In a previous article (Degli Esposti and Geraci. Bulletin of Italian Politics, 2011), we presented an historical survey of the university reform laws that took place in Italy in the last 30 years. On that occasion, we stressed how important is merit evaluation for academics and their institutions, especially in view of the much debated but not yet implemented ‘Gelmini’ reform with its long awaited new regulation for accessing academic positions (concorsi) and for determining individual weight in financial resource allocation among universities. Here, we present and compare several rankings used to evaluate the prestige and merit of Italian universities. We also consider alternative approaches to academic rankings that highlight peculiar aspects of the universities in Italy which cannot be reasonably accounted for by other international rankings. Finally, we propose a new approach that combines both national and international standing of Italian universities. It is hoped that this study will provide practical guidance to policy makers for establishing the criteria upon which merit should be assessed.