The rectors of Italy's 70 state universities resigned en masse this week in protest at cuts in higher education in the 2003 budget.
In an unprecedented gesture, they handed back their mandates as rectors to university minister Letizia Moratti. The move came after a series of unfulfilled promises from the government of Silvio Berlusconi, that said extra funds would be found in last-minute amendments as the budget passed through its final stages in the two houses of parliament.
The resignations were agreed unanimously by the rectors' conference. Mrs Moratti has neither accepted nor rejected the resignations and the rectors will remain at their desks pending the outcome of the budget debate.
For months the rectors argued that while state funding was being cut, the cost of running the universities had risen. Universities' 2002 allocations of €6.2 billion will be cut to €6 billion (£4 billion) for 2003.
The rectors want €350 million extra to avoid bankruptcy and guarantee essential university services. They warned that otherwise student services would be cut and tuition fees raised.
Piero Tosi, rector of Siena University and president of the rectors'
conference, said: "It sounds absurd, but the extra money we need is equivalent to the cost of building 30km of motorway on level ground."
Finance minister Giulio Tremonti criticised the resignations and assured the rectors that the senate would find the extra funds.