The Italian research

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Italy has a small number of researchers, much lower than other countries, especially in the private sector. Low wages and old age of the body of researchers constitute other elements that characterise in negative terms the state of research in our Country, while the productivity of research remains at good levels, especially in specific disciplines. Also the regional differences are wide, with respect to students’ competencies and to the distribution of the research activities.

These are some of the hints that emerge from the Science in Society Facts and Figures 2009 (Annuario Scienza e Società 2009), fifth edition of the volume edited by Observa – Science in society, with the support of Compagnia di San Paolo and published in Italian for Il Mulino.

The volume proposes a synthetic and accessible coherent set of information and data, originating from the most reliable national and international sources, useful for the understanding of the current state, and possible future transformations, of research and of innovation in our society.

Italy remains quite weak in terns of number of researchers: little over three out of a thousand employed, almost half of the European average (UE27). Leaving out the height of the list (Finland, which reaches 17, and Sweden with 13) even Greece and Spain can count on higher numbers.

This discrepancy is quite evident in the private sector. In the business world in Italy out of 10 employed about three are scientists, while in Sweden and in Japan researchers in the private sector account for 70% of the workforce, and little less in our neighbouring country Austria.

Generally speaking, Italy is one of the European countries where researchers earn the lowest wages: who does research in our country earns 15% less than the European average and over one third less than the English, the Germans, the Dutch and the Austrians. Further, Italian researchers are amongst the oldest in Europe. In Ireland 70% is younger than 44 years of age, while in our Country only 57%. One quarter of university professors are older than 60 years of age, against 10% in France, Spain and United Kingdom (only in five Eastern European countries researchers are older than ours).

A positive note comes from the productivity of our research activities: Italy is in fact located amongst the first eight OCSE countries for published scientific articles during the last 10 years – even though we remain behind Germany, United Kingdom and France – and the growth rate of scientific production is above the European average (UE15).

However, Italian researchers find difficulties in accessing European funds. In the 6th Framework Programme of the European Union, less than 15% of the projects presented by Italians has obtained funding, with respect to 20% of the ones proposed by United Kingdom and by Germany, 25% of the French ones and 28% of the Dutch.

According to the two editors of the volume, Massimiano Bucchi (Professor of Science, Technology and Society at the University of Trento) and Valeria Arzenton (responsible for the S&S research activities at Observa), «another critical issues is constituted by the regional differences present in our Country. In mathematics and sciences we have students who present competencies close to the best European and OCSE levels (in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto) and others who present competencies close to the lowest standards in the world (in Puglia, Campania and Sicily). These discrepancies are visible also at other levels: about half of the personnel employed in research and development in Italy is concentrated in three regions (Lombardia, Lazio and Piemonte)».

The Science and Society Facts and Figures 2009, this year in its fifth edition, proposes a synthetic and accessible coherent set of information and data originating from the most reliable national and international sources, useful for the understanding of the current state, and possible future transformations, of research and of innovation in our society: human resources and investments destined to research and innovation, patents and use of new technologies, public orientations towards science, a chronology of the main events that marked the relationship between science and society during 2008, the volumes published on these issues last year.

A special section, Italians, science and the environment. Second report on science, technology and public opinion in Italy offers an updated picture of the relationships between science and citizenry in our Country.

(Translation by Sara Pascoli)