The Bologna Process is an inter-ministerial initiative, gathering together 45 countries in the European region, which aims at establishing a European Higher Education Area by 2010. One would assume that with such an initiative in place, professionals in the Higher Education and Research sector in the European region enjoy a comfortably optimistic outlook of the future. Surely, all partners – governments, staff and students – must be working together to culminate a common area of the sector, which will be devoted to the freedom and democracy of education and research, and the exercise of academic freedom, so as to allow higher education and research personnel to work on the advancement and transmission of human knowledge.
The reality is far from what is projected. In some EU countries, it remains a struggle for staff in the higher education and research sector to fight the new challenges that oppose the very objectives of the Bologna Process. Italy, is a case in point. Actions to weaken the higher education establishments in Italy are mounting. In the past few years, the Italian government reduced a considerable amount of funding to public universities, and put in place new patterns for university degrees without any evaluation of the existing ones. Such random decisions have seriously perturbed the stability of the education system. A great blow came last October, when the parliament passed a bill restricting the open competition for the vacancies in public universities. Through this bill, non-permanent positions become the ordinary rule for teaching personnel and researchers, closing the doors to all young people willing to follow a career in higher education and research. Ironically, many within the highest rank of permanent positions are being generously remunerated, based on seniority and not any evaluation of their work. At the same time, the university doors are wide open for private firms, who through the bill, will be able to sponsor new positions without any public competition or evaluation. Already, non-permanent positions now represent over 50% of all university staff in the country. Such attacks on the autonomy of universities simply do not help them to keep up a high level of teaching and research. With the foundation of the higher education establishments shaken, qualified personnel in the sector might have to seek employment in other countries or outside the EU. EI affiliate Sindacato Nazionale Scuola CGIL protested to the government about the bill. Joined by other trade unions, teacher associations, temporary staff associations, students associations, the association of rectors, as well as the elective councils of all Italian universities, such unity to save Italian higher education and research was unprecedented. In spite of such a huge coalition to reject the bill from the sector itself, the government persisted in imposing the bill. CGIL will repeal against it, in April 2006, to the next government. “There are many daunting challenges facing the Higher Education and Research sector, both within the EU and in the rest of the world,” says EI coordinator for Education and Employment, Monique Fouilhoux. “the sector is at the first line of attack from governments who want to sell it off and from parties who seek to make profit out of it. Personnel working in the sector have to struggle everyday to protect the right to learn and to research.”