aspiring to tenured positions who have now lost their jobs is 20,000. Research activist groups continue to mobilize for increased public funds, career-advancement based solely on merit, and wide access. With national elections in 2013, they are already lobbying political parties toward that end. And on paper, at least, the government has put in place ambitious goals through its 2010 reform plan: a tenure system based on merit, performance-based research financing, tighter monetary controls in university administrations, and a ban on hiring relatives in the same university. But as rectors throughout the country put forth proposals to raise student fees, and with a new government that, like the one that resigned in late 2011, says it just does not have the money, the Italian dream of a functional, affordable, higher-education system seems more elusive than ever. As it struggles to find a new, viable model, a whole generation has already paid the price.
Chronicle of Higher Education. 1255 23rd Street NW Suite 700, Washington, DC 20037. Tel: 800-728-2803; Tel: 202-466-1000; Fax: 202-452-1033; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Italy