D-Stories | Society

How research in Italy has changed after the pandemic

The pandemic has exacerbated an already precarious situation, and many will not pursue their career, also due to limited entrance to university facilities.

Doing research in Italy is getting harder and harder. Indeed, the university population consists above all of thousands of people who do academic research, even though they are gradually less and not valorised – and the research field has not benefited from the pandemic.

A survey from the Italian Association of PhD Candidates and PhDs in Italy (Adi) shows that the doctoral positions have decreased by 43 per cent from 2007 to 2018 because of university funding cuts. Postdoc researchers are not doing any better: the 56 per cent leave the academic world after one or more research grants; the 29 per cent after a fixed-term contract. In total, the 90 per cent of postdoctoral fellows leave university.

The international conjuncture of Covid-19 has forced most PhD students to suspend their research activities

In addition, researchers are facing yet another problem: right now the impossibility of doing research is linked to the closure of several libraries, laboratories, and archives.

The places available to consult reading materials, even in the most important national libraries and State archives, have been reduced to a few units, and they must be reserved far in advance. The amount of works available for reference is very limited – which makes research itself impossible.

At the Sapienza in Rome, the largest university in Italy, PhD candidates have gathered to demand a discussion with the Academic Senate, while another 700 have signed an open letter that describes the current scene with clarity: «The international conjuncture of Covid-19 has forced most PhD students to suspend their research activities at multiple (and fundamental) levels: field research; access to laboratories; (...); etc. It follows that the right of access and/or of use is seriously jeopardized».

The government, with the Rilancio (“relaunch”) decree, has announced a paid extension for PhD candidates of the 33rd “cycle”, that is those students who won the doctoral scholarship two years ago and are now completing their last year of PhD, but there is no mention of the other cycles, of the students with no scholarship, of the ones who work with foreign universities, and of public employees on leave.

In addition, the decree does not consider that research as we have known it until now has become a mission impossible since March, with the risk that PhD candidates, postdoctoral fellows, and professors give up in droves their careers, making Italy a country without concrete academic research.

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