A victory for media mogul Silvio Berlusconi in Italy's general elections on Sunday could stall the country's university reform programme, but rectors hope it is too late to halt the process.
Leaders of the centre-right alliance, led by Mr Berlusconi, say that if they win they will dismantle the reforms introduced over the past seven years. The reforms hinge on a three-plus-two-year degree structure based on credits and on financial and academic autonomy for individual universities.
Italy has been at the forefront of of efforts to create a Europe-wide higher education zone and all the necessary legislation has been passed by the outgoing centre-left government. The system is already operating in some universities and is on course to be applied everywhere from next autumn.
Luciano Modica, president of the Italian rectors' conference and rector of Pisa University, said: "We are firmly against any plans to cancel or limit the reform. All Italian universities are gearing up for it and new degree courses begin in October. I believe it is too late to stop now."
Marco Pacetti, rector of Ancona University, said: "The reform exists in a European context. It would be difficult for Italy to suddenly pull out."
Mr Pacetti said that the Berlusconi alliance's position on the issue was unclear. "Individual politicians have attacked the reform, but there has been no official statement from the centre-right. We've asked Berlusconi and Francesco Rutelli (his centre-left opponent) to meet us before the elections and both have agreed."
Piero Tosi, rector of Pisa University, said: "We are aware that the reform is not perfect and will require fine-tuning. But it has already made progress in improving quality and efficiency."