A decision by Italy's parliament, probably influenced by general elections scheduled for late April or early May, means that about 1,000 students originally rejected for degree courses in medicine and dentistry will now be accepted.
As a consequence, students who would normally have passed admission tests will be rejected next year to keep teacher-to-student ratios within bounds.
A group of about 3,000 students, who failed admittance tests in 1999-2000, decided to attend lectures anyway, pending their appeals against exclusion in various tribunals.
When the final court decision went against them, they launched a campaign for special legislation to admit them en masse.
In October, parliament voted against them, but in mid-February the senate adopted a compromise: those students who had passed one exam would be admitted.
Discussion of the law shifted back to the chamber of deputies, where it was established that those who had passed one exam by February 28 would be able to continue with their degree course - about 1,000 of the original 3,000.
Final approval by the senate is almost certain. It is generally accepted that the change of mood among senators and MPs in both opposition and government parties is due to fear of jeopardising even a few thousand votes.
University under-secretary Luciano Guerzoni said: "The chamber has sent a disconcerting message to those 14,000 students who accepted the results of their aptitude tests without appealing.
"We have taken a step backwards on the path towards greater quality in higher education," he said.