The Role of Science

Written by  Pietro Dalpiaz
Supporting and financing research as a key factor in growth.
Scientific research in Italy mainly takes place within universities and in a few other research bodies which are themselves linked to the universities. If we analyse the percentage of resources which the country devotes to the universities and scientific research as compared with other developed countries, the result is something of a shock, at less than one third.

The town of Ferrara has cherished and supported its old university, even in hard times. At the present time, in a period which seems to me to be characterised by a particular lack of vision, the Cassa di Risparmio's Fondazione is one of the few bodies which supports the university and research in the area, and it does so with persistence and in the true spirit of patronage.

It has supported the acquisition of vital scientific equipment for numerous projects, mainly in biological and medical research, disciplines which have suffered particularly in terms of funding. It has provided financial support for many national and international scientific conferences held in the town, playing a part in introducing our young people to the world of scientific research.
The CRF's Fondazione has for many years, alongside the university, contributed to a consistent level of post-doctoral study grants for young researchers in every discipline. The recent founding of the economics faculty at the university received a reliable multi-annual financial contribution, mainly from the Fondazione.

The Consorzio Ferrara Ricerche may now be regarded as an important research institution in the town, providing the university with research contracts worth around 5 million euro annually, mainly from private bodies. The CRF Fondazione is actively involved in the Consorzio's development, together with the university and some local businesses.

Recently the Cassa di Risparmio has joined the university in a public-private company (with a private majority holding) to develop a tool for measuring pollution based on sensors developed in the university's physics department. This provides a direct demonstration of the benefits of cooperation between the various institutions for local economic growth.

It is to be hoped that the Fondazione's significant commitment in this field will not fade with time, but will increase and be imitated by other institutions, not least because the existing climate is not encouraging and scientific research has much difficult and essential work ahead.
For it will be research which will enable us to remain competitive in Europe and on the international stage, preventing the decline which has overtaken many civilisations. It will be research that will give us the chance to develop a model of sustainable growth for mankind as a whole. The objective is an exacting one, and can only be achieved if our institutions give these problems the priority they deserve. In Italy, the signs are not reassuring.

As I have already said, our investment in universities and research stands at less than one third of the normal level in developed countries. Articles continually appear in the newspapers aping foreign models and explaining, in a purely commercial spirit, that universities are businesses that must simply satisfy their customers, the students. We should remember that universities first came into being in our region, during the Middle Ages, to educate graduates to the highest levels. During the last century our university model has supplanted almost every other type of higher education throughout the world.

This model of university education is our most precious heritage from medieval times. It would be a mistake to imitate the commercial model applied to universities in recent years by conservative governments in England. They have made 25% savings in funding, but in just a few years English science has been reduced from a starring role to a walk-on part. A university that does not place research among its chief objectives is not a university. It should be remembered, too, that scientific research is the sole aim of the best universities in the US.
First-class education is just the inevitable consequence.