Twenty-seventh. The Italian fans would make us sick if we finished twenty-seventh at the World Cup. A disease. Being so low in the world search ranking, on the other hand, seems to interest both yes and no. And the data, relentless, say that Mario Draghi, who in his first speech as premier insisted five times on the absolute obligation to invest much more in research, knows that acceleration will not be easy. Of course, Italian researchers are honored in the world. Hurray. But on financing we start from a condition of avarice.
He confirms it Observa – Yearbook Science, Technology and Society 2021, edited by Barbara Saracino and Giuseppe Pellegrini, published by the Mill and close to its release. In the ranking of countries that put more money into R&D than GDP (excluding defense spending which in some states literally devour budgets) we are not only behind Israel, Korea, Taiwan or Germany but also behind Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary … The share that we allocate to the sector (better: to the future, because the relaunch is passing by) is only 1.4% of our gross domestic product. Below the European average (2.0%) and the OECD average: 2.4%. Very low compared to Denmark, Germany or Austria which invest twice as much. Humiliating compared to Israel which, already at the top nine years ago, gave the appropriations another shot of the accelerator, rising to 4.9% of GDP. Triple of us. Could it be a coincidence that he was also the most reactive on vaccines?
Another ranking, another blow: for the number of researchers employed in R&D every thousand employed, Denmark leads with 15.7, followed again by Korea, Sweden, Finland … And we are still at a third: 6 out of a thousand. Ahead of Romania, South Africa or Mexico. But behind the EU average, the OECD or Slovakia. A crime. And if in some ways it is consoling to know that the University covers 37.3% and the public sector 15.6% of all Italian researchers, it is striking how the private sector (which on average OECD absorbs almost two thirds of those who work in research and development, with peaks of 72.8% in Sweden, 74.4 in Japan, 82.0 in Korea) float by us to 43.6. Sin. A pity especially in light of the numbers brought home by the Italian researchers involved in the Horizon 2020 project, the EU Framework Program for research and innovation 2014-2020. The Azzurri are fifth in Europe among the beneficiary countries of funding with over 4 and a half billion euros received and 13,020 participations in projects. Behind Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Spain. A result that could have been better if our young people, explains the archaeologist Maria Luisa Catoni, former president of a commission of the European Research Council, could have counted on the help of support offices for the packaging of European projects because it is not enough to have a good idea: it needs to be translated into a project. And this is where the decisive support of the universities comes into play, a bit late for us, not so much to give a little push to ours but to allow them to fight on an equal footing with the others. The University of Cambridge, for instance, prides itself on its website providing workshops and information sessions on the ERC program, checks and advice on pre-submission proposals, pre-interview advice for candidates, administrative support … Thus, genius flourishes better …
Universities, the precarious world of research fellows: they give up children and work, and only 6% remain in the university
Can we give more, to say it with Morandi, Ruggeri and Tozzi? Sure. This is demonstrated by Germany which in 2013, with the Roadmap for Research Infrastructure project of the then Minister for Education and Research Johanna Wanka (who was not already starting from scratch) decided to set a roadmap to provide an exceptional environment for research capable of attracting researchers from all over the world and internationalizing German research. Objective achieved in a handful of years, finally displacing Britain historically favored by language from the first place. Could we do it too, perhaps even playing cards that others do not have, such as the hospitality of a beautiful country, the climate and a cuisine of absolute excellence?
We have to try. It puts melancholy among the tables drawn up by Observa on the basis of a myriad of sources, the one on the attractiveness of our universities. According to the Education at a Glance 2020 report, the share of foreign students, which sees the Australian (26.5%), New Zealand and British universities in the lead, drops in Italy to 5.6%. It is not a question of language more or less spoken: ours is the fourth most studied in the world. Yet we find ourselves under the Slovak, Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian universities. Then? Tax problems, even if they are much more expensive elsewhere? More open in many foreign universities to teaching in English? Of bureaucracy, given that a Vietnamese might feel rejected by forms that ask for the tax code on the first line of the application form? Not to mention the foreign teachers who, according to the latest Anvur report, are 473 out of 53,801, less than 1%. A figure that cannot surprise in an academic fortress where teachers under 40 have even dropped in Italy from 16.3 to 13%. Against 24% in Spain, 31.5 in the United Kingdom, 46.1 in the Netherlands, 54.4 in Germany.
A figure that, together with others such as the average age of researchers rose to 45 years and even 49 for public ones, says a lot about how university and research, for how much merit the people who work there often are underpaid and even more often demoralized by too many cuts and too many talked about competitions, they must be profoundly reviewed, changed, endowed with more serious funding, relaunched to the point of recovering lost positions and conquering new spaces worldwide. A turning point that must go through opening up to women: that 22 place out of 25 countries in Eurostat’s Female Teachers 2020 ranking on the presence of women among university teachers cries out for revenge. Will it be a coincidence that in the ranking of the most innovative European countries, drawn up on the basis of twenty-seven indicators in the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2020 dossier, we are only eighteenth after the Czech Republic and Malta? How much school … But we’ll talk about it tomorrow.
February 20, 2021 (change February 20, 2021 | 22:44)
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