University: the future Capital. The Eurispes Workshop on Human Capital

The Eurispes Workshop on Human Capital second 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 Technological Innovation and Digital Transition to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, 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. 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.

Cosmi:

A heritage that we actually felt was missing in primary schools. The weakest element was the teachers having to deal with the children at home.

 

Cannata:

Having three grandchildren, I know exactly what problems were encountered. I know the issues of time-sharing, particularly for women. As far as I’m concerned, we had a reasonably bearable experience because the socio-economic conditions allowed it. Still, if I think of Tor Bella Monaca or Scampia, I wonder how things went there. Open a file on the subject of educational inequalities in your Laboratory; there is a considerable risk from this point of view. I want to address another matter: the relationship between business, business training, and universities. It is a fundamental issue: Unioncamere research has shown that 62% of the country’s small and medium-sized enterprises – which are those with between 1 and 499 employees – are still lagging in terms of the fundamental issues of the twofold ecological and digital transition. There is a need to train human capital, both at the top end and in the capacity to attract it. Indeed, the production systems we will be dealing with will increasingly require knowledge that communicates and more energy to revise their structural starting points. They will need to develop a culture of connection and bold intelligence if they are to attract investment. The Alliance for Sustainable Development, the Diversity Forum, has very carefully highlighted the issue of inequality, which we need to deal with. But who do we train? As a telematic university, I have to say that we have seen a very high increase in students’ number over time. Obviously, the pandemic has contributed to this growth.

 

Cosmi:

What increase are you recording?

 

Cannata:

I won’t tell you the numbers for ethical reasons, but I can say that we are talking about several thousand students. I wanted to emphasise this aspect of users and training. We have to train young people coming out of school, and we have to contribute to the so-called training network. Moreover, how are the training networks organised? The Minister referred to the AFAM for advanced musical training. Let us stop at university training. Between the school and the university, there is another segment that needs to be understood and placed: ITS, Higher Technical Education – it seems, moreover, to have been given great prominence, at least in the parliamentary statements made by both Minister Bianchi and Minister Messa, in respect of which, it has been said, significant investments will have to be made. Actually, it is not a school for those who cannot go to university. It is a school that teaches certain specific skills that happen to be of interest to our production system. I want to divide the students we have into two large groups; as the sociological analysis we have carried out on them gives us a great deal of information, I will go into extremes. On the one hand, there are the young people who do not have the opportunity to attend university, perhaps because of economic difficulties, while on the other hand, there are those from the inner areas of the country who have the financial opportunity to meet the costs but find it difficult to be connected. We all remember the L’Aquila earthquake tragedy and the young people who died because they were living in the university dormitory. If that disaster had not happened, we could have claimed that those were lucky kids because they had found study opportunities in inner areas. If we think of our country, of the Apennine chain’s bone and its extension into the islands, we realise how much training is needed.

Cosmi:

When people talk about the right to study, they may think of the university fee, of the books to buy, but what really weighs on families’ budgets are the indirect costs to which I referred earlier and which you are now referring to; by saying that many expenses could be cut if we could benefit from the better quality organisation.

 

Cannata:

Having also been Rector of a University, I met the young people who moved into our university residences, talked to them, sometimes exchanged jokes with them. Still, I understood that this was a way to create a community. Coming back to the non-resident university experience, there is a crucial segment alongside young people, and that is made up of working people who want to acquire a higher education qualification. Just this morning, I had an online discussion with a lady – an official of a public body, the INPS – who asked me for her thesis as a student for my course in economic policy and told me: I, at this stage, don’t need a degree to make a career; I’m doing it because I think it’s important to complete my education, that’s what interests me. The Unimercatorum was set up as a university of companies for companies. The productive Italian fabric is essentially made up of small and medium-sized enterprises. In those companies, there are people who, at some point in their life experience, felt the desire to progress, to enrich their skills; the famous and much-vaunted lifelong learning. Another fundamental issue concerns the Recovery Fund. We will need a streamlined bureaucratic management. We need a public administration that can truly act as the system’s backbone, not a burden; it must be an agent that accompanies its development. The millions allocated by the Recovery Fund for infrastructure projects, for the various activities, will be useless if a capable administration does not manage them. Of course, everything goes ahead if we put a little passion and energy into it, and we try to do that almost every day.

 

Cosmi:

I will hand it over to Laura Mazza, who will give us her perspective as CEO of The Hub and in her role within Federformazione.

Mazza:

Welcome, good morning. Congratulations on this workshop, which I believe is both functional and necessary in Italy. The working and economic context in which we find ourselves is changing very rapidly, also as a result of the pandemic. It requires us to focus on the human capital, which should be considered a precious element of a company and not a cost. The report that I would like to bring to you today is also dictated by the criticalities analysed together with the Conference of Italian University Rectors, which revealed the problems caused by various situations’ heterogeneity. Italy is divided between the North, the Centre and the South. These heterogeneous situations lead to structural underfunding and, consequently, to problems for learners and the university system itself. We at The Hub have chosen to be a link between universities, research centres and businesses. We were the first company in Italy to join a consortium, the first public-private partnership between universities, research centres and companies – where we were the only company. We invested in research and development and spin-offs projects. There is a lack of culture and mindset: entrepreneurs need to have an industrial doctorate; therefore, they graduate in the company with the transversal and professional skills, but with the same speed as the market. In the visionary laboratory that you have created, it is necessary to extrapolate these transversal skills to make a difference. This synergy must be permanent, constant, meaning that research, training and the dissemination of knowledge, skills and experience – which then summarise human capital – become the company’s pivot and enable it to deal with what is happening in this pandemic phase. Human capital is not a machine, not a piece of data and not a technological tool. Our task is to act as a link and to be able to do this. It is necessary for the successful laboratory that you have created to have different transversal skills in a continuous interconnection. This set of implicit knowledge also urges us to achieve the 17 UN goals set out in the 2030 Agenda, including education, training, and the innovative capacity of industries and, therefore, developing a circular and sustainable economy. In my opinion, this virtuous and sustainable ecosystem can be achieved. We, in Italy, have the best research centres, innovation hubs; the best telematic and historical universities come from our country, but we did not manage to transfer them abroad. The economic analysis we have made is precisely the functional one for post-pandemic sustainability. We want to contribute to your laboratory with accurate and concrete data. PhDs must go into companies. Why did I call it an industrial PhD? Because companies today are ready to face this challenge, but they need to be accompanied and supported by innovation and change. The Ministry of Universities and Research can, together with all of you, achieve this goal.

 

Cosmi:

We kept you last, Professor Caligiuri because this Laboratory also needs the Observatory. Energies brought in from various experiences dynamically enter the Laboratory. Still, the Observatory will have to do a bit more research and analysis, putting policies into a system that can be amplified thanks to the help of this network that the Laboratory creates and will not neglect. Once you are in, you will be part of it because that is what we need. We don’t need to participate in commercials – the world is already full of them -what we lack is a stable network able to binds us all to an end goal and a vision.

 

Caligiuri:

I think the debate this afternoon is fascinating. To give it a broader sense, it needs to be put into context. I would start with a phrase by Walter Benjamin, who said that you have to look at your city with the eyes of someone who has just disembarked from a ship that has just arrived from Singapore. To talk about the human capital of the future, it is necessary to start from the present one, which descends from the past. Otherwise, any reasoning we will do will be partial because everything happens 50 years later in education. I believe that the Gentile Reform of 1923 was a fundamental premise for the economic boom of the 1960s. Similarly, today’s educational outcomes are those that derive from what happened after 1968, which led to a lowering of study conditions, eventually widening social distances: a phenomenon that I have defined as ‘immoral simplification’. To talk about the capital of the future, we need to start from the capital of today. In 2010, Tullio De Mauro: 75% of Italians did not know how to interpret a simple sentence in our language. In 2016 OECD research: 27.9% of Italians between the ages of 16 and 65 were functionally illiterate, meaning they could not read, write or do arithmetic; this high number included an incredible 4.1% of university graduates who could not read, write or do arithmetic. Ipsos research of 2018: Italy is the nation, among the thirty or so examined, in which facts are the most distant from reality’s perception. This social cost of ignorance is transferred to the cost of the functioning of democracy and the efficiency of institutions that are managed, at a political and bureaucratic level, by inadequate representatives. Therefore, as shown by the pandemic, this problem affects democratic systems because of how the elite is selected. The Eurispes is doing a praiseworthy thing, starting from the heart of the problem, knowledge, human capital, and capturing the most critical data. Indeed, President Draghi, in his policy statements to the Senate on 17 February, equated the deep wounds of the Covid-19 with economic and educational ones. President Draghi used the terms school, training, research over 27 times, just as he used the terms virus and pandemic 27 times. The President pledged to promote human capital, training, schools, universities, and culture as much as possible. What he said was then reflected in the choices he made when forming the government. He chose a ‘technical’ person to be the Minister for Universities and Research and not a party representative. Minister Messa tonight told us some valuable and intelligent things about doctorates, about attracting human capital from abroad, about the campus’s idea, and the relationship between university education costs and benefits. On this matter, President Fara has already taken up an exciting avenue of research. The Minister made a fascinating reference to the ideological legacies that weigh so heavily on the Italian university system’s organisation, for example, on how departments are structured. Given that human capital is the basis of everything, we also need political visions. In a 2008 book, Roger Abravanel stated – not far from the truth – that Italian universities are the national symbol of the absence of merit. Let us try to connect the dots. Who goes to university? Don Milani explained it to us in one of the Barbiana books  – which were once posters put up on the walls – in which he said that it is mainly the others – that is, those who do not graduate – who provide for the costs of those who do. It is as if we were buying train tickets and other people were travelling in our place in practice. Another interesting element is the difference between the North and the South, as Dr Mazza said earlier. According to a 2018 Svimez survey, of the 685,000 university students from the South, around 158,000 – practically 23% – study at universities in the Centre-North. This figure further widens the social distances between the wealthy and the poor and significantly impacts the determination of Southern Italy’s GDP wealth. Accordingly, Italy’s backwardness can also be perceived in terms of doctorates and brain drain. From 2008 to 2018, in 10 years, it can be estimated that about 14,000 people have obtained a PhD in Italy and then moved abroad. This number is equal to a quarter of the entire teaching staff of Italian universities. It is, therefore, necessary to reflect deeply on the teaching offer, starting from the method. In truth, schools and universities are set up for analogue teaching while living in a digital civilisation. Hence, what is the point of maintaining 360 scientific-disciplinary sectors if not to preserve the status quo? Secondly, artificial intelligence will disrupt all professions; most of the current ones will disappear, and all the remaining ones will have to be renewed. Research by the US Department of Labor says that those who enrol in school now will be doing a job that has not yet been invented when they finish their studies. In this state of volatility, we do not know who stays and who disappears. According to Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, it is the traditional universities that will disappear. Again, around 2030, half of the universities in the United States will close, with their entire staff’s dismissal. If this happens in the United States, what will happen in Italy, where we have a conventionally-run university in almost every province? It is an issue to think about. So, I believe that we cannot deal with the issue of human capital, of the University, by going in for a sort of masochistic ‘pain maintenance’. It is vital to invest in the underlying problems, and I believe that a minister who does not belong to any party can set in motion a change of direction that can only be implemented in emergency conditions because, in ordinary circumstances, the resistance to defend one’s interests would be obvious, predictable and tenacious. If we believe that human capital is the primary resource, then we must look at educational inequalities, as Rector Cannata rightly said. A very recent study by the economist Vittorio Daniele, published in January this year, shows that school achievement differences do not depend so much on what goes on in schools as on the situation outside schools. Therefore, if we do not act on these aspects – family and social context – we will change little or nothing in terms of results. The only variable that could have an impact is the quality of the teachers. We must say a few words about teachers’ quality: as has been the case in recent years, we cannot turn a university job into a precarious one. We must remember that schools and universities were set up to teach and transfer knowledge, not to provide employment. Schools and universities are not social shock absorbers; they are places where knowledge is built. The issue is to bring education and higher education into the political and cultural debate. There is a need for clear political choices, and it is not a question of more money. Mario Draghi explained this very well when he was Governor of the Bank of Italy in 2008 and spoke of vicious circles that penalise the world of education, discourage teachers, and betray public schools and universities’ responsibilities. The problems stem from here, not from a lack of resources per student allocated to school education, which are higher in Italy than in the average European country. It is a problem of rules, which are significant and do not always require immediate investment, sometimes none at all. If we talk about resources, there is the novel opportunity of the Recovery Fund: even though these are funds that will have to be paid back in the future, we must focus on this opportunity to try to change the system. Direct funds on education and research amount to EUR 28.46 billion, and education and research relates to all the other five missions: ecological transition, digitalisation, infrastructure, gender equality and health. In emergency conditions, you can lay the foundations for structural changes, and I think the first aspect to focus on should be the training and selection of university teachers.

 

Cosmi:

Since last year’s lockdown, all teachers have been forced to suddenly become competent in the use of technological tools, at a time and in a context that almost considered them as an absolute evil. What support came in the way of research? Training courses for teachers, including distance learning, motivational on a vision, would have been necessary. Did the teachers have the opportunity to engage in lively discussions with others from the world of work? The word ‘visionary’ comes into the school world. The children need that dream idea. I think their teachers suffered a kind of isolated life, not only because we were in lockdown but also isolated from the community. I mean, there’s a feeling that knowledge is unglued, and paradoxically you get a generation of the ruling class who are more successful than educated. It’s evident that then, at that point, human capital and the University seem to lose value when you can achieve success without education.

 

Caligiuri:

The Minister made a very profound passage pointing out that when you go to teach, no one teaches those who do this job, the teachers. The problem is not so much distance learning; it is the previous inadequacy. If one is not able to teach in presence, let alone at a distance. The problem lies upstream: how are school and university teachers first trained and then selected? You have made a cautious point that one can succeed without education, which is the triumph of incompetence. We cannot be surprised if we have to wait months to be vaccinated, if government decisions at various levels have the quality they do, if a freelancer – lawyer, accountant, engineer or surveyor – is unable to perform his or her function despite being successful, despite having won a competition, despite perhaps being President of the respective professional association. It is a problem that does not concern a particular sector; it is a national problem, as very often, totally inadequate people make it to the top.

 

Cosmi:

So, focusing on human capital means concentrate on merit, on reducing inequalities but also injustices, both social and in terms of the illogical logic that governs processes and then makes the country uncompetitive compared to others because it lacks those elements that can make it competitive, such as good education and skilled human capital.

 

Caligiuri:

This is precisely the situation we are experiencing. We need to start by training and selecting school and university teachers and then focus on research and experimentation. Let’s bear in mind that we are already dealing with artificial intelligence, which is already among us and is studying us. Soon we will have to deal with digital teachers, with an inevitable hybridisation between man and machine. There is a need for new teaching. In my opinion, you can’t be a primary teacher if you don’t know about neuroscience, the behaviour of the mind, the brain’s mechanisms of learning. You have to pay a lot of attention to pre-school education because cognitive skills are formed in that period. An American study says that children from wealthy families hear 48 million words in the first four years of life, compared to the 13 million words heard by children born into less affluent families. This study has a very telling title: The early catastrophe. We must pay attention to these facts. We must not pour everything onto the digital screen, we must consider what comes before fake news, hikikomori, cyberbullying: families, people. These are the aspects we need to reflect on, and the Eurispes is making its contribution by creating this Observatory on Educational Policies. I want to thank President Fara for giving me the excellent opportunity to set it up and chair it. The aim is to bring the issue of education to the attention of the national debate, at the political and cultural level, and then to include a substantial part on education policies in the annual Italy Report drawn up by the Eurispes, reporting proposals capable of improving the national context. Finally, I would like to conclude by saying that the challenge that the Eurispes is setting for itself is to address the issues of society, not only in Italy, the problem of education and training during this period – terrible and fascinating at the same time – which seems similar to the phase described by Marguerite Yourcenar in her splendid Memoirs of Hadrian, in which the past no longer works, and the new is not yet born.

 

Cannata:

The most crucial point would be more dialogue between the institutions. There is room for everyone, for diversity, and it is by rewarding diversity that results are achieved.

 

Cosmi:

This is precisely the goal we have set ourselves, as Laboratorifinanzo: to be facilitators of that dialogue that is often sought after but nobody creates; please be all by our side, as the Eurispes, as the Observatory and as the Laboratory will be with you all.

 

 

 

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