The minister responsible for European Union policy in Italy's new conservative government has attacked the radical reforms of the university system initiated by its centre-left predecessors.
The reforms, strongly supported by the Italian rectors' conference, are based on an American-style credit system and on the 3 + 2 year degree course agreed by European higher education ministers at the Bologna Conference in 1999.
Rocco Buttiglione, the staunchly Catholic minister for European community policy, said: "The current reform does not have a clear vision of what a university is, and therefore there is only a danger of doing damage and creating further confusion."
Professor Buttiglione, who is a philosopher, added that universities should teach a rigorous critical method and not teach people to work.
Before the May 13 general election, various leaders of the centre-right alliance had criticised the reform, saying that if they won the election they would cancel or modify it radically.
Anti-reform voices have also been raised among academics. Some 120 lecturers at Rome's La Sapienza University recently signed an appeal for the suspension of the reform for at least a year, since "as defined it does not answer the needs of society".
But many universities have already implemented aspects of the reforms, and all Italy's 70-plus state universities must, by law, conform to it from this autumn.
Marco Pacetti, rector of Ancona University and secretary-general of the rectors' conference, said the anti-reformist academics were "like those Japanese soldiers who turn up in the Philippine jungle and think the war is still on. The 120 who signed the appeal are 120 out of 5,000 at La Sapienza. They are almost all from the humanities. Either consciously or unconsciously, they probably feel that the three-year basic degree based on credits will diminish their academic prestige.
"Professor Buttiglione is right, if he is thinking in terms of producing an intellectual elite that does not need to work, a view shared by many philosophers.
"Italy's problem is not the quality of graduates, but their small number and the length of time it takes to produce them. The reform tries to remedy this, and we are the first to admit that the need for modifications will emerge once it is up to speed."
Professor Pacetti is confident that the reform is beyond being stopped and that Professor Buttiglione's statement does not reflect government thinking.
He noted that in a recent speech to parliament, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said that while there was scope for improvement, "to suddenly stop the reform now would produce more damage than benefits".