Flight from italian universities

Posted on 5 de February de 2013


(PUBLISHED IN IL CORRIERE DELLA SERA) Equivalent of one university fewer in ten years. Enrolments down from 338,482 in 2003-2004 to 280,144 in 2011-2012. Shrinking teaching staff.


University students all over Italy protested last year against the dismantling and privatisation of the education system (Photo by 'Italy Calling': Students occupy the Mole Antonelliana in Turin).

University students all over Italy protested last year against the dismantling and privatisation of the education system (Photo by ‘Italy Calling’: Students occupy the Mole Antonelliana in Turin).


Undergraduates, graduates, post-grads, teaching staff and funds are all on the decline as Italy’s universities struggle. The warning comes from the national university council (CUN) in a paper addressed to the current government, Parliament and political parties involved in the upcoming election “but above all to the nation”. The paper, entitled Dichiarazione per l’università e la ricerca, le emergenze del sistema [Declaration for Universities and Research, the System’s Emergencies], points out that since 2009, the ordinary finance fund (FFO) has fallen by 5% a year.

SPENDING OUTSTRIPS FUNDS – From 2001 to 2009, the ordinary finance fund (FFO) remained almost unchanged in inflation-adjusted real terms only to shrink thereafter by 5% a year for a total reduction which in 2013 is set to reach almost 20%. On this premise, and in the absence of any long-term funding schemes, many cash-strapped universities are unable to plan teaching or research, as the report observes.

LABORATORIES AT RISK – Shrinking funds also mean that laboratory equipment is at risk of obsolescence. PRIN funds for basic research at universities and the national research council (CNR) are under constant attack and the previous average of €50 million a year fell to €13 million for 2012. The €100 million allocated in 2008-2009 to two-year projects rose to €170 million for the two years 2010 and 2011, but for projects over three years, and slumped to less than €40 million in 2012, again for three-year projects.

SCHOOL DROP-OUT RATES – The AlmaLaurea study office has turned the spotlight on the phenomenon of school drop-out rates, which may go some way to explaining the new figures: “Pre-university selection is so severe that nowadays only twenty-nine 19-year-olds out of a hundred enrol at a faculty. If we look at secondary school leavers, there has been a 10% drop from the 74% of the early 2000s to the present 64%.

GRANTS, A SORE POINT – The number of graduates in Italy is destined to fall even further because in the past three years, national funding for study grants has been trimmed. In 2009, there were funds for 84% of eligible students while in 2011 the figure was 75%.

COURSE PROVISION SLIMMED – A total of 1,195 degree courses have been eliminated over the past six years. This year, eighty-four three-year courses and twenty-eight specialist or teacher training courses have gone. Initially, this was due to rationalisation but now it is largely the result – the report underlines – of substantial reductions in teaching staff.

HAEMORRHAGING TEACHING STAFF – The number of university teachers shrank by 22% in just six years from 2006 to 2012 and a further drop is predicted in the next three years. The OECD average student-to-teacher ratio is 15.5 but rises in Italy to 18.7. Despite dwindling enrolments, the student-to-teacher ratio is destined to grow even more as teaching staff continue to head for the door and none are hired to replace them. The shortfall is in part due to severe restrictions imposed on the number of teaching contracts that each university can stipulate.