Morocco's private higher education institutions have been given until December 2003 to phase out programmes run in collaboration with overseas universities.
The higher education ministry is caught between the wish to promote private institutions by encouraging investors and the need to regulate the sector by stamping out shoddy standards in collaborative programmes.
In the 1990s, the private sector was hailed as the panacea for the severe difficulties facing the country's higher education sector, as the government tried to limit the effects of overcrowding, soaring costs and plummeting standards in state-funded universities.
But public universities are still way over their capacity while institutions in the private sector are unable to attract more than 4 per cent of the students in higher education as a whole.
The private sector recorded only a slight increase in the number of students - from 10,146 to 11,519 - between 1999-2000 and 2000-01.
Tuition fees for private institutions remain beyond the means of the average household and banks are reluctant to offer loans because of the risks involved. A government guarantee fund to back a loans system promised in 2000 has yet to materialise.
Private institutions started to offer diplomas issued in partnership with universities abroad, and a growing number of parents saw these programmes as a way of finding employment for their offspring.
For students and professionals, these diplômes délocalisés meant saving on travel and living expenses abroad. They also guaranteed the transferability of qualifications and the possibility of study and employment abroad.
But some fell short of students' expectations and hopes as graduates complained that their degrees failed to be validated by the partner institution abroad. Amid growing student protests, the government decided it was time to act.
The clampdown angered directors of private institutions, who felt that the fact that some institutions had misled the public did not mean that all private institutions were to blame.
But most private higher education institutions are continuing to offer programmes lasting at least two years despite the government's action.
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