The limitations of the Italian telecommunications system are frustrating efforts to make a sophisticated database of higher education in Europe speedily available worldwide.
Ortelius, named after the 16th-century Flemish cartographer, is based at the University of Florence. Accessible through the World Wide Web, it is in its testing phase before becoming commercially available in 1997. Supported by the European Union, it offers the possibility of rapid access to details of universities and courses at universities in all 15 member states.
It is aimed at students considering studying in another part of Europe and academics searching for others engaged in relevant research.
The service also gives details of national higher education systems, European programmes such as Socrates and Leonardo, inter-university community programmes, EU legislation and a bibliography. More than 100,000 pieces of information are already available.
But Carlo Vallini, vice chairman of the Ortelius consortium and vice rector of the University of Florence, admitted at its launch conference this week there had been problems with the network.
"The greatest problem we have had is to face up to our network's limitations," he said.
Connections are sometimes too slow, especially for private users on a modem link. Although there is no plan physically to move the database out of Italy, a new server will probably be located in Britain to offer a new, fast, connection to the US, where there is considerable interest from many universities. Ortelius regards the US market as highly lucrative.
The European Commission has made available Ecu8 million (Pounds 6.7 million) for three years - after which Ortelius has to become self-financing.
Ortelius can be found at http://ortelius.unifi.it:8080