ROME — This week, a group of students broke into the hall of the Italian Senate in Rome, while another occupied the Colosseum; in Pisa, students took over a runway at the airport; in Palermo, they sat on the railway tracks; in Florence and Milan, they clashed with the police, while at a dozen universities, researchers dragged their sleeping bags onto the roofs, where they have been sleeping as a sign of protest.

The demonstrations, which spread to many other Italian cities this month, were aimed at a new bill, currently being discussed in the lower house, to overhaul the Italian university system. If it is approved in upcoming weeks, it will pass to the Senate, as long as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s tottering majority holds and his conservative government remains in power.

Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini’s proposed bill is one of the most far-reaching education overhaul efforts in recent years. It aims to reorganize the governance of institutions and the system of recruiting university teachers, and to change the way funds