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Conditions and prospects of higher education in Italy: the ADI survey on early-career researchers

On May 8th, in the palace of the Senate of the Italian Republic, ADI - the Association of PhD Candidates and PhDs in Italy - presented its “8th Survey on PhDs and Postdocs”. As every year, the survey collects data about life and working conditions of Early-Career Researchers (ECRs) in Italy, and its presentation is the chance to publicly discuss the effects of the policies adopted by the different governments on the most vulnerable part of the university staff and research workers.

According to the survey, the number of PhD positions in Italy reduced by 3.5% in 2018, from 9,288 to 8,960. This equates to a 43.4% fall from 2007, the year before Silvio Berlusconi’s government introduced a law mandating a “linear cut” that made significant reductions to research funding in the Italian budget. The reduction in the number of PhDs hit particularly hard in the southern part of the country, which lost 55.5% of its PhD positions, while the northern regions lost 37%. This South-to-North shift for the availability of doctoral training in Italy will likely have negative consequences on the R&D sector for the southern regions, leaving them lagging economically behind the rest of the country.

One piece of good news for PhD candidates in Italy is that only 16.9% of PhD positions lack any kind of scholarship, down from 39% of positions in 2010. However, the data presented by ADI shows that instead of these positions being financed during these years, they were simply cut altogether.

In 2010, the government approved a reform of the university system which introduced new temporary research contracts, thus curtailing permanent research positions. As of 2018, temporary research contracts in the Italian university system total 68,428 (59% of all positions), while permanent research positions equal 47,561. This trend has increased over the years and make it difficult for ECRs to gain a permanent position: ADI estimates that 90.5% of first-year postdocs working in Italy will not be able to access a permanent research position in the same country.

Data about gender representations in research shows that only 37% of permanent positions are occupied by women, while this percentage increases to 47% for temporary contracts. Female representation in university research adversely correlates with career progression; although 50.3% of postdocs are women, this percentage reduces to 41.1% for researchers in tenure track, 37.5% for associate professors and 23.1% for full professors.

The survey drew the attention of the major Italian newspapers. In the days following the survey’s presentation, articles about researchers’ working conditions were published in “La Repubblica”, “Corriere della Sera”, “Il Sole 24 Ore”, and many others. The figure of 90.5% (first-year postdocs that will not find a permanent position in an Italian university) was widely cited as an example of the few employment chances for ECRs in Italy. We hope that the ADI’s survey will finally convince the Italian government to allocate more funds for research and higher education.

Author: Andrea Claudi

Link to slides (italian only): https://dottorato.it/sites/default/files/survey/indagine-adi-2019.pdf