December 23, 2010 / 8:11 PM / 9 years ago

Italy approves hotly contested university reform

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s Senate on Thursday gave parliament’s final approval to a university system reform, including funding cuts of at least 300 million euros in 2011, that has drawn large-scale, sometimes violent student protests.

“Today is a good day for the country and for Italy’s universities and it’s a great opportunity for the students who are the real beneficiaries, including those who have protested so much,” said Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini.

Last week cars were set on fire, shop windows smashed and dozens of people injured in clashes between protesters and police after an initially peaceful march descended into some of the worst violence seen in Rome for years.

The Senate approved the law by 161 votes to 98 with the backing of Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right majority after two days of often heated debate.

The legislation cuts the number of university courses and faculties and reduces funding for grants. It sets time limits for research, increases the role of the private sector in university governance and limits the duration of rectorships.

Antonio Di Pietro, leader of the opposition Italy of Values party, said after the reform’s approval that it “deregulates the right to study, which should be guaranteed for everyone,” and was “yet another black page written by this government.”

The government, under pressure to reduce public debt, says spending cuts are necessary but the reform will create a more merit-based system that is closer to employers’ needs.

Student organisations vowed to continue to mobilize, saying the spending cuts will wreck Italy’s already crumbling university system. They complain that the government has paid no attention to their protests.

President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday received a delegation of students after another day of protests around the country, this time largely peaceful. He said after the reform’s approval he was keen to maintain a dialogue with the students.

Reporting by Gavin Jones; editing by Mark Heinrich

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