Italy’s election last month does not bode well for science there, which is still beset with the problems you highlighted in a feature 35 years ago (Nature 303, 109–128; 1983). It is meagre consolation that research output is increasing, against the odds (Nature 554, 411–412; 2018).
We call on the new political leaders to work with internationally renowned scientists on a major reform of the Italian research system. This needs to be based on merit, transparency and internationalization. Funding should be doubled from its current 1.2% of gross domestic product to be on a par with that of other developed countries.
Four reforms are crucial. Italy needs an independent, public research foundation that supports centres of excellence as part of the European network. This should award funding that is open to all researchers, irrespective of affiliation, and subject to international peer review. Italian universities should be released from public administration to reduce bureaucracy and to allow them autonomy in hiring. Public funds must be disbursed to universities strictly on the basis of the performance of the teaching and research faculty, both to be independently assessed. And the public administration should appoint only PhD-trained skilled professionals to senior posts.
Nature 556, 436 (2018)