Europe's largest university will survive for only three more years unless state funding is substantially increased.
Giuseppe D'Ascenzo, rector of Rome's La Sapienza University, which has about 150,000 students, warned that "if the funding remains as it is, Italy's largest universities have a life expectancy of two years". He added: "La Sapienza, thanks to certain special credits, can hold out for three years."
For months, Italy's rectors have clamoured for resources to meet increasing costs, while the government has reduced real-term funding for universities.
A key issue is that while the government cut funding, it also increased salaries for higher education employees, who hold national contracts but are paid by universities. At one point, rectors threatened to resign en masse if they did not get more money.
Professor D'Ascenzo said that student fees would not be increased. "We cannot allow the situation to weigh on families," he said.
There are also fears that student organisations, which have a tradition of political militancy, would take to the streets to protest against hikes in fees.
"We have already reduced purchases of technological material and books," Professor D'Ascenzo told La Repubblica . "So far, we have not reduced our research budget, but obtaining funds for a project is more difficult. We try to channel resources to projects that are guaranteed to give us financial return."
Part of La Sapienza's overcrowding is due to "perpetual" students, who take much longer than they should to graduate. It is common for students to take anything up to ten years to finish a four or five-year degree.
Professor D'Ascenzo said he aimed to gradually reduce the number of students to 115,000. But he said: "Thanks to its 700- year history, La Sapienza continues to attract young people, and it will be hard to reach that goal."