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Italy: An end to university reform, at least until the end of the year

14 October should have been a big day for the Italian Minister of Education, Mariastella Gelmini. Earlier in the month, the higher education reform package, nicknamed ‘Ddl Gelmini’, and designed to reconfigure the Italian university system, finally reached the Italian Chamber of Parliament (la Camera), or more precisely its Culture Commission. Had the Commission given the green light, the text would have been sent along for a vote in the plenary - the last stage of the legislative procedure to enact the new law. However, it wasn’t meant to be; voting on the controversial piece of legislation was postponed, for lack of financial coverage, until December, when a clarifying budget session will be held.

The reform effort was initiated more than a year ago and aims, in the minister’s own words, to correct “the inefficient mechanisms that have weakened the Italian school system in the past” and to bring it in line with international standards. The reforms are expected to lead to several billion euros in government savings by 2012; they stipulate a number of efficiency-oriented measures, from institutional mergers or federations in order to share resources more efficiently, to changes in university governance.

The start of the Italian academic year has been troubled in other respects. Massive protests of ricercatori (assistant professors) and students have taken place throughout the country, specifically in reaction to the Ddl Gelmini. The entry-level academics are against the proposal to put an end to permanent contracts for future assistant professors, which would allegedly result in unfair competition and ultimately force many to leave the university. For their part, the students oppose foreseen spending cuts and demand more rights. In an attempt to calm things, the ministry announced that over the next six years about 9 000 new associate professorships would be created, to allow for higher retention in the academy.

Now the Ministries of Education and Finance need to prove, upon request of the Parliamentary Chamber, that the financial resources to implement this measure, as well as the rest of the reform package, really exist. In the meantime opposition grows stronger, and the ‘university battle’ goes on.

Il Sole 24 Ore (in Italian)