Researchers at more than half of Italy's 70 state universities are refusing to fulfil teaching duties in protest at government plans to reform the lifelong tenure system.
In most cases, the researchers have the support of professors, who believe the reform will reduce job security for all university teachers. The National Association of University Teachers said: "The protest is becoming the struggle of all those who exist in universities and wish to continue to do so in conditions that cannot be of perpetual precariousness."
The researchers currently enjoy lifelong security and, in most cases, dedicate at least as much time to teaching as to research.
The Bill, announced by Letizia Moratti, the University Minister, but still to be discussed in Parliament, redefines the "legal status" of teachers.
All new researchers would be hired on five-year contracts that could be renewed only once. If within this time a researcher has not won a three-year contract as associate professor, he or she would be out of a job. Only full professors would retain indefinite tenure.
Ms Moratti said the legislation would encourage flexibility and efficiency and would combat the widespread phenomenon of researchers who have a salaried job for life but do not produce enough teaching or research.
But Flaminia Saccá, higher education spokesman for the Opposition Democrats of the Left, said: "If it is passed, academics will have to wait up to 29 years before they get tenure. They are trying to unload their spending cuts on the university system, and this is simply not possible. It is true that in other countries researchers work on contracts. But they are decently paid and know that if they are good they will get a stable job within a few years."