Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Reform makes Italian research accountable

Institutions finally gain autonomy and take on responsibilities.

Italian research is headed for major reform — yet again. But this time it's for real, insists Luciano Modica, undersecretary of state for research, and the main architect of a reforming law that the Italian parliament is expected to pass by the end of May.

“The difference between this law and other attempts at reform is the element of autonomy,” says Modica. For the first time, every research organization and institute will have full control over its budget, recruitment and how it runs its research. At the same time, the institutes will be accountable to the government for their decisions.

Universities were given autonomy in 1990, but without much accountability. Now there will be budgetary consequences for any university or research institute that makes bad decisions. The new law also creates an independent evaluation agency that will assess the quality of the research produced. And it gives the government power to withhold funds from institutes that do badly and to reward good performers with extra money.

“Not only money — also positions,” says Modica, who this week created 1,600 positions for entrance-level professorships over the next three years. These will be distributed to the universities ranked highest in Italy's first research assessment exercise, carried out in 2001–03. “The first ten universities in each field will get a certain number of these professorships, paid for by the government, and the others will get none,” Modica says.

The decree also dictates that presidents of research agencies can no longer be simply named by the government, but will be chosen from short lists drawn up by expert committees.

Among other things, this change is likely to lead to the ousting of Fabio Pistella, president of Italy's main research agency, the National Research Council. Constitutionally, such changes at the agency must be overseen by a temporary commissioner, not the incumbent president. A new president will then have to be appointed under the changed procedures once the commissioner's job is done. Pistella, who is not highly regarded, is unlikely to be on the post-reform short list.


Related links

Related links

Related links in Nature Research

Italian government eases in radical reforms

Q&A: Fabio Mussi

Italians put science chief on the spot

Saving Italian science

Related external links

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Abbott, A. Reform makes Italian research accountable. Nature 447, 8–9 (2007).

Download citation


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing