Italy's corruption consensus

Italy's political parties are divided in the run-up to next month's general elections on almost every issue. But they do agree that the country's universities and research base are underfinanced, inefficient and often corrupt.

The outgoing conservative Government of Silvio Berlusconi has ended lifetime contracts for researchers, sought to reform the competitive exams ( concorsi ) for academic posts and urged institutions to hire lecturers from outside the academic mainstream.

But it has also cut resources in real terms, provoking a clash with the Rectors Conference and the National Association of University Teachers. The reforms were attacked by the opposition coalition of the centre-left, led by Romano Prodi, which sided with the rectors and teachers.

If Mr Prodi wins, as the polls suggest, his Unione coalition will have to grapple with the same issues as its predecessor in revitalising Italian higher education - budget limitations and resistance to change.

Pier Ferdinando Casini, president of the Chamber of Deputies and a senior figure in the Berlusconi coalition, said: "Reform is opposed by the academic world, which is used to managing its concorsi to give posts to sons and daughters, relatives and nephews."

His remark was taken as a reflection on the case of Piero Tosi, rector of Siena University, suspended pending judicial investigation of alleged irregularities.

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