The Italian higher education ministry is under mounting pressure to alter controversial plans to upgrade nearly 4,000 graduate technicians from non-teaching staff to associate professors.
The plan sparked protests among the country's 15,000 researchers, who already have full teaching status but have to compete for professorships through state exams. The rectors' conference is threatening mass resignations should the bill become law.
Graduate technicians, like other nominally non-teaching staff, very often teach, mainly in medical faculties, where they commonly outnumber researchers by two to one. Higher education minister Luigi Berlinguer said the upgrading was to counter absenteeism among medical professors with private consultancies and to help create a genuinely non-teaching contract for young graduates.
"Our medical faculties are seriously ill and require emergency treatment," he said. "The time has finally come for our professors to choose between the hospital and the university."
Nunzio Miraglia, coordinator of the National Association of University Teachers, said: "The graduate technician issue is an attempt to add to the power of controlling groups in universities to help them conduct their affairs more easily."