The European School of Economics, an Italian private university founded on a validation contract with Nottingham Trent University, has been accused of advertising "officially recognised" degree courses that the Italian authorities do not recognise.
It is also accused of advertising internationally renowned lecturers who have never taught for it.
Italy's advertising authority has found the ESE guilty of "deceitful advertising", a decision that it is fighting. At least two judicial inquiries are under way. A recent TV consumer affairs programme featured a noisy scrap between ESE rector Stefano D'Anna, angry students and an Italian university ministry official, who confirmed that an ESE degree is worthless under Italian law.
In 1996, Marco Brizzi enrolled at the ESE because of its advertising claims. After a few years, Mr Brizzi and his father "wrote to people on the list of visiting professors, such as [Nobel laureate] Gary Becker at the University of Chicago and J. K. Galbraith at Harvard University, who told us they had never taught at the ESE".
Mr D'Anna admitted that Mr Galbraith had never taught but had taken part in a conference in which the ESE was involved. On recognition of degrees, Mr D'Anna said "legal recognition is important only for admission to professional registers, for jobs in the public sector... We are simply ahead of the legislation in Italy."
The ESE's publicity offers "a British state degree, a BA with honours, which is recognised in all the countries of the European Union". But Italy will only recognise a British degree earned by studying in the UK.
Nottingham Trent has said: "The BA (honours) conferred on ESE graduates is the same as that conferred on graduates of Nottingham Trent." Deputy vice-chancellor Keith Short said: "The university is concernedI We will investigate but are confident of the quality and standards of the university-validated awards."