Italy Appoints New Research Minister

New research minister Maria Chiara Carrozza

Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna/Francesco Ceccarelli

ROME—A bioengineer has been appointed minister of education, universities, and research in Italy's newly formed government. Maria Chiara Carrozza, 47, is a professor at the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa and a member of Parliament for the center-left Democratic Party, which is about to lead a new government formed as a result of February elections. Observers anticipate broad support for Carrozza's appointment, while noting that she faces huge obstacles.

Carrozza replaces electrical engineer Francesco Profumo, research minister in the "technocratic" government of Mario Monti since November 2011. A government formed from a broad coalition of center-left and center-right politicians was expected to assume power following a confidence vote in the upper house of Parliament on 30 April, having already obtained the backing of the lower house.

Carrozza has been in charge of developing the Democratic Party's policies on university and research, including measures to improve job security for junior researchers and to simplify the evaluation of research quality. Although most scientists in Italy are likely to support Carrozza's appointment, says Renzo Rubele, a science policy analyst at Free University of Brussels, some academics will object to her support of a controversial university reform launched by Profumo's predecessor, Mariastella Gelmini; critics have argued that the reforms, approved at the end of 2010, may end up reducing universities' autonomy.

Budgetary constraints will be the main hurdle for Carrozza to overcome in her new post, Rubele says. Italy spends just 0.8% of its gross domestic product on universities, compared with an E.U. average of 1.3%. As part of a package of austerity measures brought in by the Monti government, university funds were cut by €300 million last year alone. Alberto Baccini, a political economist at the University of Siena, also points out that several thousand students in Italy have not received scholarship support to which they are entitled to attend university simply because government funding is insufficient. "I hope Carrozza provides a discontinuity with the previous two ministers," he says.