A few days ago, May 15th, 2021, the Italian journal Il Foglio published an article by Andrea Ichino and Daniele Terlizzese named “Recovery and university. A proposal for scholarships” (here: https://www.ilfoglio.it/scuola/2021/05/15/news/recovery-e-universita-una-proposta-sulle-borse-di-studio-2363952/).
Firstly, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan – approved by the current Italian Government and Parliament, presented to the European Commission – aims at encouraging “the access to university […] and strengthen guidance tools in the choice of a university course”. In particular, according to the Plan, the Italian Government will invest 500 millions in universities and scholarships: this would mean providing Italian public education with more economic instruments and opportunities. Furthermore, this distribution of resources would respond and fulfill art. 3, par. 2 of the Italian Constitution stating that “It is demanding for the Republic to remove economic and social obstacles which, limiting the freedom and equality of citizens, prevent the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the country”.
According to the Italian Constitution – art. 3 above all – all people are equal considering their crucial essence of human beings, meaning that it is against the Constitution judging a person due to his/her/* race, color of the skin, religion, sex or sexual orientation (as a matter of example). As constitutional experts say, “two equal situations/persons should be considered and treated in the same way” (art. 3, par. 1, Italian Constitution).
But, what happens when we have two different situations/persons?
This is the real cornerstone of the Italian Constitution: it is clear and undeniable that starting positions of people are different, one person who was born in a very poor family has not the same cultural, economic, academic possibilities of a person who was born in very rich, cultured and well-educated family. Thereby, this gap should be filled by the state; as a consequence, scholarships were created. If not for this reason, why should we use them?
Quite easy to understand, isn’t? Apparently, not for everyone.
Journalists Ichino and Terlizzese proposed to exchange scholarships with university loans using the anglo-saxons principle: banks gives you all the money you need to move to another city, pay university taxes, eat and buy university books; once you graduated and find a good job and start repaying the loan. Of course, it is an over-simplified example that explains in a very good way how should it work.
As a constitutionalist and personally speaking, I find two main unconstitutional and illogic points into the proposal by Ichino and Terlizzese:
- the unconstitutional point: it is quite undeniable that young girls and boys would be refrained from enroll in university, scared by difficulties to find a good job in order to repay the loan. Along with youth unemployment, this widespread trend would create a strong cultural separation between those who are able to pay university taxes because of their solid economic conditions provided by the family and those who are good at studying but unable to enroll at university. In this case, it would go against the Italian constitution and the equality principle;
- the illogic point: following Ichino and Terlizzese’s proposal, exchanging scholarships with university loan would continuously refund universities and protect future generations, providing them with more funds. That’s a good point. The main problem here is the following: since scholarships have been created in order to fill the gap between rich and poor students, the public funds are considered equal to private families’ funds. Accordingly, if we recall loans, we should recall investments provided by rich families to their children. This would be equal.
In conclusion, the proposal by Ichino and Terlizzese is completely impossible to applicate to our country since Italy is not a liberal state; it is correctly considered as a welfare state – even though there’s not a proper label in the text as art. 20 of the Grundgesetz, the German fundamental law.
The Italian constitution is inspired by socialism and equality with just openings to liberalism (as we can check at art. 40, 41 and 42 of the Italian Constitution, the so-called economic constitution).
Thereby, it would be a complete betrayal of the constitutional spirit (“l’esprit des lois”, Montesquieu) not to consider that scholarships exist in order to make people access to the so-called “social elevator”: denying young citizens the social support would mean turning them into an undefended product on the market, subject to economic decisions regarding their productiveness and costs rather than true essence of human beings.