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University reform bill launched

Plan aims to reward merit, stem brain drain

28 October, 19:56

(ANSA) - Rome, October 28 - The Italian government on Wednesday launched a university reform bill aimed at rewarding merit, rooting out nepotism, lowering the average age of professors and stopping a brain drain of researchers.

Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said the reform was ''the fruit of talks with the entire Italian university system''.

She said the part of the reform that ''is most close to my heart'' are measures to give researchers permanent jobs, ''ending years of part-time contracts''.

The plan, which is opposed by some university teachers and many students, sets up an 'ethical code' aimed at stopping the hiring of relatives.

It also sets a term limit of eight years for university deans; hands much decision-making previously made by tenured academics to executive boards; allows students to rate their teachers' performance and makes it compulsory for lecturers to clock in and out; and halves the number of curricula from the current 370.

If the plan is approved by parliament, appointments will be made by a national commission including top foreign academics and the hiring of researchers will be compulsory if they have proved their worth after six years on the job.

According to the latest surveys, Italy's brightest researchers are massively head-hunted by foreign universities and Italy's brain drain is far higher than in comparable countries. Financial officers will be accountable to the Treasury and universities with crippling debts will be put under a government-appointed commissioner.

New grants will be set up for the best students, Gelmini added.

The association of university deans reacted to the plan by saying it was ''credible'' if it gets the required funding.

The financial solidity of the plan depends on the success of an ongoing amnesty aimed at luring back foreign-held assets, Gelmini and Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti said.

Student movements protested at the cuts in curricula and said the reforms were aimed at making universities ''less democratic'' while moving them closer to the private sector.

photo: Gelmini

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