The National Council of University Students expresses the following opinion on the Budget Law.

Economical conditions in our country due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus are dramatic. The extraordinary measures taken by the Government over the previous months may not be sufficient. In view of the need to tackle the serious socio-economic crisis facing the country. Consequently, the university and research sectors too are and will be going through. At a crucial time when our country needs to be relaunched, refinancing public education at all levels with substantial sums must be a priority, in order to give an unequivocal signal of investment for future generations.

Within the bill, the financing of higher education finds a noteworthy space. Also with reference to the 2020-2022 Budget Law, with respect to which it is possible to note a positive turnaround in the financing of public universities and the right to university study. In particular, the stabilisation of the resources allocated in the Relaunch Decree. These take up the observations made by the Council; in the motion of 7 October 2020 “Proposals for action on the right to study for the 2021 Budget Law”. At the basis of which was the idea that such funding could not be just a “one-off” emergency response. But that their stabilisation should be the prerequisite for any other perspective reasoning. 

The CNSU therefore expresses

The CNSU therefore expresses its appreciation for the increase in resources allocated for the 2021 financial year. Equal to more than 500 million euros, corresponding almost equally to the increase detected in the entire three-year period 2018-2020, the National University System; but still recognizes an insufficiency of the funds allocated with a view to resolving the many critical issues of the system.

The investments aimed at stabilising the allocation of 4,200 grants included in the DL Rilancio. This until the year 2025 increase the number of grants available. But they do not immediately resolve the long-standing problem of the insufficient number of specialist training contracts. These are funded in relation to the number of graduate doctors who take the postgraduate specialisation test each year. There were 23,744 candidates for the medical specialisation test in 2020, compared to only 14,456 total available places. As a result, more than 9200 medical graduates were excluded from the specialisation pathway in 2020, which contributed to a further widening of the training funnel.

This is all the more significant given that one of the most serious problems encountered during the SARS-COV-2 pandemic was precisely the lack of an adequate number of specialised doctors to cover the needs. Article 76 of the draft law on the State Budget for the financial year 2021 proposes an increase in funds for specialisation contracts of 105 million for the years 2021 and 2022 and 109.2 for the following years.

The CNSU points out

The CNSU points out that it is not clear at the moment how many scholarships will be funded for this increase. However, it believes that the amount currently allocated is insufficient to ensure the correspondence of a contract for each participant in the competition; it supports the need for a structural reform of medical specialisation. Therefore, in order to enable this objective to be achieved, more and adequate investment is required. These are intended to finance a grant for each medical graduate.

Article 89, paragraph 1 provides for the consolidation of the 165 million euro allocation for the No-Tax Area up to an ISEE of € 20,000; and a “buffer” band up to an ISEE of € 30,000, in addition to an allocation of 8 million for AFAM institutions. This Council welcomes this allocation, which is part of the Government’s and the Ministry’s attempt to stabilise; and make structural those measures adopted during the first phase of the pandemic crisis last spring.

In terms of taxation, however, not all critical issues have been resolved. In order to balance their budgets, universities are increasingly drawing on student contributions. Often in violation of the legal constraint (set out in Presidential Decree 306/1997) of a 20% ratio between contributions and state transfers. We believe that this chronic exploitation of student contributions is unacceptable, as it is used as a crutch for a system that urgently needs to be rethought by the competent institutions. We therefore need a full refinancing of the Ordinary Financing Fund of at least 40% of the increase already provided for, in order to meet all the needs of our university system.

In order to

In order to cope with these critical issues and at the same time with the contraction of the country’s income due to the economic crisis caused by the health emergency, it is considered further necessary to increase the allocation up to 400 million euros to ensure a No-Tax area threshold of 30,000 € of ISEE. As already requested in the past by the National Council of University Students.

It is also deemed necessary to protect a group of students particularly affected by the COVID emergency. That is to say, those just above the No-Tax Area through reductions in university taxation (as already suggested by the MUR) or other forms of support. It is deemed necessary to dedicate a part of the funding for a similar kind of support. This should be done proportionally and progressively up to at least € 40,000 of ISEE.

In relation to the Supplementary State Fund referred to in Article 18 of Legislative Decree 68/2012, the increase of 70 million euros (Article 89, Paragraph 2) represents the stabilisation of the funds allocated by the “Decreto Relaunch” and can be welcomed as a positive step forward.

In this regard, however, it should be noted that this increase is not sufficient to completely eliminate the figure of the eligible non-beneficiary. To guarantee the Essential Levels of Benefits (LEP) on the national territory and increase the number of grant recipients. The number of students eligible for right-to-study benefits has increased by approximately nine percentage points from A.Y. 2016/2017 to 2018/2019, the latest year for which we have confirmed data. Specifically, in 2019 there were 212,208 eligible students for an estimated need of €732,117,600.

In the same year

During the same year, there were 5,555 eligible students who did not receive a grant. In 2020, the SIF, which is one of the main sources of funding together with the regional DSU fees and the regional own funds (amounting to at least 40% of the SIF itself), has been increased by a total of €71 million to try to close, in such a particular year, the gap between the number of students eligible for the right to study and the actual beneficiaries.

Assuming that the number of eligible students in the A.Y. 2020/2021 has increased by 10% compared to the number two years earlier, it is estimated that, in order to cover the number of eligible students, the FIS should settle at around €400 million. Since the consolidated figure is around €251.4 million, the refinancing needed would be €150 million per year.

The Council also deems it desirable to increase the ISEE threshold for access to benefits to €28,000, in order to increase the number of scholarship beneficiaries, with respect to which our country is sadly in a negative position, while at the same time abolishing or substantially revising the ISPE parameter as it is not considered indicative of the real economic availability of families. In order to guarantee the coverage of this extension, the necessary refinancing would be € 350 million. Therefore, it is considered necessary to allocate 3% of the sums of the Single Justice Fund (FUG) to the FIS as prescribed by Law 128/2013, so far ignored and never applied.

The Council calls

The Council calls for the withdrawal of Article 89(3), which provides for an increase of EUR 30 million in funding for non-state universities. Since it does not consider it appropriate for the public purse to bear, even if only in part, the cost of financing them, especially in view of the percentage increase in the contribution, which is 44%.

Article 89, paragraph 4, provides for 4 million euros for student accommodation, which the Council considers insufficient and proposes to increase this amount to 200 million euros in order to guarantee, through the call for tenders provided for by Law 338/2000, the construction of new accommodation or the use of disused buildings through their conversion, as well as to restructure and upgrade existing accommodation. This intervention is necessary because in the A.Y. 2019/2020 alone, there were approximately 30,000 eligible students who did not benefit from housing. This intervention is most opportune as, through the fundamental lever of investment, it would contribute to the economic recovery of the country.

First of all, a serious structuring of all university building problems must be created at national level. These range from ordinary, simple renovations to the construction from scratch of entire university buildings, which are needed to provide more spacious and safer spaces. Especially in this pandemic period, for all those students who want to go to university and are now denied access. In Italy, with increasing frequency, the daily reality we witness is that of universities with unmaintained facilities, unable to host activities, both educational and otherwise.

The possible consequences

Each of the consequences of this situation of underfunding result in two equally unacceptable phenomena. The overcrowding of facilities or the illegal use of access restrictions. The absence of an increase designed to solve the problems of university structures must be stressed. To allow universities to implement policies to support residency according to law 338/2000; to develop university housing and to improve services related to the right to study.

The CNSU stresses the missed opportunity to return, after many years, to really invest in university buildings with foresight. This should be done with particular attention to land consumption and the valorisation of unused public assets.

Finally, the Council, in order to mitigate the critical situation regarding the development of the rental market and the difficulties students face in earning a living, considers it necessary to support the payment of rents, with immediate effects on all eligible students who do not benefit from a place to stay, as well as on all students who do not meet the above-mentioned requirements but whose ISEE is less than € 40,000.

The provisions contained in paragraph 5 on the increase in funds for the recruitment of young researchers and the Fund for the emergency needs of the university system, the institutions of high artistic and musical training and research bodies are considered positive.

Article 89, paragraph 6

Article 89, paragraph 6 provides for 34.5 million Euros to fight the ‘digital divide’. In order to ensure that the so-called ‘digital divide’ is effectively overcome, it is requested that the allocation be increased to EUR 80 million. Universities should upgrade their IT infrastructure so that students can benefit from a digitalised learning environment. First and foremost, therefore, it would be necessary to guarantee uniform access to distance learning and IT services. But no less important is the need to encourage the digitisation of all administrative services.

Then, with reference to Article 90, it expresses a positive opinion on the increase in resources of the ordinary fund for research bodies and institutions and on the establishment of the Fund for the promotion and development of the policies of the National Research Programme and of the Fund for research buildings and infrastructures.

With reference to Article 91, it expresses a positive opinion on the intervention concerning the recovery and development of the sports complex “Città dello Sport”, with the consequent transfer of funds to the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”.

The Council calls for the withdrawal of Article 93 of the enacting terms, given that the equivalence of social security treatment of teaching and research staff at non-governmental universities was enshrined in Law 243/1991 and for this reason the burden of EUR 54 million on the State budget is considered inappropriate, despite the fact that the right of teachers and researchers to non-discriminatory social security treatment is considered sacrosanct.

With reference to Article 100, it expresses a positive opinion on the numerical limitation imposed for access to the tax regime of short leases and the establishment of the database of accommodation facilities, as well as properties intended for short leases.

Following the monitoring

Following the monitoring of the database and in view of the increasingly alarming precarious housing situation in the country’s main universities, it calls for further numerical limitations to be studied, limited to cities that are home to universities or institutions of higher education in art, music and dance, which have a higher proportion of properties intended for short-term rental in relation to the number of students living away from home.

With reference to Article 101, paragraph 5, requires the allocation of more resources for the year 2021 to facilitate the acquisition of ultra-wideband internet connection services and related electronic devices for households by extending the maximum value of the indicator of the equivalent economic situation up to EUR 28,000. In view of the continuation of the epidemiological emergency caused by COVID-19 and the consequent probable continuation of university teaching in mixed or distance mode, there is an urgent need to allocate sufficient resources to guarantee the elimination of the digital divide for all students in the country.

It is believed that the failure to accompany the funds allocated by Article 126, as part of the “Experimental good mobility programme”, with a plan for the green conversion of local and regional public transport represents a serious limitation for the innovative scope of the sustainable mobility plans put in place by the Government.

Still on the subject of local public transport, we welcome the 150 million euro fund allocated by article 146 for the strengthening of mobility services, partly in line with the proposals of the October CNSU document. We note, however, in this regard, the absence of specific funding plans for university mobility and the involvement of the MUR in the definition of the implementing rules of this provision.

Furthermore, the CNSU believes

Furthermore, the CNSU believes that it is necessary to point out that, despite the fact that Art. 11 of the Green New Deal and Art. 12 of the Green Mobility refer to general measures for the ecological reconversion of the country and which focus on environmental sustainability, there is no funding to cover similar projects in the University and Research sectors.

From the educational point of view, the Council proposes to allocate some of the resources from the FFO increase to universities that submit special investment plans to preserve and improve the innovations in distance teaching developed during the Covid-19 emergency. The most relevant aspects to be taken into consideration are: the quality of the streaming of the lessons; the possibility to use the recordings of the lessons, even after the end of the emergency; accessibility of on-line materials; the inclusion of innovative elements in the teaching (flipped classes, exercises, in-depth studies, receptions and peer-to-peer on-line teaching with greater flexibility).

The Council notes the highly critical nature of the total absence of measures to protect all precarious research staff. In particular, no provision has been made to allow doctoral students of cycles XXXIII, XXXIV and XXXV to finish their research work with dignity by means of an extension, and no provision has been made for an extension in favour of postdoctoral fellows, scholarship holders and research associates, precarious figures engaged in specific projects, who are in fact unable to carry out their work. Again, no action is planned to increase doctoral scholarships in order to equalise the minimum INPS contribution for those enrolled in the separate management scheme; given the insufficiency of the scholarships for the purposes of effective and full social security contributions.

In this sense

In this sense, the commitment of about 19 million Euros would have made it possible to raise the amount of the scholarship; to 15,953.00 Euros per year to include the increase in expenditure for the budget of 10% for doctoral students with and without a scholarship; and to include the increase for research periods abroad. Finally, no provision seems to have been made for overcoming the emergency management of academic recruitment; and for overcoming the scourge of precarious employment in research and for reversing the course of the blatant recruitment policies of the last decade. For the reasons set out above, the Council cannot but give a wholly unfavourable opinion on the provisions; contained in the DDL Budget for the year 2021, concerning doctorates, post-docs and research policies.

Finally, with a view to a broader investment in the Italian university system. It is requested that the use of resources from the EU’s Next Generation programme (the so-called Recovery Fund); be used to provide a widespread and generalised increase in resources; in order to confirm the centrality of our education system for the cultural, social and economic future of our country.

Carlo Giovani

Students Representative in CNSU and CUN (2019-2022)

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