Scientific research and innovation are one of the challenges that will decide Italy's future. The 2003 Group (http://www.gruppo2003.org), which gathers scientists frequently quoted in the international scientific literature, intends to contribute with its reflections and proposals to this critical moment in the life of our Country.
In the context of a global view which is expressed by the 2003 Group and in line with the approach usually adopted by scientific research in the advanced countries, the Group proposes 7 key issues which are essential in order to constructively deal with this difficult transition. This is because the available data (such as the competitiveness of our young people at the European Research Council) show that the Country has still a wealth of intellectual resources, passion and dedication that just beg to be put to good use.
Our country has always made limited investments in research and research has never been considered a priority. In the context of the financial crisis, while some countries have placed their bets on research (for example, France investing 39 billion euro), in Italy scientific research and higher education have been cut across the board just like other activities, without taking into account the risks for the very survival of research in our country. The 2003 Group proposes that the new government reassess the cuts and find a way to finance at least those research areas that may constitute a driving force for our recovery. We ask the government to clearly demonstrate it cares about scientific research and higher education, in a context of assessment and promotion based on merit.
Given a fixed set of resources, it is essential that they be provided in a reliable manner with regard to calls for applications and the actual availability of money. Ideally, there should be only one ministry (for example the Ministry of Education) providing the funds in order to optimize spending. It is better to have few resources, which however are reliably put out to tender every year (as in the case of PRIN projects - research projects of national relevance which are funded by MIUR- Ministry of Education, University and Research), rather than an erratic distribution of funds as it has recently been the case. In particular, scattered disbursements should be avoided at all costs. As in the rest of Europe, non-profit institutions should also be able to participate in tenders, while at the moment only Universities are eligible to participate in tenders held by the Ministry of Education and only IRCCS (Research Hospitals) to those held by the Ministry of Health.
The foundation of a sound research system is the peer review which should be matched by a corresponding allocation of resources. The implementation of the National Agency for University Evaluation and Research (ANVUR) is therefore a priority. At a yet deeper level, private philanthropy should be taken as an example, such as the AIRC - Italian Association for Cancer Research and Telethon, which have put in place transparent and reliable evaluation systems of international research projects.
Another foundation for a sound research system consists of projects proposed by researchers themselves (bottom up). Top down resource allocations should be made for initiatives that are appropriate for these funding mechanisms (such as the construction of large structures or equipment). All too frequently and even recently, top-down mechanisms were used improperly and in a not transparent manner.
5) Removing strings and snares
Our research system suffers from a lot of strings and snares that prevent it from exploiting at best the already scarce resources available. Some of these have been identified and reported by the Committee of Experts on Policy Research (CE PR, http://www.cepr.it). As an example, the Ministry of Education has recently allocated significant funding to young people, called "Your future in research", through a mechanism of peer review. Well, among these, the young people recruited as temporary researchers by Universities can not compete for European funding, because of the nature of their employment contract, This is a contradiction: in a way, it is as if we choose the best colts but then prevented them from running in international competitions. All of these strings and snares must be removed as quickly as possible so that our young and less young scientists may make the best of their potential in a difficult situation.
6) Incoming brains
A serious anomaly of our country is represented by the bureaucratic and administrative obstacles that make it difficult to recruit researchers from abroad. This means that the country is involved in the gold rush of the third millennium (the gray gold of brains) only as a donor. We demand the creation of preferential pathways for entry into the country of researchers, thus removing long, cumbersome and humiliating procedures.
7) Interaction with industry
All available data show that the transfer to industry in our country is grossly inadequate, far below international standards. The funnel which basic research goes through in order to arrive at the transfer stage is much narrower than it is in other advanced countries. It is therefore necessary to implement the levers that will resolve this funnel: evaluation criteria (ANVUR) and fiscal levers, facilitating the interaction between civil society, including industry and academic research.