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Italy: University reform bill passes amid angry protests.

A controversial university reform bill was passed in the Italian parliament on Tuesday despite high profile protests around the country. Tens of thousands of students occupied train stations, airports, highways and even monuments such as the leaning tower of Pisa and the Coliseum, paralysing city and inter-city traffic and at times clashing with police.

At La Sapienza University, in Rome, and in several other institutions, students occupied faculties and lessons were suspended while striking professors took to the rooftops. Spokesperson for the LINK University student organisation Clara Massa said that the protest action was aimed at the entirety of the reform bill, citing cuts to research, insufficient study grants and the access for private sector interests onto university boards as major causes of concern. "We want a quality university and we want to stand up for our rights. Just over the last few years we have seen study grants cut by 89.5%," she said. Education minister Mariastella Gelmini refuted many of the students' claims, saying that the reforms would work to their advantage. "The reform is one of the most important projects this legislature has undertaken. It's a pity it's been in a situation of social tension, but it was indispensable and urgent," she said, while government spokesperson for the bill Paola Frassinetti added in a radio interview that there had been "a lot of disinformation about the content of the reform".

The passage of the bill through parliament has in fact been fraught with controversy and the government's fragile majority had a tough time passing eleventh-hour amendments. Key points of the reform to have made the final vote include:

--Limits of six-year single mandates for rectors;

--Meritocratic tenure-tracks for academics, including a maximum of six years of fixed term contracts for entry-level assistant professors who must either obtain tenure during this time or leave the academy. Also, obligatory national certification for candidates applying for academic positions;

--A ban on relatives working in the same university;

--The creation of 4,500 new positions for assistant professors over 3 years;

--Tighter financial controls for university administrations including greater transparency in budget management and adoption of an ethical code of practice with a maximum limit of 12 faculties per institution;

--Provision for the private sector to have a role on university boards of directors with a minimum of three non-university representatives on a board of 11 directors, who have the power to initiate and eliminate courses.

While both protesters and reformers agree that Italy's university system needs a serious overhaul, Domenico Pantaleo, Secretary General of the country's main education union FLI-CGIL said in an interview with University World News that the foundation of the reform bill was cause for deep concern. "There is an ideological basis to this reform that attacks the constitutional right to an education and the autonomy of the university ... There will be a clear fracture between institutions, with few that excel and are funded and the rest that don't. We will undoubtedly see a proliferation of private institutions too and the university transformed into a business, into a kind of enterprise," he said.

The bill goes to a final vote in the Senate before becoming law, but the vote has been postponed until after 14 December, when Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition will face a critical confidence vote. Protest action by students and education unions meanwhile is set to continue.
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Author:Adendorff, Lee
Publication:International News
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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