ISSN 1756-297XIssue No: 0022  06 April 2008
HE Events Diary

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University infrastructure is the focus of this week's Special Report. From dreaming spires to glass towers, institutions the world over are wrestling with similar issues. Our correspondents report.

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This week, University World News starts a regular column on that most valuable of university privileges – academic freedom.

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Higher education institutions in central Asia are part of a skills development programme aimed at reducing poverty. See this week's feature article. Pictured is one of the scheme's beneficiaries – farmer, kindergarten teacher, and aspirant icecream maker Taalaikul Sadbakasova with her young charges.



University World News this week introduces a new fortnightly column reporting on how academics in countries around the world endure attacks on their freedom to conduct research, to speak out publicly on political and social issues, and to teach students through their own example how to become independent-minded. Read John Akker's first column in this issue.

SPECIAL REPORT: Infrastructure – Critical but neglected

They might be constructed of solid medieval stone, or ageing mid-to-late 20th century concrete hastily erected during expansion of higher education, or third millennium glittering glass. They might be purpose-built or have served previously as warehouses, barracks or even monasteries. They might be owned by government or by the institution itself – or rented. All universities around the world have to attend constantly to their infrastructure: maintenance of buildings, modernisation of facilities. Even those without physical walls, the universities spec ialising in distance learning, need continually to update their technological infrastructure.

Higher education and research ministers, university managers and others responsible for maintaining and providing safe, comfortable working conditions and adequate space for increasing numbers of students must find the funds to keep university buildings up to acceptable standards, and to ensure they are investing in the latest technologies to produce the skills and innovation needed to keep a step ahead in today's fiercely competitive, knowledge-driven global economy. How are they doing? Our correspondents report.

AUSTRALIA: New hope for universities
Julia Gillard, Deputy Prime Minister*
Policy-makers now accept that investing wisely in knowledge, skills and innovation is one of the best means available to ensure long term prosperity, leading to both overall economic growth and to better education and work opportunities. Around the world, governments have responded by increasing their focus in all areas of education, particularly higher education – everywhere it seems, except here. In Australia since the mid-1990s our higher education system has been subjected to a seemingly random blend of neglect with occasional bursts of ideologically driven interference.
Full report on the University World News site

SOUTH AFRICA: Universities close the digital divide
Karen MacGregor
The South African government has given higher education a funding boost to improve the long-neglected physical infrastructure of universities. But what academic are really excited about is the development of high-speed optical fibre ring networks that are expanding university bandwidth 35-fold and vastly increasing the speed and capacity of internet connections. The new South African National Research Network (SANReN) system will help to close the digital divide between this part of Africa and developed countries, and advance the capacity for research and collaboration with scholars locally and internationally. The universities of the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg were first to connect two weeks ago.
Full report on the University World News site

UK: Technological challenges ahead
Diane Spencer
Centuries ago, the dreaming stone spires of Oxbridge's ancient colleges dominated the academic landscape, then came the civic red brick downtown universities of the industrial north, followed by the plate glass campus-style institutions of the 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1990s, polytechnics were metamorphosed into universities by the Conservatives. Now higher education institutions must face the challenge of the 'Google generation'.
Full report on the University World News site

FRANCE: Government promises new campuses – for some
Jane Marshall
The government has launched a multi-billion-euro investment programme to create internationally high ranking universities. But the project is not open to all; only 10 campuses will qualify for this status, leaving most establishments to continue balancing their budgets between safety standards and new equipment.
Full report on the University World News site

EUROPE: Is renting a way to improve standards?
Alan Osborn
There are no statistics relating to the physical condition of universities in the European Union, though there is a widespread impression that campuses are generally under-equipped, says a senior official in the EU's education directorate. Although the present databases on higher education in the EU are being extended, for the time being observers have to make do with impressions and with comparisons based on subjective assessments.
Full report on the University World News site

GREECE: Bridging the tradition-modernity gap
Makki Marseilles
Most Greek universities, with the exception of the universities of Athens and Thessaloniki and the Technical University of Athens, were established within the last 50 years. This is surprising for a country with such a long tradition and heritage of education. Also surprising is the fact that few universities were established in campuses specifically designed and built for the institutions' needs. Except for universities in Thessaloniki, Patras and Crete, the majority started rather modestly in rented accommodation, eventually moving into a variety of converted premises such as neo-classical buildings, warehouses, former tobacco factories, disused barracks – and a converted monastery.
Full report on the University World News site

IRELAND: Looming funds crisis hits universities
John Walshe
Last month, the heads of the two biggest universities in Ireland joined forces to warn the government and the public of a looming funding crisis. "The maintenance and upgrading of the physical infrastructure for third-level teaching has virtually ground to a halt through lack of funding," wrote Dr John Hegarty from Trinity College Dublin and Dr Hugh Brady from University College Dublin in The Irish Times.
Full report on the University World News site

NEWS: Our correspondents worldwide report

EUROPE: EUA conference maps new role
Rebecca Warden
The changing relationship between universities and the state was a major theme at the European University Association's conference on governance, but these changes may take unexpected forms. Held in Barcelona late last month, the conference attracted around 350 assorted rectors, vice-rectors and other higher education managers to consider how universities should respond to the increasingly diverse demands of society, and what this means for the way they are run.
Full report on the University World News site

EUROPE: EUA plots future for university leadership
Andrew Miller*
The nature of university leadership in Europe will have to change as institutions respond to the developments of a competitive knowledge economy while meeting the demand for greater social cohesion. This was one of the conclusions of the European University Association conference at the University of Barcelona late last month.
Full report on the University World News site

TURKEY: Prime minister and party face ban over headscarf
Brendan O'Malley
Turkey has been plunged into a new political crisis over the government's decision to allow women to wear Islamic headscarves on university campuses. The Constitutional Court agreed last Monday to hear a case for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to be shut down.
Full report on the University World News site

EUROPE: Huge increase in English-medium courses
Diane Spencer
The number of courses taught in English at European universities has tripled in the last five years, with the Netherlands leading the field. In a study of 27 European countries where English is not the first language, the Brussels-based think tank the Academic Cooperation Association identified around 2,400 programmes, mainly at masters level. Leading subjects are engineering studies, followed by business and management.
Full report on the University World News site

INDIA: Mumbai scraps popular culture course
Suchitra Behal
Students studying English at Mumbai University are upset that it has scrapped two optional courses on popular culture and are considering a change of subject that may leave few takers for English language courses. Even as teachers around the globe use popular culture figures such as Homer Simpson from TV and movies to explain abstract concepts, it seems Mumbai is headed in the other direction.
Full report on the University World News site


UK: Attacks on academic freedom continue worldwide
John Akker*
Academics in countries around the world endure attacks on their freedom to conduct research, to speak out publicly on political and social issues, and to teach students through their own examples how to become independent-minded. In many places, academics have been imprisoned or even killed because they offended the government. In Iraq, the number of assassinations and kidnappings of academics continues to grow. Figures obtained from the London-based Council for Assisting Refugee Academics and other sources reveal that more than 300 Iraqi academics have been killed since the invasion in 2003.
Full report on the University World News site


EUROPE: Scientists getting older
Alan Osborn
Europe's scientists and technicians are getting older, casting doubts over the European Union's ambitions to lead the world in industrial and technological innovation by 2010. The development, picked up by the EU's Eurostat statistical service, suggests a likely fall in the number of scientifically qualified people at work in Europe over the next few years – together with a possible diminution in their ability to contribute to industrial competitiveness as older workers tend to be less mobile and less flexible than younger ones.
Full report on the University World News site

US: Knee brace generator could power medical devices
Monica Dobie
Move over solar power, say American and Canadian university researchers: make room for the new power generator – the knee brace! Motorised prosthetic joints are great – but shame they need a battery. The same can be said about pacemakers. But scientists at the universities of Michigan and Pittsburgh in America, and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, claim sufficient energy can be generated to drive these devices by simply going for a walk.
Full report on the University World News site

UK: OU uses business experts to boost its global standing
Keith Nuthall
Britain's Open University has drawn on international commercial talent to advise its managers how to develop its business school. The country's first virtual higher education institution, which pioneered the use of televised lectures and correspondence courses, is hoping a panel of experts will highlight opportunities for growth that would otherwise be missed.
Full report on the University World News site

GLOBAL: Universities offer business valuable research
Keith Nuthall and Monica Dobie
Universities and colleges are constantly working with business and industry to undertake commercially valuable research. University World News features a selection of these cutting-edge developments.
Full report on the University World News site


AUSTRALIA: Social inclusion for higher education
Ian O'Connor and Gavin Moodie*
Although there are many university researchers and research units around the world that investigate social inclusion, it has not until now been a subject of university action. This is because social inclusion concentrates on or at least starts with the most marginalised from society: the abused, homeless, people engaged in the criminal justice system, the unemployed and those with an addiction, disability or poor health. These people are likely to have had little formal schooling as well as poor literacy, numeracy and study skills, and thus most are poorly prepared for higher education.
Full report on the University World News site


RUSSIA: Developing skills to tackle poverty
Nick Holdsworth
A pioneering skills development programme is tackling rural poverty at its roots in central Asia through innovative and flexible use of a network of existing higher education institutions. Nearly 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union swept away communal farms – and the system of centrally organised agricultural training and support that went with it – smallholders and livestock herders in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan are being taught basic agronomics in a pilot scheme designed and supported by the European Training Foundation, based in Turin, Italy.
Full report on the University World News site


GREECE: Bright new star in scientific firmament
Makki Marseilles
Most people would need a lifetime to achieve what Katerina Aifantis has done at 24 years of age: she has a PhD, a long list of publications in authoritative international scientific journals and is working with five research professors in as many countries. Clearly, she is no ordinary girl. In addition, she has just received €1.13 million from the European Research Council (ERC) to carry out research in nanotechnology, beating over 9,000 other hopefuls in her first attempt – and becoming the youngest ever researcher in the world to do so.
Full report on the University World News site

U-SAY: Readers’ letters

AUSTRALIA: Melbourne aligns with Bologna
Peter McPhee*
Your report on Bologna in Australia overlooked significant developments at the University of Melbourne. ("Warnings of impending doom subside" – 9 March 2008). Over the past two years, Melbourne has been moving to a 3+2 model similar to, though not an exact replica of, the Bologna model.
Full letter on the University World News site


US: Credit crunch hits as banks abandon student loans
One of America’s leading banking associations has given warning that the United States faces a growing educational apartheid as some lenders withdraw from student loans amid new evidence that the credit crisis has spread across all types of borrowing, reports The Times. In recent weeks some banks, including HSBC, have pulled out of the $85 billion a year US student loans market, fuelling anxiety that the turmoil that hit debt markets on Wall Street last summer is spilling over into the wider economy and making credit more difficult to secure for ordinary American households.
More on the University World News site

US: Massachusetts signs ground-breaking China deal
The University of Massachusetts has announced the signing of an agreement that places it on course to become the first foreign university approved to offer online education courses and degree programmes in China, reports Business Wire. Under the agreement, signed in Beijing, officials from UMass and from China’s Continuing Education Association and the CerEdu Corporation will work together to make UMassOnline, the university’s award-winning distance education programme, available to students throughout China.
More on the University World News site

INDIA: Road map for improving higher education
The University Grants Commission has produced a broad road map for increasing enrolment and improving the quality of higher education in colleges and universities, says its Chairman Professor Sukhadeo Thorat, reports The Hindu. He said India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio, the indicator of access to higher education, was now 10%, which was very low compared with the world average of 23%. Though GER in India had gone up from less than 1% in 1950 to its present mark, it had to be increased further.
More on the University World News site

INDIA: Students spend $13 billion studying abroad
Industry body Assocham has said that over US$13 billion is spent every year by about 450,000 Indian students enrolled in higher education abroad, reports The Link. Over 90% of students who write the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Management entrance examinations are rejected due to capacity constraints, of which the top 40% pay to get admission abroad.
More on the University World News site

N IGERIA: Universities fail to access World Bank funds
N igerian universities have failed to access a US$180 million grant approved for science and technology education in the country, the World Bank has revealed, reports This Day. The fund has been lying in the bank due to the failure of universities and individual researchers to submit proposals that meet the minimum requirements of the Technical Review Committee set up to assess applicants before grants are disbursed, according to the Bank.
More on the University World News site

JAPAN: Suspect medical guidelines set by professors
The trustworthiness of certain medical care guidelines has been called into question after it was learned that the academic doctors involved in drawing them up received donations from pharmaceutical makers, reports the Daily Yomiuri. The national and public university doctors were found to have received donations from pharmaceutical firms that produce and sell drugs for disorders and ailments covered by the guidelines.
More on the University World News site

AUSTRALIA: New liberal vanguard in culture wars
The black posters started cropping up on university campuses early this month. A gagged, wide-eyed youth stares out from the top corner. "Record biased lecturers", the posters scream. "Scan biased textbooks. Report incidents of bias. Education. Not Indoctrination." It sounds like something from George Orwell's 1984, writes Harriet Alexander in the Sydney Morning Herald. But these latest attempts to keep alive the culture wars are the work of Australia's Young Liberal movement. It generally takes only a passing interest in educational issues, but appears stung into action by the Liberal defeat in the federal election.
More on the University World News site

SOUTH KOREA: Part-time lecturers fight discrimination
Overnight rainfall cooled Seoul. Throngs of workers were rushing to their offices on the slippery road. But amid them was a white-haired couple taking down a green tent to dry it in the morning sunshine, alongside other rain-soaked supplies. They were not homeless people but ‘professors’ who have taught Chinese history and Korean labour history at universities until recently, reports The Korea Times. Since last September they have spent hundreds of nights in a worn-out tent near the National Assembly in Yeouido, urging the government to give the same status as full-time professors to part-time lecturers and to improve other working conditions including job security and salary.
More on the University World News site

HUNGARY: Higher education applications down 12%
The number of applicants for places in higher education for the academic year 2008-2009 totalled 96,302 – down by 12% on the previous year but declining more slowly than in previous years, according to Education Minister Istvan Hiller, reports The Budapest Times. The drop can partly be explained by a 13% rise in 18-year-olds opting to study for vocational qualifications instead of at universities.
More on the University World News site
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