ITALY's Carrara quarriers have supplied the world with white marble to build monuments for millennia but modern life has blunted their cutting edge.
The craftsmen who directed the quarrying and cutting of the precious marbles learned their trade through a mix of family tradition and long apprenticeship.
Social change, however, has combined with new techniques and greater international competition to prompt the Carrara Chamber of Commerce and the Industrialists Association to ask Pisa University to create a three-year "short degree" course in marble engineering.
For the first two years students will be in Pisa where they will study the theory of the machinery used to quarry and cut marble and the quarrying and cutting techniques. In the third year they will transfer to Carrara for practical training followed by a six-month internship in one of the marble firms operating on the stark, white mountain sides overlooking the Mediterranean.
Orlando Pandolfi, degree course manager, said: "Simple technicians do not have the technical competence to run the latest machinery, while full engineers are too expensive. We want to create intermediate engineers, who sell machinery abroad and oversee its start-up. The Carrara marble industry has a great deal of potential, as long as it can maintain its technological advantage."