Italian universities are in a serious crisis,” says Federico Ricci-Tersenghi, a physicist at the University of Rome I (“La Sapienza”). A new law that threatens the country’s universities has prompted ongoing protests. On 30 October, for example, a country-wide strike of schools from primary through university drew about a million demonstrators in Rome alone. “What’s going on in Italy is extraordinary. The streets are full. I thought Italy had fallen asleep,” says University of Florence astrophysicist and former International Astronomical Union president Franco Pacini.

In the past, says José Lorenzana, a physicist at Italy’s National Institute for the Physics of Condensed Matter, the government has periodically blocked hiring for permanent positions, which created conditions for a later mass hiring. “What we need is a constant flow of researchers,” says Lorenzana. “Instead, the government is reducing hiring in a draconian way.”

The new law cuts government funding to universities, gives...

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