The Italy of researchers: beautiful, mature, and always heart-breaking

Lights and shadows from the 2019 CNR Report on Research and Innovation

Rising investment on R&D in relation to GDP. Growth in public investments. Increase in researchers number compared to the total workforce. Gender gap on the upswing. As the technological trade balance, and the number of patents. This is the framework on our Country's contribution, aligned with the EU Framework Programmes, offered by the 2019 CNR Report on Research and Innovation in Italy, officially presented in the presence of prominent guests, such as the Prime Minister Conte, the Minister Of Education, Universities and Scientific Research Fioramonti, the President of CRUI, Gaetano Manfredi, the President of CNR Massimo Inguscio (in addition to the Report editors, Daniele Archibugi and Fabrizio Tuzi). A country that improves, then, but not quite apparently. Because we contribute more than we can achieve through our won research projects. And because the average age of our researchers is still a long way from the European one.

The report, produced and made available to the Government, Parliament and the public, contains and highlights an important amount of analysis and data on science and technology policies. It photographs an r&D expenditure that, thanks to the interruption of the decreasing trend in public investments, compared with GDP is rising from 1% in 2000 to 1.4 in 2016. However, we are still a long way from the continental average of 2%. The MIUR allocates EUR 1.670 million to public research bodies (Epr). In the last two years, the increase has been 47million, from 555 to 602. The number of researchers in relation to the overall workforce also shows a growth trend from 2005 to 2016: now the researchers are 60.000 more. We also advance on the gender balance for research staff, with projections of a break-even between men and women and the zero-zero gap by 2025 in public institutions, and a major recovery in universities (but inside organizations and on career progression possibilities perspective, we are currently in stasis).

A very sore note should unfortunately be reserved for the aging theme. In Italian universities, the senior profiles (over-50s) exceed half of the teaching total. Elsewhere (UK and France, for example, with their respective 40 and 37%), the situation looks better. The Italian teacher is 50 years-old, 46 if working in an Epr, 43 working in an organization. The clue of a more general trend, that of the progressive aging of the population. And of a short-sightedness, that of the public sector, linked to recruitment and, above all, to long-term planning policies. A vuluns to be stemmed as soon as possible, to avoid further age advancement on all fronts, such as to inhibit the correct generational change. At stake, something that transcends the record: the risk of dispersing skills and meritocracy, losing the opportunity (which has now become more and more urgent) to prepare policies adequately oriented to a future so close that it is already at the door, in addition to that to consolidate the necessary synergies to maximize the impact of our production, scientific or not.

Italian researchers alone produce 5% of the world's publications. Moreover, with qualitatively superior results, if we consider that between 2017 and 2018 the average citations received for each publication reaches 1,4%. We are practically equal-ranked to France, but it has many more researchers. This numerical inferiority also penalizes us, in part, in obtaining funding on the European Framework Programmes side: in the first three years (of the seven-year-long programme), we reached 8,7%. Germany (16,4%), United Kingdom (14,0%) France (10,5%) have obtained more solid foundations. Unfortunately, the balance is negative, because we contribute 12,5% to the overall budget. It also depends on our success rate, which reaches 7,5%, compared to an average of 13.

There are still plenty of room for improvement (politely euphemism for saying "defects"). But enough to demand strategic policies and innovation. It is periling for the continued migration of potentials to destinations judged more fertile for our Talent. Can we continue to allow all of this?