Italy is introducing short degrees for school-leavers who have all the qualifications for university entry but who prefer to get into the workplace quickly.
University minister Luigi Berlinguer announced that the "super-diplomas" will be the result of one or two years of study outside university, plus hands-on internships in companies taking part.
The project is a further step in Professor Berlinguer's campaign to modernise Italian higher education and make it respond better to the needs of the job market.
"This type of training is demanded by social realities, by the companies and by the European Community," said Professor Berlinguer. "The training courses will also be worth credits that the students will be able to use should they subsequently want to go to university."
Universities already run "short degrees" of two to three years in technical fields but they have not proved very popular among students, who see them as second class. There are also three-month vocational training programmes for young people who have not finished school.
"Super-diploma" courses will also be open to people with school-leaving certificate who are already working and wish to improve their qualifications.
"Short degrees" introduced four years ago provoked protests from left-wing student organisations, who saw them as an attempt to re-create a class structure in higher education and a shift from the ideal of a full university education.
But the scheme announced by Professor Berlinguer, who is a member of the post-Communist DS Party, is so closely linked to the needs of the job market that it is unlikely to arouse opposition.
A university ministry spokesman said the courses will be organised by the regions in conjunction with local companies.
Teachers will be drawn from schools, universities and technical colleges but also from industry or the professions. The first courses will begin this academic year, and the project should be fully operational by 1999-2000.