Monday, May 19, 2008

More on Reverse Age Discrimination in Italian Universities

A while back, I wrote a post spurred by a reading of the commentary Reverse Age Discrimination, written for Nature Physics by Francesco Sylos Labini and Stefano Zapperi, two physicists based in Rome. I was reminded of that piece over the week-end, when I glanced at this on-line article from La Repubblica, a widely read Italian newspaper. The article is in Italian, and so won't be accessible to most readers. However, the figures mentioned in that article will be clear to everyone.

Here is the executive summary. Italian academic staff has never been older. The average age of associate and full professors is over 51. Over 50% of Italy's full professors is older than 60, about 8% is over 70, only 1,7% is under 40 and less than 19% is under 50. About 25% of the associate professors is over 60, and only 10% is under 40. Looking at researchers, a paltry 2% is younger than 30.

How does my home country compare with other European countries? Not well, alas, judging from the figures mentioned in that article. The average age of university professors is 45 in France, 44 in Spain and 42 in Germany. There is more. In Italy only 4% of university professors is below 34. Compare this figure to the ones in France (21%), the UK (27%), Finland (28%) and Germany (32%), and you will see why Italy continues to suffer from brain drain whereas other European countries are reversing this trend.

Can anybody point out similar statistics for countries like Australia, Canada, Israel and the USA, say? And what about Eastern Europe?

One thing seems clear to me, and it breaks my heart to say so. A country that does not offer better job opportunities to its young academics will suffer in the not-so-distant future and runs the risk of losing whole generations of gifted researchers. I hope that things will change soon, but I am not very optimistic.


Alessio said...

We hope so. However, the whole system is flawed and it is my guess that asystem like University can't undergo
the radical change it should need
as long as the administratio will
be targeted by any party governing
as "the place where to get
funding when they miss somewhere

In other words, it comes to me
that research in general can be
encouraged to be an elightful
life path only when the rest
is ok. And here it is not.

A PhD student in Pisa doing what
most of Italian residents enjoy: complaining ;-).

Anonymous said...

If so many italian professors are so old, shouldn't there be a massive hiring wave be imminent? Or don't italian professors retire at 65?

Luca Aceto said...

My understanding is that the retirement age for professors in Italy reaches up to 75. (I am sure that Italian readers will correct me if I am wrong, but that's what the commentary in Nature I refer to in the post says.)

As for the massive hiring wave, if previous history is anything to go by, I am not optimistic. If the hiring spree ever takes place, there is no guarantee that the average age of professors will go down. The aforementioned commentary in Nature gives some reasons why new hires in Italian universities typically do not translate into job opportunities for young academics.

Anonymous said...

I think that another problem is that the salaries for the young Italian academics are extremely low.

A starting salary of an assistant professor is 1250 euro/month (a typical monthly rent for a studio in Rome or Milan is at least 750 euro/month).

On the other hand the old professors (often with a much weaker publication record than their younger colleagues) can take as much as 5000 euro/month.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like old professors in charge of hiring decisions and setting their own salary.

Would affirmative action legislation (along the lines of having at least x% of professors under a certain age) have a chance in the italian political system?

Anonymous said...

Ciao Luca,

As a matter of fact your blog refers to wrong statistics, una colpa della Repubblica in fatto - not your doing.

The data for Finland are actually worse than for Italy, I have no idea where the guy who wrote the piece to Repubblica got those "optimistic" figures from. I know this for the particular reason, that I provided the corresponding numbers for Finland to Stefano Zapperi, who decided not to use in the Nature Physics article them since they look even worse than those of Italy (ie. the actual age distribution of university professors, full and associate).

For technical clarity, the major differences in the brain drain (oppure la fuga dei cervelli) between Finland and Italy that remain are due to the larger social mobility of Italians (where is the campanilismo actually??) and the larger amount of soft money in Finland. Thus, you see in relative terms to say nothing about the absolute numbers many more Italians than Finns around in the world...

Saluti, Mikko A.