We know we need a lot more resources

03 Mar 2016 | News
Italian research minister Stefania Giannini responds to bubbling anger among researchers over low level of public research funding

Italian Minister of Education, Universities and Research Stefania Giannini has acknowledged the growing anger among scientists in the country over the low levels of investment in research in the country, but has not promised to increase the budget.

"We know we need a lot more resources,” Giannini said in an article in Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. “But we also know that more resources become future investments if, and only if, we have the courage to completely rethink the national research system in the European and international context.”

A debate on research funding has been ongoing in Italy since the beginning of February, when Italian physicist Giorgio Parisi started a petition to put pressure on the Italian government to give more money to Italian research. Together with 68 colleagues, he has also wrote a protest letter published in Nature.

The petition has so far been signed by 56,050 people. It calls for the European Commission to put pressure on Italy to spend at least 3 per cent of its budget on research, as laid out in the Lisbon strategy signed in 2000. Currently, Italy spends just 1.29 per cent of its gross domestic product on research, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The Commission rejected a request for comment.

Parisi also complained about low levels of spending on science from research initiatives such as PRIN (Research Projects of National Interest). “This year's PRIN allocation of a €92-million (US$100-million) funding call to cover all research areas is too little, too late,” he said.

It compares poorly with the French National Research Agency’s €1 billion budget annual budget and with Italy's €900 million annual contribution to the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme that ran between 2007 and 2013, Parisi added.

Giovanni Abramo, technological research director at The Institute for System Analysis and Computer Science, says he does not agree the government should come up with more research money. “It is the private sector that does not invest much in R&D,” he said.

He is not asking for more money, but that universities and research institutions allocate resources internally on the basis of merit; professors’ salaries are linked to the quality of their teaching and research; and unproductive faculty members are made redundant.

There’s deadwood in the Italian science system, Abramo said. “Over the period 2009-2013, 3,178 of the 34,862 professors in the sciences did not publish any scientific articles in Web of Science indexed journals. Another 868 professors achieved publication, but their work was never cited. This means that 4,046 individuals had no impact on scientific progress.”

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