Twenty years after the birth of the Consorzio Nazionale Interuniversitario per le Scienze del Mare (the National Inter-University Consortium for Marine Sciences) it is essential to take stock of the results obtained and therefore, of the rightness of the choices and predictions made by the founders, who had understood its importance and potential.
Generally, the institutional function of inter-university consortiums as provided for by Italian law consists in selecting qualified, like-minded academic research Unities in order to form and reinforce specific inter-university research chains with a prevailing interdisciplinary character.
The idea underlying the creation of research networks was to make the best of all the different expertise within an interconnected system, stimulating both debate and coordination among universities with regards to aspects of special interest in the development of knowledge, innovation and technological transfer and, in general, in the advance of the Country’s competitiveness on the international scene.
Thanks to the initiative of its founder, Professor Francesco Maria Faranda, CoNISMa was thus established on these assumptions and on the conviction that Marine Sciences, in particular, result from the cultural interest of experts from the most varied backgrounds and the widest ranging branches of learning who do scientific and technological research in the fields of biology, geology, sedimentology, geophysics, physics, chemistry, meteorology, etc. The list can never be complete as it also encompasses law, economics, social sciences, engineering and whatever else may contribute to better understand and, consequently, better utilize a very important share of the territory.
Today more than ever, we can say that such an interdisciplinary approach to Marine Sciences proves to be very sound to rectify a course set upon following the significant increase in needs for specialties in many scientific subjects. Although on one hand, specialization is necessary for scientific progress, on the other hand, a correct approach to environmental sciences requires a holistic vision on the part of the researcher, an ongoing debate with other colleagues in order to make the most of all the various expertise.
Such a debate does not stop within Italian borders, but rather opens up towards the rest of Europe and of the world, aiming at creating first-rate networks to promote the currency of ideas and knowledge and, above all, their transfer to young people.
Nowadays, CoNISMa numbers about 700 affiliates counting research professors and technicians coming from the 32 associated universities. Just in 2013 it offered 250 contracts and grants such as research awards, scholarships, collaborations and professional assignments, thus participating in 61 institutional and business research projects. Among them, some – which we do not mention to avoid drawing up a ranking of importance – have an international scope, involving dozens of countries and hundreds of researchers.
This shows that, thanks to CoNISMa, even the smallest Universities can take part in major research projects on the basis of their true competence. It avoids duplication and guarantees projects of high scientific value. All may count on an efficient concentration of administrative and management functions which require specifically dedicated professional expertise; and furthermore, they may depend on common research infrastructures through the possibility of acquiring instruments and structures at the disposal of the whole scientific community, rather demanding from a financial viewpoint. This way it is possible to carry out research activities both in the field and/or in laboratory, extended to more users and thus helpful in many subject-matters.
The outcome of these first 20 years of operation can only be regarded as positive, and in keeping with the founding fathers’ expectations. The internalization of scientific research has led Italian universities to have a debate with other research networks established abroad, taking part in prominent research forums and prestigious institutions such as the European Marine Board and Euromarine. We hope that this round-table conference “Talent building in Marine Sciences: a New Vision for Trans-disciplinary European Training Programs” opens up new development prospects for knowledge. And that the Faranda Prize may reward and give opportunities to those young researchers from around the world who have managed to draw inspiration from the leading principles which have founded and guided the CoNISMa to this day.