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During the past two years, both Italy and Romania (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, April 2010) experienced fierce political and academic battles over legislative proposals meant to bring about reform of their (higher) education systems. The new year now brings the outcome much-awaited by many: the laws in both countries have, at last, been approved. Alas, a new round of confrontations, primarily between opposing political parties, is now likely to commence in both countries, as both new legislative acts require the adoption of another set of laws and decrees in order to be implemented. But first, some history…
In Italy, against a background of students’ and academics’ protests, the higher education law nicknamed “Ddl Gelmini” – the adoption of which had been suspended since October 2010 on financial grounds (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, October 2010) – passed the Italian Senate just before Christmas, by 161 to 98 votes, and 6 abstentions. Subsequently, the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano signed the reform proposal, enabling it to come into force just before the end of the year. The reform package aims to make the country’s tertiary education system more meritocratic and efficient. However, in 2011 the Italian government also plans funding cuts of over EUR 1 billion for Italy’s public universities. Among the most controversial changes are: the limitation of the mandate of university rectors to a maximum of 6 years, applicable even to those rectors who began serving before the adoption of the new law; the introduction of a performance-based funding system, favouring those institutions successful in research and in getting students into the labour market; the introduction of incentives for universities to attract private funds; the option for university mergers – neighbouring institutions will be given the possibility to merge or to create a federation, to reduce costs and get the critical mass; and the reduction of the number of recognised discipline areas (from 370 to half that number), to reduce segmentation.
Similar measures will be undertaken in Romania through its ‘new’ education law, the adoption of which was also rocky. The education act has been referred twice during the past two years to the Romanian Constitutional Court – the highest judicial forum within the country – for allegedly being “unconstitutional”. Nevertheless, on 4 January 2011, the court ruled by 7 to 2 votes that neither the manner in which the law had been last adopted, in October 2010, nor its content violated the Romanian constitution. On the same day the Romanian President signed the law – the last step for legislative enactment. The Romanian reform act is more comprehensive than its Italian counterpart, but only in the sense that it touches on all levels of education. For higher education, as in Italy, the law stipulates a number of anti-nepotism measures, both in public and private institutions, introduces a merit-based funding system and encourages the attraction of private funds.
Overhauling (higher) education systems is certainly not an easy task, and the two countries will obviously still face many challenges in the implementation process.