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21 July 2017
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Abilitazione nazionale: how to become a university professor in Italy – a one page guide

From the summer of 2012 onwards,  to enter academic positions of Associate Professor (Professore di Seconda Fascia) or Full Professor (Professore di Prima Fascia – Ordinario) in Italy it will be necessary to obtain first an official qualification, which is called “abilitazione”. This abilitazione can be obtained after applying to official calls (concorsi nazionali) which will be issued annually by the Ministry of Education and University (MIUR) for various scientific fields (raggruppamenti concorsuali). The candidates will be examined nationally by committees of Full Professors who will be selected on the basis of proven experience and status in each scientific field.

The criteria for the evaluation of the candidates essentially correspond to those recognized internationally for senior academic positions: success in research funding, presence in the editorial boards of specialized journals, membership of academic bodies, scientific awards, involvement in the evaluation of grants and fellowships, management of groups and institutes, and so on.

However, the criteria become quantitatively stringent in regard to the scientific output of the candidates. For all the areas of natural and biomedical sciences and large parts of engineering, these criteria require that a candidate’s production exceeds the median value of at least two of the following indicators:

a)                  Number of articles published in the previous 10 years  since the date of the call;

b)                  Number of citations normalized to the number of years of active research*;

c)                   H-index normalized to the number of years of active research*.

*The number of years of active research corresponds to the so-called academic age, which will be evaluated from the year of the first publication of any candidate, taking into consideration eventual career breaks.

Let’s take as an example a relatively senior scientist who started publishing in 1982 without career interruptions, hence with an academic age of 30,  who has obtained the following bibliometric profile to date:

a)                  30 publications in the last 10 years;

b)                  a total of 3000 citations – hence a normalized citation count per age = 100;

c)                   an overall H-index of 30 – hence a normalized H-index per age = 1.

This scientist could exceed the median values of:

·                     all 3 indicators for the Associate Professors of most, if not all Raggruppamenti concorsuali

·                     at least 2 indicators for the Full Professors of the majority of Raggruppamenti concorsuali£

Consequently, this scientist can be considered a successful candidate for the abilitazione at either Associate or (in most cases£) Full professor in the pertinent field of expertise - encompassed in a given raggruppamento concorsuale – provided that additional criteria are met, as evaluated by the national committees.  

Once potential candidates have verified that they meet the criteria of scientific production as above, they can apply to one of the Raggruppamenti concorsuali , submitting a maximum of 12 (for Associate Professors) or 20 (for Full Professors) of their (presumably best) publications along their CV, as specified in MIUR calls that will be published.

In practice, the median values of the indicators a), b) and c) for all Raggruppamenti concorsuali  will be calculated and made public by the agency ANVUR concomitantly or prior to the release of the public calls by MIUR.  So, all persons interested may verify whether they meet the selection criteria for the publication output before deciding to apply for the abilitazione in a given sector.

Those who eventually obtain the abilitazione will then be able to apply to professorial positions that Italian universities will advertise to fill their academic ranks, using local selection committees. But that’s another game!

£Except for certain areas of Medicine, e.g. Haematology and Endocrinology, in which Italy has high international ranking

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