If the new centre-left coalition in Italy lasts longer than recent governments it will fall to Luigi Berlinguer, 63, former rector of Siena University, to oversee in-depth reform of universities.
Professor Berlinguer was Siena's rector from 1986 to 1994 and from 1990 to 1994 he was secretary general of the Italian university rectors' conference.
The coalition is led by another academic, Romano Prodi, a professor of economics at Bologna University, who has said that education must be a top priority.
Professor Berlinguer's appointment as university minister appears to be a step in this direction, as does the fact that Prodi has decided to put the ministry of education under Berlinguer's direction. The two ministries will remain separate entities, but will both answer to Professor Berlinguer.
Professor Berlinguer is a key figure in the Democratic Party of the Left, since 1991 the new incarnation of the Italian Communist party after its shift away from Marxism and towards social democracy.
He taught law at Sassari University before going to Siena and subsequently becoming its rector. He admits that there are urgent and serious problems to be tackled in both schools and universities. "If we work along the lines of greater autonomy for institutions, of cutting bureaucratic and ministerial restrictions, there is a chance that the system can reform itself."