In the past months, Italy has seen blockades, scuffles and demonstrations by university and high-school students who say they fear for the future of education in Italy. Protests over education reforms were renewed at the start of the accademic year by both university and secondary students. In September and October, secondary schools were occupied by students for weeks on end (see TF 131) and classes suspended for days, while in piazzas across Italy, university faculty held open-air classes in dissent.
The protests escalated in the days leading up to massive university reforms that got approval in the lower house on November 30. In Rome, a group of university students marched through the city, breaking into the hall of the Italian Senate. Throughout Italy, protesters occupied some of Italy's most famous landmarks, among them the Collosseum, Pisa's Leaning Tower, St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Florence's Cupola, and Turin's Mole. Others occupied university faculty buildings, taking their protest to rooftops across the country. Protesters also blocked roads, major highways and railway lines in some of the biggest demonstrations seen in decades. Clashes with police were reported in Rome, Bologna, Florence and Milan.
Adding to the controversy, some university deans who supported the student protests suspended classes just prior to the lower house's vote.
The reforms, which include deep cuts in spending and set time limits on research, represent a massive overhaul of Italy's higher education system. Education minister Maria Stella Gelmini says the reform bill introduces ‘better governance' to reduce excessive spending, nepotism and favouritism, and to increase transparency.
The bill introduces a merit-based system in which a fund will be set aside for the best students, independant of their family's financial situation, in addition to pay raises for only those professors who are evaluated positively by students. Other reforms include one term only for university deans; a mandatory retirement age of 70 for professors; elimination of programs with few students; placing representatives from business and industry on universities' adminstrative councils as a way to increase competitiveness and better link higher education and the private sector; allocating resources so that those universities that are running deficits must either change or close and those breaking even or better are rewarded; a new six year tenure-track system for university researchers and lecturers, without any guarantee that tenure will be granted.