ROME—Steep budget cuts could push Italian universities and research centers beyond the point of no return, an academic body warned yesterday.A bill approved by Italy’s cabinet of ministers on 15 October would over 3 years squeeze €100 million from a €6.7 billion budget for universities and €120 million out of a €1.6 billion budget for public research centers. The plan, part of an overall cut in public spending, would also zero out a €140 million fund for applied research. These reductions come on top of a €170 million cut to universities already decreed for 2015 and a €150 million cut to student aid.
Researchers and students from several associations, including LINK, ROARS, and Rete Ricerca Pubblica, blasted the austerity measure at a press conference in Rome on 18 October. New cuts will strangle research, says physicist Francesco Sylos Labini of the Enrico Fermi Center in Rome and a member of ROARS (which stands for Return on Academic Research). “Cuts won’t touch salaries of permanent people, but will have dramatic consequence in hiring new people and in the financial resources for research,” he said at the conference. The scientists also noted that last year, the government eliminated grants for basic research and that since 2008 the number of new permanent positions for academics has contracted by 90%.The new bill is an especially bitter pill, they say, because Prime Minister Matteo Renzi earlier this year had championed research and education as a potential cure for Italy’s economic malaise.
The body representing Italy’s university system, known as CUN, published an open letter online yesterday asking Renzi to cancel the latest round of cuts. Italy’s universities and research establishment “could hardly bear further contraction of resources without collapsing,” CUN argued.
Italy’s president of the Italian republic, Giorgio Napolitano, and the European Commission are now reviewing the bill. Final approval could come by the end of the year.