The rectors of Italy's universities have threatened to resign en masse if the government goes ahead with a cut in resources for higher education and research.
In a separate development, Italy's Association of University Teachers has protested against government plans to nominate members of the National University Council, an independent panel of academics elected directly by universities.
The association said: "There is the risk of a total dismantling of the state higher education system. In this way the academics 'who count', who are amply present in parliament, government and ministerial commissions, now also want to reserve for themselves a quota of seats on the council."
The association sees the move as an attempt to increase political control over the state universities when their finances are under pressure.
Legislation to set the budget for 2003, being discussed in parliament, provides less funding than it did in 2002. The rectors say resources have been cut drastically in real terms, despite declarations by the conservative government that higher education is essential to Italy's future.
The presidential committee of the Rectors' Conference said an additional €597 million (£375 million) was needed in the 2003 budget. It warned that if budget legislation failed to recognise the needs of universities, the rectors of Italy's 72 state universities would resign.
Given the reduced budget, the rectors said their only options would be to raise student fees and to cut assistance to needy students.
Piero Tosi, rector of Siena University, said: "The university system must be recognised as a strategic resource of the nation, a recognition that politicians have always affirmed, but have almost ignored. (Italy's universities) must maintain their connection with Europe's university system."
Students have called for a national day of action on October 12 in support of the demand for extra resources.
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