Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Nepotism in Italy (and the Italian Universities)

Nepotism is a problem found in most of the southern European Countries.

Here is an account about Italy from the BBC.

The family may be central to Italian business life, but many economists believe that nepotism - the practice of giving jobs to family members - is preventing talented young people from finding work, and holding the country back.
To get a job in Italy, is it what you know or who you know that counts? It's a commonly asked question here - and one with an obvious answer, if you believe most young graduates milling around the university campuses. In fact many wonder why I've even bothered to ask.
"If you have connections, you know the right people, you can have the job that you like," shrugs Giorgio at the University of Genoa, who told me he planned to go overseas to pursue his studies. "Yes, it's crucial to know someone, to be recommended," adds another.
None of the young people I met seemed to think their own family connections would amount to much, and all said they found this tough and demotivating as their final exams approached.

Keeping it in the family

  • The practice of naming a nephew (nipote) or other relative as chief minister was standard among Renaissance popes
  • It gave an old man a young, energetic assistant to help him cope with the demands of office
  • Pope Paul lll (pictured with his grandsons) was one notorious nepotist
  • On gaining the papal throne in 1534 he appointed two grandsons, both in their teens, as cardinals

Tens of thousands of young graduates are believed to be leaving Italy each year in pursuit of better opportunities abroad.
The presumption that connections matter dates back a long way. The very term nepotism - the favouring of your own family members over others - originates in this country, derived from the custom of medieval Popes handing out senior clerical jobs to their nephews - "nipote" in Italian.
Much has changed since medieval times, of course, but critics say not enough, even though finding a solution may be crucial if Italy is to pull itself out of the economic mire. The country is currently suffering one of its longest recessions in post-war history.
"You find it in many professions," says economist Professor Roberto Perotti, who's written a book on Italy's nepotism culture called The Rigged University. "Most notaries are sons of notaries. It's easier for relatives of magistrates to pass the necessary examinations, and doctors as well."
Prof Perotti, along with others, has published revealing studies of university teachers, showing the extraordinary concentration of surnames in many departments.


"There is a scarcity of last-names that's inexplicable," says fellow academic, Stefano Allesina. "The odds of getting such population densities across so many departments is a million to one."
Take the University of Bari, where five families have for years dominated the dozens of senior positions in Business and Economics there. Or consider the University of Palermo, where more than half the entire academic population has at least one relative working within the institution.
Since the studies don't reveal all forms of favouritism - towards romantic partners or in-laws, for instance (who may carry a different surname) - researchers say the study of surnames certainly under-represents the problem.
Luigi Frati, the Rector of La Sapienza University in Rome, has become one of the most notorious figures in the scandal, which local media have dubbed "Parentopoli" - or "Relative-gate".

Academic dynastie

Between 2000 and 2010, there are 37 instances of sons or daughters hired or promoted during the mandates of either a preside [head of faculty] or a rettore [head of university], eight of sons- or daughters-in-law, seven of nephews, and three of spouses
These numbers are a large underestimate of the phenomenon for several reasons...

A doctor by training, Professor Frati has, both as rector and formerly as head of the university's medical faculty, overseen the promotion of his wife from being a local high school history teacher, to becoming Professor of Medical History.
His daughter also gained a post as Professor of Legal Medicine - without any specific medical education. And his son was made an associate professor in cardiology aged just 31, one of the youngest Italians to gain such an appointment.
He has denied claims of nepotism, insisting that all his loved-ones just happen to be the best qualified. Responding to the allegations, he told Italian television, "In Italy we are not used to being meritocratic through strictly objective criteria. We are used to doing it our own way."
It's hard to disagree. The high court has made nepotistic appointments technically illegal in Italy's public sector, though no-one has ever been successfully prosecuted for them.
Most alarming, perhaps, are the indications that since the financial crisis began, the problem has actually got worse among private companies as well. A survey by the Ministry of Labour recently suggested that 61% of firms rely on personal introductions for recruitment, up from 50% a year earlier.

Chart showing youth unemployment for 15-25 year olds
And there have also been a series of well-publicised deals with unions where, in return for employees taking early retirement, companies have granted their children preferential treatment for entry-level jobs.

Prof Perotti despairs, comparing it to the time of Nero, when the notoriously mad Roman Emperor decreed that no citizen could ever leave his family's allotted profession. "How can our greatest asset, our intellectual capital, develop in this country when talent and merit are not allowed to flourish?" he asks.
As Italy goes to the polls, there appears little prospect of any new government directly addressing the issue. Critics argue that the political class itself is tainted, thanks in part to an electoral system where voters choose parties, not candidates. This allows party barons to select relatives or personal favourites for parliamentary seats.
Roberto Giacchetti, a Democrat Party deputy, is one of the few high-profile politicians to have raised this as a campaign issue. He went on hunger strike last year to demand that parliament approved electoral reform - to no avail.
"Among the public there is a desire for change," he says, "But among the political class, it's not there yet - even within my own party… That's just how things are.
"I don't expect anything to change soon."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Obama on education (in the State of Union address)

(Feb 12, 2013)
…These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs.  But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.  And that has to start at the earliest possible age.

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.  Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.  In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.  Let’s give our kids that chance.

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job.  At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.
We need to give every American student opportunities like this.  Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.  We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education.  It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.  But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years.  But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education.  Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.  Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.  And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today’s jobs require.  But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who’s willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

 Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants.  And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform….

Monday, February 11, 2013

The League of 21 leading European Research Universities has disassociated itself from the U-Multirank project

from the THE

A group representing some of Europe's leading universities has withdrawn its support for a new ranking system funded by the European Union, warning that it could pose "a serious threat" to higher education.

The League of European Research Universities, which represents 21 leading research-intensive universities, has disassociated itself from the U-Multirank project, which is due to publish its first results in early 2014.

At a cost of €2 million (£1.7 million), the scheme aims to offer an alternative to ranking systems that are focused mainly on research excellence and will grade universities in five areas - research, teaching, internationalisation, knowledge transfer and contribution to regional growth.

Launched in Dublin on 30 January, the ranking system will not produce a league table for universities, but hopes to provide a broader set of information to potential students.

However, several higher education institutions are refusing to release data to the project and Leru has severed its links with the scheme.

Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of Leru, said the organisation, whose members include the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, believes the project is ill-conceived and poorly designed.

"We consider U-Multirank, at best an unjustifiable use of taxpayers' money and at worst a serious threat to a healthy higher education system," he said. "Leru has serious concerns about the lack of reliable, solid and valid data for the chosen indicators in U-Multirank, about the comparability between countries, about the burden put upon universities to collect data and about the lack of 'reality-checks' in the process thus far."

However, speaking shortly before the scheme's launch, Androulla Vassiliou, European commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, insisted it would provide valuable information.

"It will contribute to the modernisation and quality of higher education by enabling universities to identify their strengths or weaknesses and learn from each other's experience," she said