Should Italian universities be excluded from Erasmus?

The Italian Insider reported 12 July 2012  UK “may exclude” Italy Erasmus students on the possibility of Italian Universities being excluded from the Erasmus project – following a question in the House of Commons tabled by Andrew Bridgen MP to the UK Minister for  Europe, David Lidington.

See Hansard 11 July, 2013 Italy Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – Hansard

I would welcome your views on this proposal.



Enrico Letta - Italian Prime Minister


This entry was posted in David Lidington MP, David Willetts, Discrimination based on nationality in Italian universities, EU, Europe and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Should Italian universities be excluded from Erasmus?


    Well, you certainly have my sympathy.
    I am wondering if a seventh judgement by the ECJ will make any difference. Anyway it is good that ANSA is carrying the story. How many Italia media outlets besides il Messaggero have picked it up, do you know?

    I see here that the UK govt are threatening to stop Italian Erasmus students from coming to Britain, as a sort of reprisal for the Italian govt’s treatment of yourselves. Do you think this is wise?

    Frankly, it looks to me like a tactical blunder. Reprisals are not good. The students are not to blame for your predicament, which is caused by the Rectors and the baroni. Yet if the UK punishes them, it could make them close ranks with the University authorities, and turn your conflict with the University authorities into a “GB vs Italy” conflict, on a pretty much tribal basis, with each side rallying “instinctively” to its own national flag, and reinforcing its negative stereotypes of the other.

    I think your best bet is to detribalise the dispute. Find Italian allies who will support you.

    I had a dispute with the Comune di Roma, who were refusing to pay me for a translation job I did for them at their request, and which they accepted, praised (!) and used. After the Italian Insider and the Corriere della Sera ran the story, Mayor Alemanno’s Ufficio Stampa said they would pay after all and passed the dossier over to the accounts dept. But then the accounts dept said the payment was “improcessabile”. So I sent an email with a complete account of the story (and the two press cuttings) to the new Mayor Marino, expressing my displeasure at the behaviour of his predecessor, and my hopes and expectations that he would solve the problem “as would be normal”. I received the payment in under a week.

    I do not think that threatening the Italian Erasmus students will be very helpful to your cause. It risks simply antagonising your own students against you.

    Far better for the UK govt – AND the French govt! – to appeal directly to Enrico Letta – and indeed Napolitano (they are both English speakers, and were once students of English, maybe French too?), appealing to their “better nature” and to their interests, and refer to Expo 2015. They are pinning great hopes on EXPO 2015 as a launching pad for getting Italy out of its economic decline. 20 million visitors are expected, including 6 mn foreigners, who will expect to be able to communicate in English (at least) with the Italian exhibitors. If they discover an unexpected language barrier, the Expo will not be a success. Likewise the 14mn Italian visitors will need to speak English (or French) to communicate with all the non-Italian exhibitors, few of whom I’d guess will be Italian speakers. Letta visited London last week precisely to win the confidence of the world’s “markets” which of course speak English. Years ago he did a course in Hampstead at a school my firm now represents, so he knows how important it is.

    You – and the UK govt – can say:
    – that one important limitation holding Italy back is the relative paucity of foreign language skills amongst Italians in general,
    – that as teachers of English and French in Italy you are eager to help, but
    – that Italy cannot be expected to acquire language skills and forge ahead on world markets if it treats one of its main resources for learning languages (ie you) so abominably.
    You – and the UK and French govts – can tell Letta and Napolitano that by persisting in this – effectively xenophobic – attitude, Italy is shooting itself in the foot – si dá la zappa sui piedi da sola. (I think you may find it more effective to use the word “xenofobo” rather than “razzista”. Or you could use both…)
    There, that is my ha’porth, I hope of some use.
    Good luck!
    Torquil Dick-Erikson, Rome

    • colin swift says:

      The idea of reprisals is indeed depressing but I think Torquil Dick-Erikson is unaware of just how desperate we ‘lettori’ are after twenty years (in my case) of slogging away at university administrations, government departments and European Union representatives. To give you an idea: I take home €930 a month, exactly the same salary I had when I started in 1992: I have a permanent (indeterminato) contract and I have never received a single cost of living increase, whereas all my colleagues, lecturers, administrative and technical staff (with permanent contracts) receive them automatically. The only solution so far has been through the law courts but even that hope is under threat thanks to the Gelmini law which effectively ‘extinguishes’ our lawsuits – mine has been going on for 12 years – I have been paying a lawyer for 14 years and now …it’s just not there any more according to the state. The cold-bloodedness of the state is bi-partisan and we expect nothing original from Letta, just as we expected (and got) nothing from Monti or Berlusconi or Prodi. (And even if they did do or say something, the individual university administration would find a way round it). The government will either a) do nothing or b) pass another ad personam law, if we manage to get around the Gelmini Law in the courts: it is in their nature, it’s what they do. The only way forward is to force their hand and it is for this reason that the European Union should finally get round to applying the fine they have been threatening for so long. (Why are they so reticent? Could it be they don’t want to upset the very people they are supposedly condemning?) Only when the problem becomes an economic one will the Italian state sit up and take notice. As for the Erasmus reprisal, I wonder if we have anything to lose at this point: we are all growing old with the prospect of taking home a pension of €300 a month to look forward to. Why be reasonable when you are convinced that there simply is no way forward?

  2. Christopher Burchett says:

    I agree with Mr Dick Erikson as I do not believe the lettori should allow themselves to be seen as acting spitefully against students with whom they have no quarrel.
    Furthermore, such tactics might serve to let the true culprits off the hook.
    Let us never forget that the true villains of the peace come in two varieties:
    * the Italian state officials and their lackeys who seek to perpetuate a 30+ year policy of corrupt racist discrimination at home and
    * their fellow travelers who aid and abet them within the EU. Their overriding objective being to ensure that Italian state never suffers the punitive financial sanctions it has so richly merited and for so long.
    Our enemies understand all too clearly, what many of our allies and well wishers have yet to fully grasp that IMPLEMENTED SANCTIONS are the ONLY effective means of bringing this unedifying saga to an end.

  3. B. Mims says:

    The UE applying the fine to Italy for the racist treatment reserved for lettori past and present would be a decent first step. The next could be something far more drastic and in my opinion threatening the Erasmus program would fit the bill. Threatening is one thing, actually applying a ban on Italian students would in effect make many young Italians extremely angry and could be counterproductive. Threatening this step on the other hand would at least force students to look carefully at the problem and the terrible effect it is having , and has had for 20 years, on Italian credibility and prestige.

    A concerted effort, letters to all the student organizations, and to Enrico Letta and Giorgio Napolitano, emphasizing the poor state of language learning in Italy and the absolute need for foreign language speakers in business, especially the export business, would be appropriate as a first step. The letters should come from Spanish and French lettori as well.

    I am one of the three lettori whose winning case was thrown out last week in Brescia, and after 20 years of writing protest letters and paying lawyers and trying to understand exactly what the universities actually have gained by showing their ugly sides, I am angrier now than when lettori were first cheated out of contracts ordered by the UE. Perhaps the universities are counting on tiring us out, watching us grow old and die off. That, for them , may be considered ‘winning’. How sad that Italian universities, places that should be full of youthful energy and a desire to change the world, seem to care exclusively about protecting their entrenched administrations and ‘baroni’. In a couple of months I will turn 70; I am tired of the entire question, but will not go down without a fight.

  4. 44 years ago (!) when I moved to Rome my first job was as a “lettore” at the (now extinct) Facoltá di Magistero of La Sapienza University in Rome. There was no formal contract, we were paid by the hour, and sometimes (I heard from colleagues after I left) with 18 months delay! Indeed after a year I left, in those days private tuition would earn a lot more in real terms than today.

    Since ALLSI now has the ear of the British government, it would surely be worth asking them to make a strong public statement, with maximum publicity, addressed to the Italian government, to ask Letta WHY he is allowing this disgraceful situation to continue? Previous Italian governments behaved very badly, but surely he will be better? Will Italy ever acquire the necessary foreign language skills if it continues to behave in this xenophobic manner, treating those who are teaching languages in Italian universities in this dreadful manner? Will the Italian economy ever take off again with policies like these? Or does the Italian government perhaps expect the whole world to learn Italian, as once it spoke Latin?

    The risk of “fare brutta figura” in the world’s media is something the Italian government will surely want to avoid. To talk about banning Erasmus students served to give a wake-up call and got an article, telling the Italian public about your case in Il Messaggero, so in that sense it was useful, though as I said before I think it would be counter-productive to implement it.

    Italy’s lack of language skills could become an acute problem when Expo 2015 opens its doors. A friendly, but stern, word from the British government to this effect might well strike a chord.

    I don’t suppose that many of you are very young (B. Sims – on the verge of 70?), for the job of lettore has been made most unattractive, they must be intending to stop the service to their students. Are there any young people coming from abroad to teach languages in Italian universities?

    I see that for over a third of a century you have been relying on the institutions of the EU to further your cause. Umpteen judgements by the ECJ have produced zero results. This goes to show that the old Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti is still alive and well, for it was he who said, 100 years or so ago, “The law is something that we apply to our enemies. For our friends, we interpret it.”

    So it appears that the EU, as regards eliminating discrimination on grounds of nationality, does not even do what it says on the tin. By being part of the EU, at the end of the day, the UK govt’s hands are tied, they have to accept the arbitration of the EU institutions, and cannot take decisive action to defend your interests when this is ineffective. Presumably the UK govt have examined the legal ramifications of banning Italian Erasmus students… Erasmus is an EU initiative, I would not be surprised if, in case such a sanction were implemented, Italy would at once haul the UK up before the ECJ on grounds of “discrimination on grounds of nationality” and would probably win its case. And the UK govt would doubtless buckle under, and remove the ban. One of the common complaints about the EU in Britain is “We are the only ones who actually apply all the rules. The others only do so when and as it suits them.”

    • colin swift says:

      The reason some of us have permanent contracts is EU intervention (1995). My university, Roma II Tor Vergata, for example, would never have complied without outside pressure. The odd thing is we achieved nothing after this, despite other ECJ sentences and I think it’s safe to say European institutions just do not want to go the whole hog – too messy politically/diplomatically. Letta is no different, no better than the others: I predict he will do nothing and we must not forget that the Italian political class simply has no shame and seems immune to anything other states would consider embarrasing or humiliating – they just don’t care! (Plus they’ve got other things on their plate. Plus no-one knows how long the current government will last). I don’t really see Expo 2015 changing this much, it’s too deeply-rooted. British government intervention is an interesting initiative, but its not the first time. So I think, as Christopher Burchett says, the only solution is sanctions. But how do we get them to implement?

    • B. Mims says:

      Not to worry, Torquil I retired at 58, just minutes before waxing decrepit. Before 1998, I had waited 5 years for a solution to the lettori problem (and the Italian part of my pension); after 1998, I waited another 15 years, won the case, then saw it chucked out a couple of weeks ago by a judicial system and government reminiscent of the Far West.

  5. I Gavin says:

    For someone who has lived in Italy for nearly a half a century, I feel that Mr Dick-Erikson’s view is a rather naive take on the lettore situation. I am somewhat of a novice in comparison(I have only lived in Italy for 26 years) nevertheless I happened to “get” what the Italian state were up to a good 20- odd years ago.
    Regrettably, Northern European fair play and rationale simply has no effect. Persuasion and “public statements” have no effect. It really is time to play hard ball and to make the Italian universities and the ministry realise that there is a price to pay for illegality.
    The only way to get them to stop the discrimination is by hitting Italy hard with sanctions, both from Brussels and from London. Anything less just will not work. The point is that their game plan is to drag this out until we either give up the fight , pack up and go home or die in the process. The perpetrators of this are time wasters and hitting state interests is the only way to make a rogue state comply.
    I have a collection of letters from my local British MP and from past and present Ministers of Education and Foreign Secretaries saying “we have raised the matter with the Italian government” etc.I firmly believe that it is now time for a complete a change of tack. Talking simply doesn’t work.
    When Italian ministers and their families and the Barons’ families find out that there may be problems for their own children going to study in the UK because of an Erasmus ban, it may focus their minds and make them finally realise that cheats do not prosper.
    And by the way, people are only focusing on students with regard to the Erasmus project. The Erasmus project is also available for teachers. As a lettore I was originally employed as teaching staff although I qualify for a teaching exchange on the Erasmus project, it would be denied me since I would not be considered, by the Italian authorities, as “teaching staff”.
    Sanctions DO work against bullies. As for turning students against us that certainly is not the case with the students I have spoken to. The ones I have spoken to have all been more than sympathetic.

    I.J Gavin

  6. A lot depends on how much media coverage you get for your grievance. And how hard their public image suffers from it (“brutta figura”). When 4 British tourists paid 64€ for four ice-cream cones a while ago in Rome, the story went viral internationally, and this was reported by the local Italian press too. The risk was that Italy would acquire an image as a hideously expensive place to spend your holidays, or a place where you would be ripped off ruthlessly. This would have had a disastrous effect on the tourist industry. Alemanno the mayor did not want the tourist industry at his throat with elections looming, so he went for a damage-limitation exercise: to counter the negative image that was arising, he offered the four tourists a return visit to Rome, at the Town Hall’s expense, with flights, high class hotels etc all paid for. Of course the same newspapers that had reported the rip-off ice-creams also reported the reparatory holiday offered. All with lots of photos. The four tourists went back home quite satisfied.

  7. John Phillips says:

    I concur with Mr Gavin, the fact that Messaggero gave the prospect of losing Erasmus a broadsheet full page shows that Hon., Bridgen and Minister Lidington struck a chord with Italian public opinion. Italian students and their parents love Erasmus in the UK and would hate to lose it., In my view as an observer of dirty international politics in many countries for many years Britain needs to get tough with Italy on Erasmus as the only hope of forcing a solution as the European Commission evidently does not want to crack the whip and like the Letta government hopes lettori will all just die off. Hon. Bridgen obviously is a fighter who has done more for the Lettori with one parliamentary question than the FCO with years of febrile diplomatic negotiations under pathetic Chatham House rules …

  8. J. Flynn says:

    I seriously doubt that threatening to exclude Italy from the Erasmus project will make the government here do anything to resolve the lettori case. They might be slightly worried about the embarrassing coverage they’d get in the EU press, but then they are used to that already, it happens on a daily basis for one reason or another and it never really seems to perturb anybody unduly. The top and bottom of it is that Italy is just not interested in education, it isn’t interested in its young people or nurturing their desire to learn, It isn’t interested in providing them with useful, spendable skills or helping them to compete in the EU labour market, It couldn’t care less about what goes on inside the classroom or lecture hall and it certainly has no regard whatsoever for those of us (Italian and foreign teachers alike) who have dedicated their working lives to the art of teaching. Education and everything that it entails is just not a priority here, never has been and probably never will be. Rogue state?..ignorant state more like. So what’s the solution? The EU has been talking about imposing sanctions for years, well now, especially after what happened in Brescia, really is the time these famous sanctions were slapped on this country’s economy. Money, after all, is the only language the politicians of this country understand.

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