Italy, Academic Career Structure
Competitiveness: the Italian system is usually perceived as a non-competitive system. However, in recent years there have been many legal changes regarding public universities, which dominate Italian academia, to address this. The changes point towards more openness and greater incentives for these relatively autonomous universities to become more research oriented and meritocratic. Unfortunately, these changes are taking place in years of financial restraint, with a very low replacement ratio of an aging faculty (20% in the best of cases), and limited resources to effectively promote research. These restrictions often neutralize policies towards greater openness in the hiring of external candidates (i.e. from a different university or research centre, in Italy or abroad, likely to accept a position elsewhere), reinforcing the historical perception of being closed. As in other countries, there are important differences across disciplines; one important difference being the different level of consensus within a discipline for the use of bibliometric measures in assessing research performance for hiring and promotion.
Overall, incentives for the system to be open are minimal: the universities are relatively autonomous but suffer from a lack of resources. Successful candidates for academic positions are often internal: for example, it is less costly for universities to hire internal candidates as this involves only career advancement. However, the recent changes suggest that the system should become more open in the future, since, according to the ‘Gelmini law’ of 2010, universities have to reserve 20% of new positions for external candidates.
Postdoc: ‘assegno di ricerca’ (i.e. work as a research assistant for a specific project) is the closest to a post-doc; in fact, it is becoming a post-doc, even though this has not been carried out in law. However, in recent years few standard post-doc programmes have been opened in Italian universities. Visit single Italian university websites (see the list of Italian universities).
Entry positions: the main starting position for a career in Italian academia is usually that of ‘ricercatore’. Until a few years ago this was a permanent position, with a probationary period of three years, and meant passing a written and oral examination. This was changed by the ‘Moratti reform’ in 2005 and, more radically, by the ‘Gelmini reform’ of 2010. Nowadays, there are two types of contract, ‘ricercatore tipo A’ and ‘ricercatore tipo B’, with different lengths and prospects but similar duties. The contract for ‘ricercatore tipo A’ lasts for three years and can be extended for only two more years after evaluation, while the contract for ‘ricercatore tipo B’ lasts for three years with no possibility of an extension. The difference between the two types is that while the type B contract is not a career path towards an associate professor position, those with type A do have this opportunity, since universities hiring type A are supposed to set aside money for career advancement. Both contract types involve teaching duties; in the past, the permanent researcher position did not include teaching, which was voluntary. In practice, given that the financial incentive for universities to hire researchers with contract A is low, researchers are hired predominantly on the B type contract. Click here for more information.
Being hired as a ‘professore a contratto’, a temporary lecturer position, usually to cover teaching needs, is also possible. Recently, however, departments have been discouraged in doing this since they could be penalized in the allocation of funds if the majority of lecturers are not on a tenure-track course.
Career progress: with the current rules, to move up to a professorship position a ‘ricercatore’, or an external candidate, needs first to get what is called ‘idoneita’; that is, being considered ‘idoneo’ (employable, or fit for service) by a national committee within a specific discipline. Once the committee has provided the list of ‘candidati idonei’, those candidates can proceed to the second step and apply for a position at a local university, within a period of four years. If the candidate does not get a position within this period, s/he must apply again for the ‘idoneita’. Candidates who do not pass the national competition have to wait for two years to re-apply. Click here for more information.
Temporary/permanent positions: apart from ‘assegno di ricerca’, ‘professore a contratto’, and ‘ricercatore di tipo B’, all other positions are tenure or tenure-track.
Salaries: salaries and pay scales are fixed by national legislation. See our section on salaries for more information.
Gender: the presence of women in Italian academia is balanced at the start of the career ladder, but very few women reach tenured professorship (the so-called scissor problem). The position of professor is usually obtained at the age of 50; 20 to 30 years ago the presence of women in Italian universities was very low and this explains why there are few women professors now. Click here for more information on women in Italian academia.
Universities and research institutions: click here for a list of Italian universities.
Job postings: openings for competitions in academia are published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale. The website www.concorsi.it has a system of job alerts.
Most of the universities in Italy are public and depend on the Ministero dell'Università e della Ricerca.
Private entities run a limited number of universities, and some private universities are chartered universities, i.e. recognised by the State. While two of these have a very comprehensive offer (the Catholic University of Milan and the University of Urbino), private universities are in general specialised in specific disciplines such as Arts, Economics, Political Sciences and Law, and follow public rules in many respects.
Public universities have a certain degree of autonomy in determining their curriculum. However, the State remains the main authority for the definition of degrees, job positions and salaries because, according to the Italian constitution, universities belong to the public sector and academic positions are civil service positions.
Apart from the universities, the National Centre for Research, where scholars can develop an academic career, has departments all over Italy.
The number of private universities has increased over the past ten years, from 16 private universities in 2002-2003, to 28 in 2009-2010 (for more info click here). The high fees demanded by private universities, almost three times higher than at public universities, are said to be compensated for by the greater chance of being hired sooner, and earning a higher salary, after attaining a university degree. However, the quality of private universities varies a good deal. There are some very good ones, depending on the discipline, such as the Bocconi University for Economics and the LUISS Guido Carli for Political Sciences, but there are also many cases of a low quality in the education, training and facilities offered.
Private universities receive a lower rate of public funding than public universities, but enjoy more autonomy in terms of hiring policies and the post-graduate programmes they can offer, provided that they comply with the legal framework set out by the State. Some private universities are closely connected to the private economic sector, and this allows them to offer better salaries and adequate funding for post-doctoral positions. They also seem to be more open to international cooperation (in particular in Economics), through double degree programmes, and BA and MA courses taught entirely in English.
2. Possibly post doc position (assegno di ricerca)
3. Possibly Temporary Lecturer (‘professore a contratto’)
4. Researcher (‘ricercatore’) type A or type B (see above)
5. Associate Professor (‘professore associato’), tenure track or tenured
6. Full Professor (‘professore ordinario’), tenured after a probationaly period ('professore straordinario', see below)
The average age for obtaining a PhD degree is 27-28.
The entry level for an academic career is usually the position of Researcher (‘ricercatore’).
To become a ‘ricercatore’, the candidate needs to win a competition (‘concorso’) based on an oral discussion of the candidate’s work and the candidate’s CV. The procedure and requirements for a post are laid down in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, the Official Bulletin of the Italian Republic). Vacancies are announced in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, as well as on the web page of the Ministry of Education, and of individual universities. A PhD is usually required.
To become an Associate Professor the candidate needs to pass a national competition and get ‘idoneita’, on the basis of publications which are evaluated with bibliometric methods and are different for different sectors (see above).
To become a Full Professor, the candidate needs to pass a national competition and obtain ‘abilitazione’ and then pass a local competition and be hired by a university (the same procedure as for an Associate Professor). It is not necessary to be an Associate Professor to become a Full Professor. There is a difference between ‘professore ordinario’ and ‘professore straordinario’, and 3 years after being ‘straordinario’, a professor can become ‘ordinario’. For more information check here.
National Research Council (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, CNR)
1. Researcher (‘ricercatore’)
2. First Researcher (‘primo ricercatore’)
3. Director of Research (‘dirigente di ricerca’)
There have been very few competitions over the last decade at the National Research Council. As a result, it is difficult to make a career as a researcher. New researchers are hired on temporary contracts, while many tenured researchers do not get promoted to the next level (see the statistics here). When competitions are organised, they often take several years.
Access to an academic career and progression up the career ladder is strongly conditioned by the fact that the Italian academic system is not very open. As mentioned above, there are incentives for universities to hire internal candidates, since hiring an external candidate means higher costs to the university. Because of this, mobility across universities in Italian academia is very low; the recent reforms are an attempt to change this but, because of a lack of resources, success is doubtful. Italian academia also has the reputation of being closed to foreigners, mainly because of the language barrier. Furthermore, Italian academic salaries are relatively low, making positions unattractive.
Recently Italy has seen the introduction of an evaluation system for Universities, with the aim of improving the existing University system. The VQR (Valutazione della Qualita di Ricerca) evaluates individual departments and universities according to publication records, the ability to attract external funding, and the percentage of tenure track lecturers etc., and can allocate resources according to performance. The problem is that the evaluation process is still at a very experimental stage and the financial resources attached to it have not materialized (for more information click here).
As there are no longer permanent contracts for ‘ricercatori’, all starting positions are temporary. As explained above the process for achieving a full professorship may be very long, and just obtaining ‘idoneita’ is no guarantee of a position. However, since tenured positions are civil service positions they are, by definition, stable. At the CNR, there is no trial period.
The tasks of researchers include research and teaching. The general guideline is that researchers teach a maximum of 250 hours a year.
Associate and Full Professors have both research, teaching and administrative duties. In addition they supervise students for BA, MA and PhD theses. A general guideline is that professors at both levels have at least 100 hours of administrative and organizational duties and a minimum of 250 hours of teaching per year, but this also depends on the department, as the guidelines might be subject to internal negotiation.
Researchers have no sabbatical opportunities. Associate Professors and Full Professors are entitled to a paid sabbatical year for research, without teaching duties, after seven years of teaching, but only if they find a suitable substitute, often a quite difficult task.
Gross monthly salary levels from 2007.
Monthly salary, gross (starting)
Associate Professor (Professore di seconda fascia)
Full Professor (Professore di prima fascia)
Maximum level is reached after 39 years of seniority.
Source: A. Trombetti and A. Stanchi (2010) L'universita italiana e l'Europea, Rubettino Editore.
Note: The salaries are low at the beginning of a career, but become high towards the end, even compared to academic salaries in the US. Following a full academic career in Italy, the salary at the end of the career can be 5 times higher than the starting salary. During the first three years in each position, the test period, no seniority is awarded.
While the salaries of academics in the National Research Council are somewhat higher at the beginning, because there is no trial period, the increase is slower than at universities.
For a more recent update on academic salaries in Italian academia, check the web pages of Univeristy of Milan and Univeristy of Pisa.
Number of existing positions in 2012.
Source: Ministry, http://www.miur.it/scripts/visione_docenti/vdocenti0.asp
In general, Italian universities are difficult to access for non-nationals, mainly because of the language barrier, since most courses are still taught in Italian. Nevertheless, with the recent changes, the hiring mechanisms are becoming more accessible to non-nationals, even though the language barrier and the low pay still provide a strong disincentive for non-nationals, or even for nationals working abroad, to apply for or accept jobs at Italian universities. Some private universities and public departments of Economics are reported to be more open than others. Check them by clicking here.
National Research Council (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, CNR), which has institutes in various Italian cities.
In Italy, Economics is considered the discipline most open to international researchers. Based on common knowledge and the perception of academics, we suggest below a list of private research centres to which you may want to apply:
There are also some departments in public universities that are reported to be open to recruitment on a merit basis:
Gagliarducci, S., A. Ichino, et al. (2000), 'Lo splendido isolamento dell'universita' italiana'
Marsiglia, D. (2006), 'L'attrattività degli atenei nel sistema delle autonomie', Approfondimenti (1): 29-38.
Perotti, R. (2002), 'The Italian University System: Rules vs. Incentives', 66
Perotti, R., A. Ichino, et al. (2005), 'Le Retribuzioni Perverse dell’Universita’ Italiana'
Stanchi, A. (2002), 'La carriera accademica in Italia e in Europa', Atenei 75-88.
Trivellato, P. (2007), 'Italia', P. J. Wells, J. Sadlak and L. Vlasceanu (eds.) The Rising Role and Relevance of Private Higher Education in Europe, 2007, UNESCO-CEPES, pp.213-256.
Special thanks to:
Cristina Fasone, Max Weber Fellow, EUI, 2013-2014
Giorgia Giovanetti, Professor of Economics, University of Florence
Giorgio Ricchiuti, Professor of Economics, University of Florence
Francesco Contini, Researcher, IRSIG
Andrea Ichino, Professor of Economics, University of Bologna
Lorenzo Mosca, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI, 2006-07
Cristina Poncibò, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI, 2006-07
Chiara Steindler, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, EUI
Marco Lombardi, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI, 2007-08
Paolo Masella, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI, 2007-08
Giammario Impulliti, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI, 2007-08
Anna Lo Prete, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI, 2007-08