More than 26,000 "eternal" students have been expelled from Madagascar's six public universities and two polytechnics and admission procedures tightened in a World Bank-inspired drive to improve quality.
The government has also limited the number of repeat years to two for state-supported students. Some students have been repeating course years as many as five times.
Daniel Viens, a World Bank specialist on higher education in sub-Saharan Africa, said the move has reduced the number of students in state universities from 44,000 to 18,000. The funds saved are being used to repair decayed infrastructure and improve facilities.
Campuses that used to be controlled by unruly students who survived on fellowships but did not take their studies seriously are now open to supervision by senior members of the universities.
To help the government accelerate the reforms, the World Bank has contributed $5.5 million (Pounds 3.7 million) to the ministry of higher education, while the Japanese government has made a grant of $1 million.
The World Bank has proposed the establishment of a foundation for higher education to monitor academic standards and help the universities to establish links and partnerships with credible foreign universities. The foundation is also expected to establish partnerships with industry, commerce and institutions of higher learning abroad.
Britain, France, Germany, Mauritius, Italy and the United States have agreed to offer financial support.