A PhD student at Cambridge with a social science degree from the University of Bath has been told by Italy's largest university that it does not recognise her degree and she will have to do one again.
The case of Anna Bagnoli, an Italian citizen, contrasts with the proclaimed enthusiasm of Europe's university ministers for an integrated system of higher education, with reciprocal recognition of qualifications and freedom of movement within the 15-nation community.
It also conflicts with the confident tone of last year's Sorbonne declaration, in which ministers from European states committed themselves to improving recognition of each other's degrees.
Ms Bagnoli graduated in sociology and psychology from Bath in 1995 and asked Rome's La Sapienza University to recognise her degree.
"Since there is no combined sociology/psychology degree in Italy and a psychology degree takes five years, I thought they might tell me I would have to do the fifth year to get an Italian degree," Ms Bagnoli said. "I had no idea they would disregard everything I had done, which included, incidentally, a year's placement at the National Research Council in Rome.
"They asked for the original degree, plus an officially registered translation and the translation into Italian of the description of the 26 exams I had taken at Bath. I delivered all these documents, waited, and nothing happened.
"Six months later, I received a brief letter. It said that the faculty council had examined my request and had decided that I could, if I liked, enrol in the first year."
Ms Bagnoli, by that time at Cambridge, wrote several letters to Luigi Berlinguer, the then university minister and a signatory of the Sorbonne declaration.
"That was in 1996 and 1997," said Ms Bagnoli, "We have never even had a letter back acknowledging any of ours. I decided to give up and continue working in England. The impression I had was that nobody had bothered to read most of the documents required. In talking to other Italian students in the UK, I was struck by the inconsistency. In similar situations some were told to do another year in Italy, some two, some to take specific exams out of the Italian degree course."
An official at the foreign students' bureau at La Sapienza expressed surprise at the rejection of the Bath degree, but could not comment on the specific case.
At the Italian university ministry, another official explained that in Italy a BA is not equivalent to an Italian degree, which is considered on a par with an MA, since the course lasts four or five years. "With PhDs, however, we recognise about 90 per cent of those from reputable European universities, so we are not being difficult."
He added that in evaluating foreign academic titles, commissions in Italian universities must first establish the reputation and standards of the university concerned and compare the exams taken there with those included in the Italian degree course.