The challenges for the future and greetings to the academic community

24TH June, 2021

The interview with the Minister of University and Research, Professor Maria Cristina Messa
UPS, Italy – 25th June, 2021

Starting from your current position as Minister of University and Research, and from your particular vantage point, what are the main challenges of the University, in terms of identity and mission, in light of the emergencies we are going through?

The challenges of the University are the challenges of the country to restart and to grow in competitiveness at European and international level. These months have involved sacrifices for everyone, especially for our students, and have heavily affected the feeling of feeling like a community, a term that I don't use by chance. Universities are communities that build critical consciences, train women and men capable of facing changes and orienting the future. This is done, together, by teachers, technical, scientific, administrative staff, female students and students. Despite the sacrifices and fragmentation, this year the university community has managed to bring out the most authentic and fascinating role of science, the one that enhances the aspect of social solidarity. Academic communities need adequate spaces to grow and strengthen. We are taking action to promote inclusion and equity, a beacon to overcome the territorial, social and gender gaps that still exist. We must invest in people: this means promoting programs to strengthen not only competence profiles, but also strengthen the careers of young students and support mobility between different institutions. Growing communities also means putting the existing system into a virtuous circuit, sharing its resources and infrastructures. Investments alone are not enough: to be truly effective you need to change the system of rules. We want to start a season of reforms that allows, on the one hand, to recognize the uniqueness and specificity of the university and research world and, on the other, to operate with greater agility to be attractive and reliable.

Relations between Italian Universities and Pontifical Universities have registered a growing collaboration and synergy. In your opinion, what educational and cultural contribution can the Pontifical Universities and Institutions present in Rome offer?

They can contribute to enhancing the role of the person in the construction of knowledge, as well as in accompanying young people towards an ethical commitment that allows them to be more and more active citizens, present and participating in their communities, within the public administration to which they are entrusted. the major challenges for the relaunch and future of the country. The particular attention to the humanistic disciplines goes beyond the vocational interest of the universities and returns a more solid formative path and a greater attention to the edification of the person. Our national university system is recognized and appreciated internationally but, after completing their studies in Italy, there are still many graduates who continue their research in other countries.
What can the University do to keep them or to recall our best researchers?
Not only do we have to work to correct the critical issues that make it difficult today to allow Italian researchers to return abroad, but also to attract foreign researchers and teachers who would like to spend a professional and life period in Italy. To encourage the circulation of people and knowledge, we must simplify to ensure that universities that would like to invest in this but that are faced with tortuous bureaucratic paths do not throw in the towel. We must also make the system more open and free, starting even with “small” aspects such as the use of the English language in tenders. Given the centrality of art and culture in the attractive potential of our country, we must intervene to give more space to academies, conservatories, creating a bridge between these institutions and universities to attract human capital from abroad. In the Recovery Plan there are various tools and measures envisaged to support young people, and women, in research. Alongside resources and investments, it will be important to be able to define more clearly the path of those who want to do research, a long and unpredictable path in recent years. To attract those who live abroad, the professional path must be certain, which does not mean ensuring that anyone will be able to make a career. a long and unpredictable path in recent years. To attract those who live abroad, the professional path must be certain, which does not mean ensuring that anyone will be able to make a career. a long and unpredictable path in recent years. To attract those living abroad, the professional path must be certain, which does not mean ensuring that anyone will be able to make a career.
Women and Universities. There are relevant examples of women who hold important roles in academia, but there are still many difficulties in reaching managerial roles. What tools to deploy?
The gender gap in the scientific world, in reality, is not an issue that concerns only managerial roles, but it is an issue that crosses the entire sector. According to the most recent data, women represent 55% in Italian universities. of those enrolled, while in the STEM degree courses (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), those with the greatest employment growth, stop at 37%. Although it is precisely in the STEM disciplines that girls achieve the title with a higher grade (103.6) and on time than boys (101.6), completing their studies in progress (46%), they seem not to be recognized by the labor market . Five years after graduation, the employment rate of men graduates in STEM courses (92%) is higher than that of women (85%), compared to an overall employment rate of graduates in these disciplines of 89%. We must address the issue by thinking about the short, medium and long term. The long-term result will be obtained by acting on the cultural aspect, from childhood, by acting on the school, on orientation, on the family: even if the results will be seen in 20 years we have to leave. In the medium term, we must use all the tools to guide high school students and to facilitate girls to enroll in STEM courses in economic terms, and not only in career terms. These are measures that we have already implemented and on which we also dedicate funds from the Recovery Plan; every university does its part, we should try to make them stronger by putting them into a system. In the short term it is necessary to act on labor governance projects,
What can be done to create stable paths between high school and university, to be offered to young people who graduate and enter the world of university?
The first necessary step is to offer young people guidance tools that can really support them in the crucial choice phase for their future. And I believe this should be done more and more and better in collaboration with the private sector, with those who imagine tomorrow"s jobs today; we must do it with them to identify the knowledge, skills and abilities that will be needed and, on the basis of these, plan the training courses today.
A particular message for the academic community of the Salesian Pontifical University?
The wish to continue to propose paths capable of integrating "Head, Heart and Hands" of students, researchers and professors, to provide our "Next Generation" with more and more adequate spaces for a better culture at the service of the country that it puts at the center the value of people and communities.