Thousands of students streamed through central Rome, chanting and waving banners bearing slogans such as "education is on its knees" and threw eggs, vegetables, bottles and fireworks toward parliament.
They later blocked streets and stormed railway stations and lay down on the tracks, disrupting train services.
Scuffles with police broke out when protesters tried to approach parliament. Similar protests in other cities also led to tension with police.
"We want to see a grass-roots reform, not a reform that stems from the corridors of power," said 24-year-old Tommaso Ricci, a mathematics student at the University of Florence.
The reforms also introduce changes the government says will usher in a more merit-based system, such as capping the term of rectors to six years instead of life-long terms.
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