Brain drain fear stalks Italy again

Italy’s new research minister has been warned she must act fast to stop thousands of highly skilled scientists leaving the country.

Up to 15,000 researchers currently paid by universities via short-term contracts could soon look for work in other countries, the association of PhD candidates and postdoc researchers ADI told Anna Maria Bernini in an open letter.

Precarious jobs, such as those under assegni di ricerca contracts, were supposed to have been done away with by reforms pushed through by the last government. Italy has long struggled against the ‘brain drain’ of its best researchers leaving for better resourced jobs in other nations, and the reforms were seen as a major part of making Italy more attractive.

ADI, which has around 2,000 active members all over Italy, supports contract reform for researchers but has repeatedly warned that the changes could backfire if not adequately financed.

“We hope that Minister Bernini will complete the reform of the career that was started by her predecessor Maria Cristina Messa,” said the newly elected secretary of ADI, Rosa Fioravante.

Fioravante, who is a PhD candidate in business ethics at Università di Urbino, told Research Professional News: “In order to move from the current abuse of precarious employment of postdocs to the tenure track of up to two two-year contracts, we estimate that the ordinary fund of universities must be increased by at least €1 billion.”

The reforms would raise the average monthly salary from €1,300-1,400 to €1,700-1,800, which, along with the addition of paid holidays and sick leave, would roughly double the cost to institutions of employing a researcher.

Without additional money, this might result in a drastic cut in the number of research positions available, ADI fears. It could also lead to a transition period where old agreements are extended, frustrating the reform and the researchers who should benefit from it.

Another pressing issue is the classification of PhD candidates, who are considered students but are demanding the same rights as workers undergoing training, Fioravante added.

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