A city which places as much emphasis on education as Hong Kong naturally has many people involved in higher learning courses. In addition to 150,000 students taking part-time and distance learning at the five local universities, 20,000 have enrolled for correspondence courses with academic establishments based abroad. For that reason alone it is good that we now have a local register to assess the myriad foreign academies bidding for local students. In recent years many have paid large sums for overseas tuition only to find their 'degree' not worth the paper it is printed on. The new law which requires all educational institutions with a local office to register at the Education Department will help regulate the system and set standards. It will prevent a repetition of the Kensington University case in Los Angeles, exposed by the South China Morning Post last year. Although the home campus was closed by US officials for failing to reach minimum standards, its local alumni, who paid $5 million in one year to the Hong Kong arm of the university, were not told. Their papers were never submitted for marking, and students have yet to have their fees reimbursed. As computers shrink the world, distance learning has become a multi-million-dollar industry. But many courses are highly dubious. Hong Kong's regulatory system will give valuable, though limited, protection to local students once the rules are enforced next June. But with colleges not registered here, it remains a case of buyer beware.