The University of Urbino, one of Italy's oldest universities, faces financial collapse and may be forced to sell some of its historic buildings in the medieval town that has been its home since 1467.
The town has 15,000 inhabitants, and the university, with 22,000 students, 500 academics and 410 non-teaching staff, is a vital part of its economy and cultural life.
A number of Urbino academics have formed a task force to secure support for the university and have collected more than 2,000 signatures of support from eminent international academics.
The university, which is a public institution, receives 23 per cent of its income from the Government, compared with about 80 per cent given to state institutions Student fees are comparable to those in state universities and financial support from various local authorities makes up only a little of the funding shortfall.
Urbino's appeals to the Government to be given the same regular financial support as state universities have been rejected. Instead, the Government is to make two payments of E15 million (£10.2 million) in 2005 and 2006, on the condition that Urbino's board of directors accepts two government commissioners to "restructure" the university and the suggestion that it sell off some of its buildings to balance the books.
Mario Pianta, professor of economics at Urbino, dismissed the government action as an "insufficient, short-term injection of cash". He said: "We are providing the same, or better, service to students as the state universities while costing the taxpayer much less. In a situation in which we are having real difficulties in paying our employees' salaries, the Government is offering no medium or long-term solution."
Urbino has an international reputation for quality. The ISI Journal Citations Report ranks it as the best Italian medium-sized university for research impact.
But its historic independence has now been equalled by the state universities. And while financial support for Urbino has increased by 0.66 per cent since 1994, with inflation at more than 30 per cent, the state universities have enjoyed greater increases, geared to rising costs and the growing number of students.