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Italy introduces performance-related funding

Agency to evaluate research is launched.

The Italian government has finally given the go-ahead to a national research evaluation agency, ANVUR. But at the same time it published Italy's first university ranking and said performance-related funding would begin immediately.

The 24 July announcement of ANVUR was welcomed by many scientists who say that the country has not adequately rewarded best-performing research institutions. A law creating the agency was passed two years ago, but not put into practice until now. ANVUR should start work in about a year, says Mariastella Gelmini, the minister of universities and research.

Her ranking of universities caused political outcry however. Up to 7% of the approximately €7-billion (US$10-billion) national university budget will be allocated according to the list. Universities in the centre and north of the country generally did well, but most universities in the poorer south ranked at the bottom.

The ranking was based on an internal research evaluation carried out several years ago, combined with other criteria intended to assess teaching quality.

Raffaele Lombardo, president of Sicily, denounced the ranking criteria as discriminatory. Poor infrastructure in many southern universities prevents them from attracting independent research funds, he said in newspaper interviews, and high unemployment rates make it hard for graduates to find jobs, a criterion used to measure effectiveness of teaching. Lombardo and others also criticized the use of old bibliometric data.

All universities are concerned that performance-related funding is being introduced in a year when the government plans a 10% cut in the university budget. Davide Bassi, rector of the top-ranking University of Trento, says that this will be a "disaster for all universities, including our own".

Details of ANVUR's operation have yet to be set, but it is likely to be responsible for fine-tuning the criteria used in ranking exercises.

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Abbott, A. Italy introduces performance-related funding. Nature 460, 559 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/460559a

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