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Researchers welcome plan to ‘relaunch’ Italian science

Image: Mascha Tace via Shutterstock

Decree promises 5,000 extra research posts and funding bonanza for universities

An extraordinary plan to hire almost 5,000 early-career researchers before the end of the year has been welcomed by Italy’s academic community.

The plan is part of a “relaunch decree” that was approved by Italy’s council of ministers on 13 May and is undergoing final minor revisions. It is expected to be published this week in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, the government’s news bulletin.

The final number of extra staff to be hired through the plan is the result of an extra 3,333 positions added to an initial offering of 1,607 posts, which have already been approved but not yet filled.

Additionally, research institutions will be allowed to hire 1,300 more scientific staff through a spending pot worth €50 million.

The plan includes a substantial budget increase to the FFO, Italy’s standard fund for universities, which will grow by €100m in 2021 and €200m in 2022. The PRIN fund, which finances research projects of national interest, will also be bulked up significantly with €250m in 2021 and another €300m in 2022.

As Italy is reopening universities following a nationwide lockdown to combat Covid-19, the plan makes allowances for students affected by the coronavirus. PhD students who are unable to complete projects in time due to delays caused by the lockdown will be given an additional two months on their contracts.

“This is the most relevant hiring plan for researchers in recent Italian history,” research minister Gaetano Manfredi told news agency ANSA. He said the plan was an investment in the future of the country.

The measures outlined in the plan were welcomed by the CRUI, Italy’s conference of university rectors. CRUI president Ferruccio Resta, rector of Politecnico di Milano, applauded the “great relaunch of research at the country level”, saying it went well beyond damage control following Covid-19.

“After years of retreat from a fundamental sector for development and for the wellbeing of citizens we notice a change of course by the state,” he said. “New resources will support the right to education, will strengthen researchers and will increase the attractiveness of the country in rapidly developing sectors.”

Universities will receive special funding to upgrade the computing infrastructure needed to deliver courses in person and online, and financial support will be provided to students in need.

Massimo Inguscio, president of the CNR, Italy’s national research council, also expressed “profound satisfaction”.

“In this historic moment, the government, pushed by minister Manfredi, is acknowledging the sectors of higher education and public research as the true strategic infrastructure for the growth and the competitiveness of the country,” he said.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe