Italy is trying to catch up with other countries in the development of distance learning.
A committee of academics is to evaluate and, if suitable, authorise courses offered by state and private institutions under legislation introduced by the university ministry.
According to a ministry communique, "this will set Italy on par with the rest of Europe in the field of e-learning and bridge the gap that separates it in this sector from other countries".
But Alessandro Bianchi, rector of Reggio Calabria University, issued a cautionary note: "We appreciate an opening up of higher education in new directions. But the new legislation seems to suggest that a distance university can be set up simply with the approval of the committee, and without all the other controls to which traditional universities are subject.
"There is a risk that institutions will appear that have little in common with a traditional university, but with the authority to award a legally valid degree."
The committee is headed by former Bologna University rector Fabio Roversi Monaco and has 45 days to adjudicate on accreditation requests from state and non-state universities and institutions with authority to award academic titles.
One of the models studied by ministry officials in preparing the new legislation was the UK's Open University.