International Educator - May/June 2012 - 66
Governmental Measures to Curtail Higher Education Spending
The lack of an Italian debt crisis until recently hasn’t stopped Italian governments from imposing strong measures to limit higher education spending. In the past four years, Italy has suffered a 30 percent cut in public university funding, with further cuts expected. “There is little room to maneuver,” says John McCourt, an English and Irish literature professor at the public Roma Tre University and earlier at the University of Trieste.
Fabio luppi, Phd, has been working for an airline for the past 10 years to make ends meet while trying to secure a fulltime university position. He also teaches at roma tre university on a temporary contract basis.
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A law championed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlesconi mandates that universities cannot spend more than 90 percent of their budget on staff, McCourt says. “If you go over 90, you can’t hire anyone practically, and every university is up around 90 percent,” says McCourt. While the new Mario Monti government has promised to put more money into education, a new national policy also calls for 20 retirements before a single full faculty professor can be replaced, according to Guido Martinotti, professor emeritus of urban sociology at the Italian Institute of Human Science (SUM) in Florence and earlier a professor at University of Milano–Bicocca.
Employment Options Grim for Younger Generation
There is army of volunteers, of PhD people, being taken advantage of and being made to teach courses without pay. They do so in the hopes that if they make themselves indispensible, then maybe someone will notice you and you will get a job. I know of a situation in an Italian university second year literature course where 17 people applied for an unpaid position, and they were fighting with each other for who would get it.” If you happen to be checking in at Italian airline Alitalia in Rome and want a check-in agent who can expound on the finer points of the literature of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, you are in luck. Fabio Luppi, one of McCourt’s former PhD students at Roma Tre University, has worked at the airline for the past 10 years to make ends meet while trying to secure a full-time, paying position at a university, a job he assumed would be a stopgap when he first took it. Luppi also works temporary contract jobs at Roma Tre University teaching English to groups of up to 90 students. While securing a permanent position at an Italian institution in the humanities has never been easy, Luppi, who also tries to squeeze in publishing academic articles to burnish his academic resume, says that in his case the timing of his graduation in 2008 has made a difference— in a decidedly negative direction. “At the moment, in this very difficult financial crisis, universities are very careful when giving out new positions,” says Luppi, who is now 35 years old. “Most of my friends with PhDs have problems finding positions—only one person of 25 people I know in similar positions got a permanent job, and he got his PhD in 2003, six years before I got mine and before the crisis. That was an important six-year advantage.” As for his temporary teaching position at Roma Tre University, Luppi says it is no ideal position. “How can you teach English with 90 students in the class?” muses Luppi, who earns €4,000 a year for his efforts. “Since it’s not in the languages department, they are not interested in such a good level of language—the goal is to help the students pass the exam. They should split it into two or three classes to have smaller number of students, but they do it cheaper by having one large class.”
Funding Rules Cause Consternation
The employment squeeze in particular has hit younger academics, where a vast pool of PhD graduates cannot obtain permanent paid employment. “There is a terrible sense of paralysis and stagnation and frustration,” says McCourt. “University careers in Italy begin late—often your first job is at 35 or 40. That’s because there are so few jobs. Before that, they tend to be given contracts or hang around with their PhDs.
The funding crisis has been exacerbated by the funding particularities of Italian higher education statutes, says Guido Martinotti, professor emeritus of urban sociology at the Italian Institute of Human Science (SUM) in Florence and earlier a professor at University of Milano–Bicocca. He notes that universities cannot have more than 20 percent of their income taken from students, while the outlay for professors is at a national pay level fixed by the government, not the university. The practical effect is
courtesy of fabio luppi