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The Italian minister of education, Mariastella Gelmini, together with Raffaele Fitto, minister of regional development, recently announced a package of EUR 1 billion to support the development of higher education institutions located in the south of Italy. The initiative is part of a broader plan to reduce economic inequalities between the northern and southern parts of the country. Simply titled Piano nazionale per il sud, the plan was launched by the Italian government in 2010.
The initiative has two main strands. The highest share of the funding – approximately EUR 850 million – will be allocated for the development of the higher education infrastructure in the region, namely for the construction or modernisation of laboratories, libraries and student residences. The highest amounts, of about EUR 300 million each, will go to Sardinia and Puglia, followed by Sicilia (88.8 million), Campania (68.7 million), Calabria (63.9 million), Basilicata (22 million) and Abruzzo (5 million).
In parallel, authorities say the second line of funding – EUR 150 million – will be invested in the creation of three ‘centres of excellence’ in the region. Unlike other European countries which have undertaken excellence initiatives in recent years and which have concentrated on supporting the institutions with the highest research potential, this plan directs resources towards a part of the country that does not yet have a strong track record in research or a global profile as yet in this area.
Further, critics believe the initiative is steered more by the political interests of the governing coalition than by a genuine interest in supporting higher education institutions in Italy’s south. The fact that the announcement of this new funding comes at a time when Italy, Europe and the wider world face on-going economic turmoil seems to support these allegations. However, and irrespective of the motivations of different political actors, the initiative will at least respond to some of the most basic needs of universities in this region.Il Sole 24 Ore Italian Government