Luciano Modica, rector of Pisa University and president of the Italian Rectors Conference, has told Pisa academics to steer clear of private tutoring firms that get students through exams.
His warning came after irregularities in exams were reported by Pisa students. One economics student passed 12 exams in three months of a four-year course that requires only 25 or so exams. There are also strong suspicions that some students paid other people to take their exams. After passing the exam, the "stand-in" would claim to have forgotten his or her book for registration of passes. The examiners would ask the candidate to visit their office later for a signature and the genuine candidate would turn up.
Professor Modica said his warning to academics had no connection with the irregular exams but that in his letter calling on his lecturers to keep a watchful eye on exams he thought he would also discuss the tutorial services.
It is known, however, that some academics moonlight with the tutorial services and this introduces the possibility they might favour candidates from these colleges.
There is also the suspicion that it might be the services themselves that put students in contact with "champions" to take exams in their stead.
"It is illegitimate for lecturers or members of exam commissions to have relations with these firms," Professor Modica wrote. "Their purpose is to pass exams; ours is to teach and educate."
The CEPU, the largest of the private tutorial services, last year got students through 22,000 exams and billed ¤92 million (Pounds 60 million). Stefano Campogrande, its president, said: "Our tutors are young graduates with high marks. By contract they cannot have any university ties."
Luca Lani, spokesman for the Union of Students, said: "The inefficiency of our universities has paved the way for private firms that offer services at exorbitant prices, often with the complicity of the universities.
"We have already denounced a number of academics at the Bari Polytechnic who were present both at CEPU courses and on exam commissions. We are setting up an anti-CEPU committee with a website to collect reports from students."