Italy's university system will collapse unless it receives investment of €10 billion (£7 billion) over the next few years, according to the Italian Rectors Conference.
In a "state of the universities" report, Piero Tosi, president of the conference and rector of Siena University, said the money was needed to raise Italy's university funding from 0.8 per cent of gross domestic product to the European average of 1.2 per cent.
In the latest act in a year-long row between universities and the government of Silvio Berlusconi, Professor Tosi said the government must avoid "unilateral decisions", a reference to a proposal to return academic and budget management to the education and treasury ministries after a decade of increasing autonomy.
The report stems from a long-running funding controversy. In December, rectors threatened to resign en masse because of the 2003 cuts, while the government raised salaries paid out of university budgets. University minister Letizia Moratti promised more cash, but only a trickle materialised. "We are back to the 2002 figure," Professor Tosi said. "But costs have risen enormously."
Earlier this month, Ms Moratti presented the rectors' conference with a "draft decree" that would have transferred key decisions on course design, research strategy, budget management and personnel decisions to the university and treasury ministries.
When the rectors threatened to fight the proposals, Ms Moratti backed down, explaining that the "draft decree" was only a "technical note", that she was open to discussion and that she would "ask for €1 billion for higher education in the 2004 budget".