The Eurispes Workshop on Human Capital -2nd meeting: “University: the future Capital”.

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The Eurispes Workshop on Human Capital – 2nd meeting:

“University: the future Capital”

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

 

A Dialogue with:

Cristina Messa, Minister of University and Research

 

Opening remarks: Gian Maria Fara, President of the Eurispes

 

Coordinator:

Benedetta Cosmi, journalist and writer

 

Speakers:

Giovanni Cannata, Universitas Mercatorum Chancellor

Mario Caligiuri, Coordinator of the Degree Course in Pedagogical Sciences at University of Calabria

Laura Mazza, The Hub Managing Director and Federformazione Vice president

Cosmi:

Welcome to the second meeting of the Eurispes’ Human Capital Lab. In this second webinar, we continue the path we started previously, with a particular focus on the University, considered the engine of a social elevator that is often blocked. The University represents a fundamental node in the chain of human capital that supports a country that can make it through if it believes in the next generations and the importance of knowledge and its cross-contamination. Welcome to Minister Cristina Messa and the other guests who will comment and debate with us on this topic, starting from the enriching dialogue we will have with Minister Messa, whom I would like to thank again for being here with us. Let me now introduce the Eurispes President Gian Maria Fara welcome message.

Fara:

Thank you Benedetta, mine will be a quick message because I am more interested in the things you will say than in the things I might say. Greetings to Minister Messa, to my friend Professor Giovanni Cannata, to my friend Professor Mario Caligiuri and Professor Mazza. We are now achieving the second stage of a journey we intend to undertake, followed by the publication of a volume on the topic after collecting a satisfying number of contributions. I wanted to open this webinar precisely on this occasion, to anticipate to the Minister an initiative promoted by the Institute, which is the establishment of a Permanent Observatory on Educational Policies, whose direction has been assigned to Professor Caligiuri, who is here with us. Moreover, eminent personalities of the academic, institutional and information sectors have joined. I wanted the Minister to have this news directly from us. Then, we will announce the official statement with a conference, a convention, a meeting with the press in the coming weeks. This initiative shows how closely the Eurispes follows culture, schools, and universities issues, which play a central role in the country’s future and development. The University must once again become a breeding ground for intelligence, a place of excellence in training the country’s future leaders. I want to thank everyone for their presence and collaboration. We hope to be able to do a good job. At least, we hope to be able to live up to our name.

Cosmi:

Thank you, Mr President. Therefore, the Eurispes will have a Human Capital Laboratory and an Education Observatory that I think will become crucial tools to keep the attention focused on the educational emergency we are facing at the moment. Maybe it will get lost in the public debate. Still, the burden will remain for a long time on those generations that have found themselves in the lockdown with School and even University no longer requiring compulsory attendance, but with mandatory absence instead.

All the institutions have tried to cope with this crisis through technological means, trying to keep alive that enthusiasm and the hope of feeling like an educational community. Mrs Minister, you have an essential background as University Chancellor, so we can’t help but ask you how are things going in Rome, inside the Institutions?

Messa:

First of all, I would like to thank you, and I am happy to be here today, just as I am happy to be in Rome right now because there is a desire, a need to do something to guarantee a better future for our country and for our young people, that has never been so strongly felt before. This, of course, leads to the need for a shared commitment, even while considering thousands of everyday difficulties. We have an abnormal Council of Ministers, and we have an abnormal majority. Above all, we have a significant project to carry out about young people, universities and research. This is a unique moment whose opportunities cannot be missed. We often mentioned how our educational system – especially in the research system – financial resources clashes with a series of barriers that we have imposed on ourselves over time, which do not allow us to use these funds appropriately. Now there is a chance to awaken the collective conscience because reforms are necessary if we want to start over differently. Therefore, I can say that for the time being, everything seems to be working well. We will see how the situation evolves. These are magic moments that, unfortunately, cannot last for very long.

Cosmi:

I happened to hear one of your fellow Ministers, also in a certain way brought into politics, Vittorio Colao, referring to the work of his Ministry – that of University and Research – on the front of STEM subjects, to the sector dealing with technology, and also to the gender overcoming within some professional circles perception. What has been done on this front, also at an inter-ministerial level? How will the Next Generation EU funds be addressed to not collide with possible constraints?

 

 

 

Messa:

Minister Colao is one of our supporters, not so much of the Ministry itself, but of the idea that this Ministry has to provide human capital. We should try to revive human capital in all the various activities, starting with those of the public administration and ending with the actual research field. Today, there is a need for skills and knowledge that vary from the simplest ones of a high school graduate to the more complex and articulated ones of a PhD researcher. Indeed, in Italy, we have a wide margin to fill the highest skills – not in a qualitative sense, but precisely in a lifetime sense – which are those of graduates and PhDs. We have asked the various competent Ministries – ranging from the Ministry of Digital Transition to the Ministry of the Environment and Environmental Transformation to the Ministry of Public Administration – what kind of profiles they need to carry out the various policies we are promoting. We agreed to invest considerably in human capital, particularly in PhDs and graduates. We are trying to introduce measures to increase both the number of graduates – which, as you know, in Italy is a low 27% as opposed to a more or less European 40% – and PhDs. There are currently 9,000 PhDs in Italy, and we would like to increase this figure to almost 20,000 to try to bring the numbers closer to those in other European countries. It is normal to think that a PhD holder has to perform research. Research can be a tool that you learn to handle during your PhD. Yet, you can still use the skills acquired to apply them to the Public Administration, to the cultural heritage industry and the economy in general. It is a highly eclectic training from a certain point of view.

Cosmi:

The reference you make to the cultural industry is fascinating because it makes me think that – in addition to the scientific research on vaccines – I believe it is crucial – given the historical period in which we live – to emphasise the research on teaching. We have found classrooms in the educational world projected towards a sort of e-learning and distance learning: these are existing studies. The subject is certainly not new, and there is exciting literature on this topic. However, it would help to deepen the education research and understand how it is changing, as people try to be international even if they are actually in their room. Moreover, we have seen how chat rooms have become key to develop a ‘sense of belonging’. I would like to understand if there can be a kind of research stimulating didactic innovation, perhaps facilitating a link to the world of employment. We know that an education that is indifferent to the world of work leads to the creation of watertight compartments and the weakening of doctoral students and academics training. To be provocative: the postgraduate students’ profile has had to make up, especially in the past, for the under-staffed university personnel. They have often to deal with this. As a result, there has been a reduction in the human research capital, because obviously, the selection of doctoral students was no longer aimed at a specific profile but rather at lowering the required quality level.

Moreover, for all the years they worked, doctoral candidates had no social security contributions. The point of view in which you ‘raise’ the PhD is very European, international and exciting, but there are no contributions to the INPS or any other pension system. Consequently, when the PhD students access the employment market, maybe at the age of 30/32, they will have to start from scratch. It may be necessary to find a solution in this regard.

Messa:

There is already a parliamentary bill to increase doctoral scholarships, which also takes social security benefits into account. The first initiative I undertook as a Chancellor was to increase the doctoral scholarship thanks to University funds. In fact, in an international and pro-European context, we must also adapt to the wage aspect of these young adults who may have families and who must be able to live an everyday adult life like everyone else. This last is undoubtedly an important aspect. The other concerns are the need for the educational offer. More than 70% of the Italian industry comprises micro-enterprises with less than 8-10 employees, some with an academic background: they are spin-offs. These start-ups are of international importance and currently have a greater capacity for innovation. I believe that these future companies can only benefit from recruiting innovation-oriented people and those ready to enter the market. However, we have to deal with our labour market situation because it is not the same as other European countries. For this very reason, when implementing the number of PhD scholarships, we will be cautious about trying to direct them towards areas and structures that can better welcome them, making the most of them. Otherwise, the risk is that these young people will be under-qualified and end up teaching just because it is their only option. Teaching is a science, and it is an essential one. We recruit young people who have never taught, and no one teaches them how to do it; we recruit them because they have published well and not because they know how to deliver actual lessons. Therefore, it is essential to give these young people the necessary tools to learn how to manage this fundamental task. I believe that the entire academic community should emphasise teaching skills because research skills are not enough. This capacity must be the basis, but it must also be translated into power for teaching, transmitting experience and not just knowledge.

Cosmi:

In what you said, I can recall a speech that has already been made, which remains very important for our country, the ability to attract talent. By attracting human capital from other competitive countries, I also mean the ability to define specific profiles, including salaries, because otherwise not only will our young people leave, but others won’t come either. What did you find on the political agenda, and what are you working on?

Messa:

We must try to attract Italians who have moved abroad and foreigners who want to come to Italy by encouraging universities and research centres in several ways. The first step is to simplify because sometimes it is so complicated to welcome people from foreign countries to Italy that the University administrations give it up. For example, for direct calls, such as competitions for doctorates or specific research projects, we need to liberalise the language as much as possible. As long as we continue to force academic calls to be written in Italian, I do not think we will get very far. Hospitality, capacity and the possibility of giving young people opportunities to come to Italy are also attractive factors. Under Professor Manfredi’s leadership, this Ministry has given more strength to the Institutes for artistic and musical education. This one has been an extremely attractive element for the cultural scene in our country. All our Academies are very international, more than the Universities are. Therefore, we should try to create a bridge between the Academies and the Universities to attract more human capital from abroad and then try to implement the concept of circulation. Unfortunately, in Italy over the last twenty years, we have witnessed a sort of immobility: people stay where they are, they make a career in the same place, they are afraid to move because this would require a financial commitment, sometimes a family commitment, in short, a risk. This trend, in my opinion, must be completely reversed. Students who embark on a research career must always move around as much as possible and never stay in the same environment. Let us return to the concept of brain circulation, as was the case until a few years ago.

 

 

 

Cosmi:

In your opinion, can the University constitute an economic driver? I am talking about all the aspects that have so far created, especially in certain regions, more of a hidden economy, such as housing. We have never had the opportunity to invest in a college mentality, which has led to somewhat obscure enrichment mechanisms, such as houses and beds rented illegally.

Messa:

Universities have rediscovered the European – not American – dimension of the campus concept. Some urban areas’ renewal happened precisely where university campuses have been set up if we look at it. We are talking about otherwise unused spaces. Those areas have been renovated both externally and also as a pole of attraction for young people. In the plan, we have set aside a lot of funds for student residences, precisely to try to give as much as possible a form of campus free from circumstances that certainly do not benefit the public system in general. Besides, there is a real immaterial impact, which should be accurately quantified by studies, as the Anglo-Saxons do. In this sense, I believe that, in addition to the Observatory on Educational Policies, which is very interesting, there should be many other observatories that assess the University’s overall impact.

Fara:

A good suggestion for a possible research study of the Institute could be a cost-benefit analysis of the University. Clearly, the benefits are much higher than the costs.

Cosmi:

Absolutely. Perhaps we should include in the costs the failure to achieve numerous objectives in terms of lifelong learning. Maybe those are the only actual costs of a country when compared to supporting a system. Then there would be the lever of private funding, which we have somewhat opposed because it is perceived as a factor affecting free action. In contrast, it is a way for individuals or private individuals to give something back to those institutions that have been able to help their children and future generations grow. Will it be possible, therefore, to raise private funds and to avoid the feeling of getting our hands dirty?

Messa:

We slightly live with these ideological legacies influencing us and, unfortunately, also conditioning our regulations. One of the fundamental points of the reforms that I do believe we must implement – together with the plan – is regulating the relationship between the public and private sectors. As it stands today, it cannot work. Some rules almost prevent the public sector from working alongside the private sector, and it is not currently worthwhile for the private sector to work with the public sector. We need to intervene by forgetting these ideological constructs. We have included in the plan an incentive for private capital to invest in a variety of ways, precisely because the plan – among other things – will last until 2025 – at which point we will have to walk alone and return a large part of the funds to Europe. So if we don’t take this opportunity to try also to get private capital to invest, we will be left with a debt, and we will have missed a unique opportunity to trigger a better mechanism.

 

 

 

Cosmi:

We thank you, and of course, we remain at your disposal. We will do our utmost to ‘scrub’ all those systems you have highlighted, doing our part to make the public machine work.

 

Fara:

Europe has transferred to us the very interesting experience of the 3Ps: public-private partnerships. It is a widespread practice in Europe that is struggling to take off in our country. The collaboration between the public and the private sectors is the path to follow to achieve the country’s overall growth and well-being.

Cosmi:

Thank you again, Minister. We will be in touch for future updates on how the plan is going. We thank you for your suggestions and will discuss them with other colleagues and scholars. Speaking about the partnership, we welcome the Universitas Mercatorum Chancellor, Professor Giovanni Cannata, who already has a market-oriented approach as the Chambers of Commerce already do. Welcome, I would like to know more about how the idea of that University was born. What gaps has it filled?

Cannata:

I was Chancellor of a public university for a long time. Now I continue this experience in a University that represents the public-private partnership because it was born, essentially, from the Chambers of Commerce system. I had the opportunity to be appointed Chancellor. The Minister used some interesting terms: she used the word ‘anomaly’ and the expression ‘unique moment’. We are truly living in a condition of anomaly in the history of the world and a unique moment because the pandemic has exposed us to some severe issues. We have been affected by wars, by so many challenging conditions, but a crisis such as the pandemic poses tough questions. Fortunately, when we talk about human capital, I am beginning to hear the word ‘investment’ being used and not just the word ‘cost’. The public-private system has invested in education. The University that I have the privilege of running is an example of a far-sighted investment from this point of view. The Minister also referred to some issues relating to expertise. I would like to underline that we face an essential step, which is not so much the question of STEM or non-STEM disciplines. It is, instead, the need to address – as Baricco wrote in a fine article in the Post – education starting from an intelligence that is not from the 20th century, but instead one able to contaminate itself adequately; one that can work with flexible solutions, to bring knowledge together. Why do I stress this? In my opinion, the pandemic gave us a context where it is necessary to combine knowledge and experience among subjects belonging to inter-connected worlds, such as the Universities and the scholars. It implies the quest for multidisciplinarity, the combination of appropriate approaches, following a broader logic, to find answers to some of the problems that society has to face.

It is a great challenge that is currently being highlighted. I would like to emphasise another aspect: related to all the discussion on developing the recovery resilience plan. The card we play in the coming period focus on two critical components: ecological and digital. I think a great effort must be put into bringing together these two dimensions, the environmental and the digital, in the design of training and research activities. The Minister focused on research issues, and, in my opinion, she did the right thing. I have always argued that university professors must do three things: research, education and the third mission, which is the transfer of their knowledge to society and interested parties, the stakeholders. It is an essential operation that we must be able to carry out, giving value to all these three issues and the teaching activity. I would like to remind you that the Ministry can rely on Indire (National Institute for Documentation, Innovation and Educational Research) and, therefore, perhaps an asset to work on, a service, for example, for teachers in the middle and high schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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