MILAN—In a surprise move never mentioned during Italy’s recent general election campaign, the new government is transferring supervision of the nation’s universities from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Scientific Research. The science ministry is also being elevated to cabinet level.

The jurisdictional transfer of the university system, which comprises 50,000 people and has an annual budget of several billion dollars, may offer new opportunities for university institutes to collaborate with industry. Initial comments from academics have been positive. Furthermore, the new minister of scientific research and university, Antonio Ruberti, an engineering professor and dean at the University of Rome, is familiar with problems of the university system.

Press reports here predict that Education Minister Giovanni Galloni, a Christian Democrat, will fight to keep control of the university system away from Ruberti, a Socialist. The battleground will be the method chosen to effect the transfer. If by decree,...

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