The Great Cultural Revolution: Italy in the 1970s
The universities were a particularly striking example, both of social conﬂict and of political inertia. Their problems were not new: libraries and
laboratories had been overcrowded long before 1968. But in 1969 admission to university became a great deal easier (see §17.6). In 1968-69 there were 416,000 students attending courses; three years later there were 631,000, and the number of law and medical students had doubled. By 1978-79 the total had increased to 778,000 – over a quarter of the age group. The number of graduates rose from 40,000 in 1968 to 77,000 ten years later. Only about 15 per cent of them were in science or mathematics, most of these being girls – a curious Italian tradition. Industry employed 2,391 new graduates in 1969, but that was the peak year; by 1976 it was taking 1,278, about 2 per cent of the country’s graduate output. The reluctance of Italian ﬁrms to employ graduates was understandable. By law, graduates had to be paid more than other people, yet there was no guarantee they would know anything, and a fair possibility they might turn out to be revolutionaries. As for the professions, they were all in much the same state as medicine. In 1978 almost 15,000 new doctors qualiﬁed (compared to 3,800 in Britain); and 35,000 medical students began their training. Yet already there were 30,000 unemployed doctors. Italian universities had always produced too many unemployable intellectuals, but never on such a scale as this. There seemed to be a whole generation of perpetual students, born around 1950, too highly educated to stoop to manual labour, too numerous for bureaucratic posts, bitterly resentful of the system that had reared them, and hopeful only of overthrowing it.