Italian research funds: escaping from the PRIN labyrinth

Introduction

In the last few months a number of researchers have been involved in the submission process of the PRIN 2012 projects. PRIN is the acronym of Progetti di ricerca di interesse nazionale (Research projects of national interest) and refers to one of the major Italian public sources of funding for academic research. The submission to the new proposals follows the recent publication of the PRIN 2010/2011 projects admitted to and cofounded by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (tab.1).

Table 1. PRIN 2010/2011: Projects admitted to cofounding

National Coordinator Title University of the
national coordinator
Laura Bazzicalupo Biopolitical governance: inclusion and happiness.
Historical and conceptual genealogy, present
challenges and future perspectives of a politics
for man and society
University of Salerno
Laura Bovone Sustainable practices of daily lives in a
context of crisis: job, consumption, participation
Università Cattolica
del Sacro Cuore
Pierangelo Isernia* Italian foreign policy and the new challenges of the
international system: actors, institutions and policies
University of Siena
Mario Morcellini Professions of the public space: beyond the crisis University of Roma
La Sapienza
Leonardo Morlino* Economic crises and quality of democracy in Europe LUISS University
at Roma
Ida Regalia Old and new modes of job regulation in
Italian and European small enterprises
University of Milano
Antonio Schizzerotto Social belongings, beliefs about instruction and
participation to the university: an integrated experiment
with a longitudinal survey
University of Trento
Paolo Segatti Political representation changes in Italy.
Voting decision in the 2013-2015 electoral cycle
University of Milano
Carlo Trigilia University, innovation and regional economies University of Firenze
Pierluigi Valsecchi State, plurality, changes in Africa University of Pavia

Note: Due to the lack of information and transparency of the Miur Internet site, I would prefer not to give the list of the research units, which would be incomplete. At the same time, I have decided to give the complete list of all the projects funded in the research area of Political and Social Science because of the possibility of multidisciplinary research projects with, for instance, political scientists participating in sociologists’ research units and vice versa. The names of the coordinators belonging to the disciplinary sectors of Political Science are also emphasized by an asterisk.

After the publication of the PRIN 2012 call for proposals, colleagues have been confronted with the new procedures required for submission. After the path-breaking approach introduced in the last 2011-2012 call, the Miur has promoted different relevant reforms. The main ones are the following:

  1. the pre-selection phase—until now carried out under the responsibility of the single universities—will be based on draft projects;
  2. the criteria used in the pre-selection phase are now partially defined by the National Committee of Research Guarantors (Comitato Nazionale dei Garanti della Ricerca – CNGR) created after the approval of the Gelmini Reform;
  3. instead of making reference to the ‘traditional’ fourteen disciplinary areas, the projects are now divided according to the three ERC domains;
  4. there are three lines of interventions, defined according to the time-span between the coordinator’s first PhD, specialization or Bachelor and the publication of the 2012 call; specific funds are reserved for younger scholars;
  5. there are no limits to the number of operative units participating in projects and no minimum and maximum costs associated with the projects.

I will now, briefly, illustrate the new requirements and procedures established by the 2012 call for proposals, with the aim of rendering them more familiar to the research community. The changes introduced by the 2012 call for proposals have on occasion been the cause of disorientation among researchers and professors. Finding the way out of this labyrinth is not always easy…

Evaluation and selection

The procedure introduced in the 2010-2011 call was confirmed in 2012. The evaluation of the submitted proposals is organized in two different steps: the first is under the responsibility of the single university, the second is organized by the MIUR itself. The Ministry works by means of Selection Committees (Comitati di Selezione – CdS) organized according to the three European Research Council domains (Social Sciences and Humanities – SH; Life Sciences – LS; Physical Sciences and Engineering – PE), whose members are appointed with Directorial decree after designation by the CNGR (tab. 2 and tab. 3).

Table 2. Composition of the National Committee of Research Guarantors (CNGR)

Name Institution
Angelos Chaniotis University of Princeton
Daniela Cocchi University of Bologna
Anna Maria Colao University of Napoli
Alberto Sangiovanni Vincentelli University of California, Berkeley
Francesco Sette European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, Grenoble
Vincenzo Barone Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa
Claudio Franchini University of Tor Vergata, Roma

Note: CNGR members have been nominated by the Ministerial Decree D.M. 7645 of 26 April 2012.

Table 3. Composition of the CdS Social Sciences and Humanities – SH

Panel Name Institution
SH 1 Individuals, Institutions and Markets:
economics, finance and management
Massimo Bordignon Catholic University of Milano
SH2 Institutions, Values, Beliefs and Behavior:
sociology, social anthropology, political science, law,
communication, social studies of science and technology
Giovanna Colombini University of Pisa
SH3 Environment, Space and Populations:
environmental studies, demography, social
geography, urban and regional studies
Francesco Billari University of Oxford
SH4 The Human Mind and Its Complexity:
cognition, psychology, linguistics,
philosophy and education
Michela Cennamo University of Napoli
SH5 Cultures and Cultural Production:
literature, visual and performing arts,
music, cultural and comparative studies
Lina Bolzoni Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa
SH6 The Study of the Human Past:
archaeology, history and memory
Tonio Hölscher University of Heidelberg

Note: CdS members have been nominated by Directorial Decree D.D. n. 648 8 April 2013.

Once they have gathered the evaluations of anonymous referees, the CdSs are invited to express their evaluation according to a 5-point scale (tab. 4).

Table 4. The evaluation scale of the projects

Category Description Points
Excellent Fully convincing, without weakness 5
Very good Extremely strong with,
at most, some minor weakness
4
Good Strong but with some moderate weakness 3
Fair Some important weakness 2
Poor Not very convincing with numerous weakness 1

Note: CdS members have been nominated by the Directorial Decree D.D. n. 648 of 8 April 2013.

Only the projects that have been pre-selected by the single universities are submitted to evaluation by the MIUR. Each University shall pre-select a number of proposals not exceeding 0,75% of the number of professors and researchers of the university or, if superior, not exceeding the double of the mean of the projects financed in the last five PRIN call for proposals (tab. 5).

Table 5. Italian Universities that can pre-select more than 20 projects

University Max N of pre-selected projects University Max N of pre-selected projects
University of Rome
La Sapienza
122 University of Genoa 32
University of Bologna 75 University of Pavia 32
University of Milan 74 University of Perugia 29
University of Naples
Federico II
73 University of Siena 28
University of Padua 73 University of Palermo 26
University of Florence 66 University of Trieste 26
University of Pisa 48 University of Roma Tre 25
University of Turin 42 Polytechnic of Turin 24
University of Rome
Tor Vergata
35 Second University of Naples 22
University of Catania 33 Catholic University of Milan 20
Polytechnic of Milan 33 University of Milan
Bicocca
20
University of Bari 33 University of Parma 20

Pre-selection is based on the judgment of three anonymous referees that take into account the innovativeness and originality of the proposed project, the methodology and scientific qualifications, in relation to the submitted project, of the scientific coordinator and of the managers of the operative units. Each university is subsequently responsible for the definition of the pre-selected projects to be newly submitted to the MIUR.

Characteristics of the projects

First of all, PRIN projects should be submitted by a ‘Principal Investigator’ called the PI, who is a Professor or researcher that coordinates several operative units and has the scientific responsibility of the entire project. The operative units are led by a local manager, in charge of organizational responsibility, and are composed of Professors and researchers.
The 2012 call for proposals is organized along three lines of action, according to the time span between the PI’s first PhD, specialization or Bachelor and the publication of the call for proposals. The first line (line A) is called ‘Starting PRIN – young researchers’, the second line (line B) is called ‘PRIN Consolidator’, and the third line (Line C) is called ‘PRIN Advanced’ (tab. 6). Mixed projects are allowed: in line A and B researchers can belong to line A and/or B but not C; in line C researchers can belong indifferently to line A or B or C.

Table 6. The temporal limits applied for the definition of the PI’s line of belonging

Line A – PRIN starting PhD/Specialization ≤ 7 or bachelor ≤ 10
Line B – PRIN consolidator 7 < PhD/Specialization ≤ 12 or 10< bachelor ≤ 15
Line C – PRIN advanced PhD/Specialization > 12 or bachelor > 15

The MIUR finances the approved projects with 70% of the costs which are considered adequate for the implementation of the research. The approved projects will have at their disposal no less than 80% of the costs considered adequate. The Social Sciences and Humanities (SH) domain has €7,651,978 available for funding, half of the funds provided for the other two domains (€ 15,303,958 each). In the SH domain at least €750,000 is reserved for ‘PRIN starting’ and €1,000,000 for ‘PRIN consolidator’. Results of the national selection are due on 20 October 2013 (tab. 7).

Table 7. Principal deadlines for the 2012 call for proposals

Date Activity
11/02/2013 Submission of a brief project proposal by the PI to its university
28/02/2013 The CNGR nominates the CdS’ members
19/04/2013 End of the peer review for the pre-selection phase
10/05/2013 Communication of the pre-selected proposals
14/06/2013 Submission of the complete detailed proposal to the MIUR
30/09/2013 End of the peer review for the selection phase
20/10/2013 Communication of the selected projects

Conclusion

The PRIN 2012 call for proposals introduced several changes to the selection procedure. It is plausible that the next call for proposals will change yet again. The aim of the MIUR is apparently that of making the national system of research funding more similar to the one adopted by the EU and more in line with Horizon 2020. For this reason, one may expect that in 2013 scholars will enter into yet another labyrinth.

For more information

General information about the PRIN is available at this link.
The general call for proposals is available here, with amendments introduced by the following ministerial decree.
Some universities have elaborated some operative documents and Q&A. As examples, one can see those available at the University of Trento, the University of Milan, and the University of Padua.

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