The Ethiopia government has banned distance learning and has stopped private universities from granting degrees in law and education. Universities with off-campus learning schemes have been ordered to stop registering students immediately and legal and educational teaching will now only be allowed in state universities.

The directive has come as a surprise and without prior consultation with the private educational sector. The government has explained the measures on the grounds that standards in the private sector are not high enough and that fees are too high.

A report in the Ethiopian Review dated 30 August says that 64 private higher education institutions were sent the directive although some state universities will also be hit by the ban on distance learning in which about 75,000 students country-wide are currently enrolled. Students already in courses will be permitted to finish their studies but new enrollments are to stop. Some private institutions have said they may have to close if they are unable to count on a new intake of students this year.

The government opened education to the private sector 15 years ago. Previously only about one per cent of Ethiopians went on to higher education compared with five per cent now.

Only last May the body in charge of controlling standards in higher education, the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA), reported that it had inspected some 39 private higher learning institutions over the previous nine months and that most of them were working in line with the regulations set down by the ministry of education.

St Mary's University College (SMUC) in Addis Ababa is one of the best known private higher educational centres to be affected. It has about 100 distance learning centres across the country.