RIO Country Report Italy 2014

The RIO Country Reports, co-authored by JRC policy analysts and independent experts, give an update on the performance of the national research and innovation systems, and examine policies to address key R&I challenges, assessing their effectiveness. They serve as a tool to inform EU and national policy-makers, and support policy learning in Member States (MS).

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The annual RIO Country Report analyses and assesses the development and performance of the Italian national research and innovation system and related policies in the perspective of EU strategy and goals.

The report highlights recent national policy and system developments occurring and assesses the match between national policy priorities and the structural challenges of the research and innovation system. It addresses among others:

  • The progress of Italy towards achieving the Innovation Union, focusing on areas where action is needed.
  • Progress in responding to the ERA actions, particularly in light of the ERA progress report findings published in September 2014.
  • Country specific R&D and innovation recommendations as indicated in COM(2014) 400 final '2014 European Semester: Country specific recommendations, Building Growth' adopted by the Commission on 2 June 2014 and endorsed by the Council on 27 June 2014.
  • Progress in tackling research and innovation system challenges beyond those outlined above.
  • Areas highlighted by the Commission's Communication on 'Research and innovation as sources of renewed growth' (COM(2014) 339 final) and its accompanying Staff Working Document 'State of the Innovation Union, taking stock 2010-2014' (SWD(2014 181 final).

The RIO Country Report 2014 builds on the experience of the ERAWATCH project. The ERAWATCH Country Reports from previous years are also available for download on this page. 

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RIO Country Report 2014_Italy.pdf
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National economic and political context

From late 2012 to 2014 Italian politics was marked by a succession of three Governments. Economic policies, however, showed a fundamental continuity, focusing on budget austerity and economic ‘reforms.

The Government led by Mario Monti resigned at the end of 2012. In May 2013, the Government led by Enrico Letta took office. In early 2014 the nomination of Matteo Renzi as the new leader of the Democratic Party led to a change in government; in February 2014 the new Government led by Matteo Renzi took office, supported by the same ‘grand coalition’ of parties.

ERA priority 2: Optimal transnational co-operation and competition

At national level MIUR is in charge for the management of the Italian participation in international initiatives such as European Framework Programmes. Italian research policy is oriented to support joint activities with EU countries.

In 2012 the introduction of some policy novelties removed some legal and bureaucratic barriers hampering the effectiveness of international cooperation. Namely, Law 35/2012 and Law 134/2012 simplified the rules of research projects adopting definitions and eligibility of  costs on the basis of the EU legislation, created the legal basis for the domestic recognition of evaluation of international scientific projects selected by EU programmes and stated that the national ex ante evaluation of the scientific suitability of a project can be replaced by international evaluation of selected projects in EU programmes regardless the evaluation methods adopted by the international programmes.

National R&I strategies and policies

The change in government has meant a pause in some of the initiatives undertaken by the previous Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza. In particular, the new ‘Programma nazionale per la ricerca 2014-2020’ is still in a draft stage. The policy framework for R&I in Italy is also provided by the document 'Horizon 2020 Italia Ricerca e Innovazione'. The new Minister Stefania Giannini stopped the procedure for the ‘habilitation’ of candidates for professor positions in Italian universities. A new call that will lead to the formation of new evaluating committees may be announced in early 2015.

At the end of 2014 the new ordinary funding plan (FFO) for universities was published by the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR), and the ‘Stability law’ on budget allocations for 2015 was approved by Parliament. In 2014, the results of the first ‘Abilitazione Scientifica Nazionale’ (ASN) – an ‘habilitation’ system for scholars who want to become candidates to positions of Full and Associate professor – were published, and the second round was carried out, with full results available in 2015.

While there is no systematic study available, strong anecdotal evidence suggests that Italy is experiencing a process of ‘brain drain’ that could permanently damage its R&I system.

Tax credits for R&D become in recent years a recurrent element of Italy’s policies, although with limited funding and frequent changes of regulations and procedures. In 2013, the Letta’s Government introduced an incremental R&D tax credit on a permanent basis in order to provide stability to firms' business plans and to enlarge the scope of tax credit policy. Funding for R&I in Italy have moved towards thematic or targeted projects.

National Reform Programmes 2013 and 2014

Both the 2013 and 2014 National Reform Programmes (NRP) highlight the efforts made to reach the Europe2020 targets in a framework of financial stabilisation. The key target for the R&I system is the increase of R&D intensity, but little progress has been made in the last two years. Moreover, at the end of 2014 some relevant measures were not yet operational. The new doctoral courses, the new PNR and the Agency for Territorial Cohesion are not yet fully implemented.

ERA priority 3: An open labour market for researchers

The labour market for researchers is traditionally highly regulated with different rules for public institutions and private business. The majority of HEIs and PROs are public institutions and fall under national laws and national collective agreements for recruitment, pay, mobility, training and careers. In HEIs permanent researchers contracts are regulated by law, in PROs in part by law and in part by collective agreements. According to ISTAT, in 2012 the total number of researchers was around 110,000 FTE units, mainly allocated in HEIs (45,000 units), private business, (41,000 units) and PROs (20,500 units).

Open, transparent and merit-based recruitment of researchers

Law 1/2009 and Law 240/2010 regulate the recruitment of researchers and introduced major changes to the research system. Foreign candidates and non-residents can access universities and research institutes through public selections on equal footing with Italian citizens. Moreover, national regulations allow the direct recruitment of a limited number of external researchers (high-level scholars) in permanent positions.

According to Laws 1/2009 and 240/2010 young researchers, in HEIs and PROs, can apply only to temporary positions with a tenure track-like path. Law 240/2010 introduced evaluation as key element for salary improvements of researchers and professors, but since 2011 budget laws have stopped any wage increase in the public sector, including universities and public research organizations. Budget laws in the last years reduced the opportunities for young researchers though some changes were included in the 2014 budget law.

Access to and portability of grants

Access by non-residents to national grants is still limited. Only some calls allow the participation of researchers of foreign institutions. The programme ‘Rita Levi Montalcini’, targeted to attract young researchers from abroad regardless their nationality has been the first opportunity earmarked for researchers of foreign institutions. In 2014 the first SIR (Scientific Independence of young Researchers) call allowed the participation of foreign institutions, but only in partnership with resident institutions, with an available budget lower than 50% of the grant.

The habilitation for professors was open to foreign citizens and also allowed an English language procedure.

Until 2012 the portability of research grants into other national institutions was limited, while transfer to foreign institutions was not allowed.


Since 2004 CRUI, the conference of Universities Rectors, is the bridgehead body for the activities of the national Euraxess network. In general, the online points provide updated information for ingoing and outgoing researchers while offices are able to provide tailored services. Since 2011 the Euraxess network makes available a web site, seven service offices and ten contact points in the national territory. The website, is jointly managed by CRUI, the University of Camerino and AREA Science Park, and it is a primary resource for mobile researchers. Since 2013 the website is integrated into the official MIUR website ‘ResearchItaly’.

Doctoral training

According to MIUR figures, doctoral courses are attended in 2014 by more than 33,000 students. In the academic year 2013-2014 for the XXVII cycle 11,846 students passed the selection for doctoral courses but only 1,487 were foreign citizens.

Doctoral courses fall under national regulation especially for the access modalities; according to law 240/2010 HEIs have a large degree of autonomy for the management and the organization of doctoral courses. A new type of doctorate courses, called ‘industrial doctorates’, are not yet operational but some steps towards their introduction have been made at local level.

The new regulation of doctoral courses meets the ERC principles of innovative doctoral training and aims to increase quality and attractiveness of doctoral schools in Italy, especially for foreign students.

HR strategy for researchers (HRS4R) incorporating the Charter and Code

The reform of universities has required a rewriting of the Statutes that regulate their self-government. Laws 1/2009 and 240/2010 supported the incorporation of the principles of the ‘European Charter and Code of Researchers’ introduced by the EU. They are now widespread in universities Statutes, although at the level of secondary regulation.

The labour market for researchers in Italy has a negative outlook. In 2014 no new policies to increase its attractiveness especially for young researchers were introduced. The joint effects of the 2010 reform and the budget law are bringing the whole system towards a downsizing path.

Education and training systems

The number of enrolments of students in universities decreased notably in the last years and the implications for the country in terms of human capital, especially in the case of scientific disciplines, have not been addressed yet. Law 1/2007 introduced mechanisms for the promotion of excellence in the education system; MIUR manages a programme giving awards to excellent secondary students and a national register of excellent students has been created. At university level, the MIUR finances and acknowledges 12 ‘excellent’ schools and 14 ‘colleges’ (student residences), where access and permanence depends on the educational achievements of students.

Policy developments related to Council Country Specific Recommendations

The European Council Country Specific Recommendations in 2014 refer to the public funding of the HEIS and PROs. Recommendation focus on the allocation of the public funding of HEIs that should be managed to reward the quality and performance of HEIs and PROs. Since 2012 public funding has increased the share of the institutional block fund allocated in accordance with performance indicators. The role of ANVUR in this context continues to gain in importance. While these measures are likely to improve efficiency in resource allocation, when combined with the overall underfinancing of higher education and the continuing fall in staff numbers, they may increase the difficulties met in particular by smaller universities.

ERA priority 5: Optimal circulation and access to scientific knowledge

e-Infrastructures and researchers electronic identity

The national strategy of access to digital research services and electronic identity to researchers for transnational access are implemented by the GARR consortium and by IDEM federation.

IDEM provides access to some digital research services such as scientific data, scientific journals and cloud computing resources.

GARR is also in charge of the management of personal data security and identity certification, cloud computing and scientific software targeted for the research community. Nonetheless a targeted national policy for these services is still missing though in 2012 the open data law (Law 221/2012) sets up the guidelines for the acquisition of software (open source software too) and the development of cloud services for the public administration.

Open Access to publications and data

The 2004 Messina Declaration has been the first step to introduce, on voluntary basis, open access in the academic system. CRUI, the conference of deans of universities, has been the pioneer for the implementation of Open Access (OA), policies in the Italian scientific community. At the end of 2014, 71 universities signed the Berlin declaration and 35 university included OA into their statutes.

Only in 2013, with the Law 112/2013, OA has been stated as a compulsory modality for research output when funded by the public budget for at least 50%. Law 112/2013 indicates the gold road and the green road as OA modalities. The green road defined by Law 112/2013 is based on an embargo period (18-24 months) longer than the international recommendations.

The Italian open access reference website, Pleiadi, managed by two university consortia (CINECA and CASPUR), indexes 46 institutional repositories and 14 journals.

Framework conditions

Italy’s main policy efforts in the field of the Innovation Union have included tax credits measures for firms collaborating with universities, the doctoral reform aimed at promoting partnerships between universities and private business and legislation supporting start-up firms.

The framework for policy implementation of such actions has been provided by the joint management of many programmes – such as PONREC – by MISE and MIUR, with an effort to combine policy tools in research with public intervention affecting business performance.

Science-based entrepreneurship

The main policy for fostering science-based entrepreneurship in Italy has been the Start-up law (Law 221/2012) passed in 2012, that has introduced a simplification of the administrative burdens for innovative start-ups, the development of certified incubators, some exceptions to labour laws, measures to help innovative start-ups to access the credit market and take advantage of innovative financial instruments.

MISE is in charge to implement the start-up law and in 2014 it has released all the secondary regulations to make the measures included in the law operational.

Funding trends

Italy's Europe2020 target for R&D investment is a 1.53% ratio of R&D expenditure to GDP. Current policies have not been able to significantly improve this indicator, which in 2013 was equal to 1.25% – in spite of the continuing fall of Italy’s GDP. The ratio was 1.26 in 2012 and has remained broadly stable. In 2013 and 2014 Italy continued to reduce public expenditure while business R&I expenditure has been contained by the economic depression.

Funding Flows

Considering the evolution of GERD in real terms since the start of the crisis in 2008, we find a limited decline and an overall stability in its composition; in 2013 GERD was mainly performed by the private business sector (54%), followed by higher education institutions (28.2%) and the public sector (14.9%). In terms of Government R&D appropriations (GBAORD), expenditure recorded a continuing fall from €9,711m in 2009, to €8,824.9m in 2011, to €8,822m in 2012 to €8,324m in 2013.

Project vs. institutional allocation of public funding

In 2013 and 2014 the major changes in public funding regarded the allocation of funding for HEIs and the streamlining of direct incentives to firms. Policies supporting firms’ R&D include on the one hand tax incentives for R&D that operate across the board and, on the other hand, projects that are allocated on a competitive basis (FAR and FCS funds). Regulations for allocating these resources have been revised in 2012, 2013 and 2014 in order to streamline the modalities of access. The provision of resources for both institutional and project funds is regulated by the annual budget law, that has been heavily affected by public spending cuts.

R&I funding

The structure of expenditure for R&D in Italy shows about a quarter of funds going to upstream basic research, half going to applied research and a quarter going to experimental development. In order to address the traditionally low effort by firms in R&I funding, recent policies – in particular HIT2020 – have aimed to use public funding in order to trigger private investments in R&D, especially for the funding streams managed by MISE, and encourage cooperation between private business and public institutions.

The Start-ups law has been the latest step towards the creation of innovation-oriented firms.

Smart Specialisation

A growing attention has been devoted to the ‘Smart specialisation strategy’, (‘Support and definition of regional R&I policies’) for Italian regions, launched in 2013 by MISE in cooperation with MIUR. In October 2013 Invitalia, the operational arm of the project, released a first mapping of sectoral specialisations. The project has defined regional specialisations, the set-up of indicators and the design of the supporting actions to each S3 regional strategy.

Knowledge markets

Knowledge markets have a limited extent in Italy, considering the characteristics of the country’s R&I system. The last reform of IPRs was introduced in 2010 (DL n. 131, 13 August 2010); it has promoted creativity and invention by researchers and universities and streamlined the access to patenting procedures. Since 2011 MISE, the ministry in charge of IPRs, provided support to national initiatives such as prize competitions for patenting firms and benefits for firms bringing innovations to market. Since 2012 IPRs have been associated to the start-up framework. The 2013 initiatives for start-ups included also patenting and IPR issues. The 2015 stability law introduced some optional tax holidays for patents and trademarks trading. The new taxation regime of patents and trademarks reduced by 50% the income taxation in case of 90% reinvestments within the firm.

Evaluations, consultations, foresight exercises

In 2013, the more relevant evaluations of Italy’s R&I system included three documents: Horizon 2020 Italia Ricerca e Innovazione, the ANVUR research quality assessment and the report by CUN on universities.

In 2014 the most important evaluations included the ANVUR report on the university and research system and a study of the Bank of Italy on the public research system.

Knowledge transfer and open innovation

Since 2010 the policy approach has focused on strengthening cooperation between public institutions and private business. Both the 2011-2013 PNR and the draft of the 2014-2020 PNR, as well as HIT2020, identified knowledge transfer as a crucial issue.

Since 2012, new legislative tools have been introduced in order to favour the mobility of researchers and innovators between public and private institutions, eliminating barriers between HEIs and PROs, private business and researchers involved in international projects. In 2012 and 2013 MIUR released the secondary regulations requested by the law, namely the guidelines for managing partnerships between PROs and HEIs and private firms in order to promote the mobility of researchers. However, limited success has been obtained so far on this front.

Voluntary initiatives for the improvement of knowledge transfer between individual private and public institutions have also emerged.

Performance of the National Research and Innovation system

ANVUR in 2013 showed that the growth of the share of Italian publications is one of the fastest in Europe, above the EU average, and a strong performance is also found for cooperation with foreign institutions.

The 2014 ANVUR report on universities and research shows that Italy’s share of world scientific publication is now 4.4% in the fields of ‘hard sciences’ and 1.9% in social sciences and humanities, with an increasing trend in both cases.

In 2013 a study on Italy’s research output has been carried out by the Bank of Italy, it concludes that in terms of quantity of publications by public and private researchers Italy ranks fourth among EU countries after the UK, Germany and France, with about 3.4% of all scientific publications and citations

The Innovation Union Scoreboard 2014 sees Italy in the group of “moderate innovators” including Southern and Eastern European countries only, with a performance below the EU-28 average.

More detailed evidence on the innovation performance of Italian firms in the EU context is provided by the results of the new Community Innovation Survey (2010-2012).

The overall picture that emerges from the latest innovation survey for Italy’s economy is bleak.

The consequences for Italy’s R&I system could be very serious, including a permanent loss of a significant part of its production capacity; a greater presence of foreign firms transferring abroad R&D, innovation and managerial activities; a brain drain also in the business sector, with highly skilled personnel searching for new jobs abroad; a further weakening of the coherence of the R&I system.

Structural challenges of the national R&I system

The Italian R&I system is characterised by five main structural challenges.

•  The downsizing of higher education;

Italy’s higher education system has long been characterized by lower financial and human resources, in comparison with other European countries. The budget reductions associated to austerity policies have made these problems more serious, widening the gap with European standards.

•  The weak formation of human capital and the brain drain of researchers;

The low share of citizens holding a higher education degree has long been an Italian problem. Italy’s gap in high skills and in the number of researchers is widening when such human resources are crucial to sustain economic and social development and increase the country’s competitiveness.

•  The weak R&D and innovation activities of firms;

The weakness of the innovative efforts and performances of Italian firms has roots in the loss of Italy’s high technology industries, in the evolution of its pattern of specialisation and in the small firm size.

In this context, the preservation of existing industry and the support for the emergence of new firms in activities characterized by higher R&D, innovation, learning processes, in fields with strong demand and environmentally sustainable products and processes appear as policy priorities, in line with the Europe-2020 targets.

•  The size distribution of firms;

Micro-enterprises and family ownership are long standing characteristics of Italy’s economy that set it aside from European standards of industrial organisation, which has, at least for big countries, a lower share of family owned business and has a larger mean firm size. The effects of the depression have been particularly heavy on the more vulnerable small businesses.

•  Growing territorial inequalities.

The traditional socio-economic inequality between Northern and Southern regions has not been solved in decades and – with the current depression – has shown signs of worsening. The R&I system reflects the same divide of the economy as a whole. R&D is concentrated in four major Northern regions – Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto – and in Lazio, the region around Rome.

Meeting structural challenges

Five cross-cutting policy changes may be needed to meet the structural challenges. First, the resource gap has to be urgently addressed, with an immediate return to 2008 levels of public and private R&I funding and personnel, in order to avoid a widening of Italy’s lag below EU standards. Second, a new public-private balance is required; for decades, public activities have been downsized in the hope that private initiatives could take the lead in R&D, innovation and investment; this has simply not happened and there is the need to rebuild a capable and competent public sector, less concerned with short term private-style ‘efficiency’, and more concerned with the long term priorities of the country’s R&I system. Third, there is a need for a new role of larger firms, SMEs networks and the banking system for reconstructing the conditions for innovation in the economy, especially in emerging fields, in the context of a new industrial policy. Fourth, restoring convergence across Italy’s regions – and across Europe’s countries – is an essential requirement for preventing economic, social and political disintegration and a ‘vicious circles’ of decline, unemployment and ‘brain drain’. Fifth, Italy’s problems provide evidence of some limitations that can be found in the EU R&I priorities, that were defined in a context very different from the present economic crisis.

Innovation framework for SMEs

The major measure for innovation in SMEs is the start-up law. Additional initiatives have included the Technological Cluster programme of MIUR that supports with €266m eight aggregations of cooperating private and public bodies that foster innovation in selected thematic fields. In addition, the 2014 budget law allocated €100m for SME to provide them collateral as loan guarantees in 2014 and €50m in 2015.

Venture capital markets

Venture capital is not widespread in Italy. According to the association of venture capitalists, AIFI, in 2013 in Italy only 108 firms had been financed at early stage by venture capital for an amount of €81m. The start-up law has included new measures on the financing of innovative start-ups, including tax holidays for the venture capitalists who invest, with the aim to stimulate the expansion of the venture capital market. New forms of financing - tailored for innovative SMEs – are also introduced, such as crowdfunding, ‘work for equity’ for external suppliers and stock options for SME personnel, as well as streamlined access to some benefits regarding collaterals for bank credits.

Innovative public procurement

The major recent development in public procurement has been the digitalisation of public tenders. CONSIP, is the agency in charge of the implementation of e-procurement. In 2013 the Mercato Elettronico della Pubblica Amministrazione, MEPA, became operational, with a platform based on a register of suppliers (80% of them are SMEs), which can offer goods and services to the public administration.

The country in the European R&I landscape

Italy is a large EU country (60.8m of inhabitants in 2014) accounting for nearly 12% of the EU28 population. The economic performance of the country has been negative from the start of the crisis and GDP did not yet return to its 2008 values. In 2013 the R&D to GDP ratio was 1.25%, as opposed to a EU-28 average of 2.02%. In 2013 Italy’s total R&D personnel (in full time equivalent units) amounted to 252,648, of which 117,973 researchers. In 2013 Italy’s share of R&D personnel on total employment was 1.13%, as opposed to a EU-28 average of 1.25%; the share of researchers was 0.53% as opposed to 0.79% in the EU-28 average. Expenditure for universities accounts for 1% of Italy’s GDP, as opposed to 1.5% in the EU average.

Main features of the R&I system

Italy’s R&D system is based on a mixed private-public funding model; in 2012 47.1% of resources for R&D have been provided by the business sector and 43.5% by the public sector. Funds from abroad – including EU funds – accounted for 9.5% of R&D financing.

The governance structure of Italy’s R&I system is based on the top role played by the Council of Ministries.

Structure of the national research and innovation system and its governance

The Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) is the main player in R&I.

The National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research Institutes (ANVUR) is in charge of the monitoring and evaluation of the research system. The Inter Ministry Committee for Economic Planning (CIPE) has the role of coordinating science and technology policy. The Ministry for economic development (MISE, previously Ministry for Production Activities) manages industrial innovation. The Department for Competitiveness within MISE is in charge of technological innovation. The Department of development and social cohesion (DPS) within MISE is in charge of the planning, coordination and management of EU Structural funds.

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