ISSN 1756-297XIssue No: 0023  13 April 2008
HE Events Diary

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Polytechnics – in some countries they have become universities, in others they remain. In this edition, our correspondents report on past transformations and current tensions from Europe to Australasia.

Finnish polytechnics such as Lahti University of Applied Sciences have taken to calling themselves universities of applied science, and the nation's universities don't like it. See the story in our Speical Report.

Plans for a "Union of the Mediterranean" embracing EU countries and non-EU states bordering the Mediterranean Sea have educational ramifications. See our news section.


NEWS: Our correspondents worldwide report

GLOBAL: OECD opposes short term commercial pressures
Keith Nuthall
Effective tertiary education is a sure-fire way to achieve economic growth, a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says. But universities should avoid striving for quick fixes such as swift commerc ialisation of studies and funnelling research resources into the latest scientific hotspot, such as nanotechnology or IT. In its Thematic Review of Tertiary Education, a three-year study of tertiary education policies in 24 countries, the Paris-based OECD has devised a comprehensive set of proposals designed to help its rich country members devise effective higher education policies.
Full report on the University World News site

AFRICA: Unesco urges support for African science systems
Jane Marshall
Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa need support in developing their science policies, says a study of 17 countries in the region carried out for Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. The report recommends establishing a network of science and technology observatories, and investigating ways of raising the visibility of African science through the internet.
Full report on the University World News site

SOUTH AFRICA: Government and universities probe racism
Karen MacGregor
Two investigations into discrimination on campuses have been set up in South Africa – one by the government and the other by vice-chancellors – following the racism case involving white students at the University of the Free State that shocked the world in February. A ministerial committee began its work in early April and will, says spokesman Lunga Ngqengelele, “get to the bottom of the problem” and propose measures to improve social cohesion. A separate task team has been created by Higher Education South Africa, the vice-chancellors’ body, and will begin working in mid-April to find ways to promote diversity, highlight best practices and “ameliorate discriminatory institutional cultures”.
Full report on the University World News site

KENYA: Private university growth a mixed blessing
Stephen Ndegwa*
Private universities are not a new phenomenon in Kenya, but their rapid growth over the last five years is raising questions about standards in higher education. Kenya today has eight public and 17 private universities (with either full or interim charter), and 20% of a total of 150,000 students attend private institutions. Now public universities have joined the fray by opening new colleges in different parts of the country and introducing ‘parallel’ degree programmes in response to spiraling demand for higher education.
Full report on the University World News site

EUROPE: Forging ties with the Mediterranean and Asia
Alan Osborn
Heads of EU governments have approved the principle of a Union for the Mediterranean to include the 27 EU countries and non-EU Mediterranean coastal states. The proposal was approved at the EU summit earlier last month and is to be officially launched at a special summit in Paris in July. It has important educational ramifications as it will establish a Mediterranean Erasmus student exchange programme and create a scientific community embracing the EU Europe and its southern neighbours.
Full report on the University World News site

UK: Measures to unlock talents
Diane Spencer
Universities must adopt transparent admissions systems to help widen participation in higher education, John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, told the annual conference of Hefce, the higher education funding council for England, last week. Denham said there was much debate in the media about admissions. If universities tried to take account of a student's background and the challenges they faced, they were accused of political correctness and social engineering. Yet, others took the fact of a disproportionate number of students from more privileged background at a particular university as prima facie evidence of snobbery and social bias on the part of admissions staff.
Full report on the University World News site

SPAIN: A merger seven years on
Rebecca Warden
The idea of merging your institution with another can be enough to make any university manager run for the hills. What to call it, who stays and who goes, who has to move where – the list of issues and potential problems seems endless. Nevertheless, one manager gave an positive account of his experience at the recent European University Association conference on governance in Barcelona.
Full report on the University World News site

POLYTECHNICS – The old and the new

Once they abounded around the world but today polytechnics, the vocationally-oriented higher education institutions that prepared engineers, high-level artisans, technologists and others for the world of work have largely disappeared, swept away by their competitors for higher education dominance: universities. But in some countries, governments decided to create a new class of polytechnic, as our writers report.

NEW ZEALAND: Polytechnic universities opposed
John Gerritsen*
New Zealand's universities are fighting the creation of a new category of tertiary institution that could provide an easy road for the nation's polytechnics to the title 'university'. But a repeat of Britain's wholesale transformation of polytechnics into universities is unlikely. Not only does the proposed legislation lack political support but New Zealand's polytechnics oppose it as well. Like their peers in Ireland, they favour the establishment of an overarching degree-granting organisation with university status.
Full report on the University World News site

FINLAND: Polytechnics that call themselves universities
Ian Dobson*
They might be polytechnics as far as Finland's universities are concerned but the nation's technical institutions have caused intense irritation by calling themselves 'universities of applied sciences' – though in English, not Finnish. Whereas the mission of universities is to undertake scholarly research and provide instruction and postgraduate education based on it, polytechnics were established to train professionals for the workforce and to promote regional development. While they also undertake a small amount of 'applied and practical' research and development, they now want to be known as universities as well.
Full report on the University World News site

AUSTRALIA: Universities – the new polytechnics?
Geoff Maslen
The transformation of Australia's higher education system in the 1980s was as revolutionary as it was rapid. By the dawn of the 1990s, the entire tertiary education landscape had been altered and universities, which had fallen behind polytechnics in the competition for students, had suddenly become dominant. More than 200,000 students who had enrolled for a polytechnic or, more correctly, a college of advanced education degree, were to graduate in the 1990s from a university. The colleges were simply legislated out of existence.
Full report on the University World News site

UK: End of the British binary system
John Pratt*
When in 1992 British polytechnics were able to acquire the title of 'university', there was a certain inevitability about the decision. They had become the larger of the two sectors; they were perceived by government as a 'success', not least for expanding rapidly at low unit cost unlike universities; they were already freed from local authority control; and their degrees were generally accepted as comparable in standard with those in universities and in some cases superior.
Full report on the University World News site


NEW ZEALAND: Education gains little in free trade
John Gerritsen*
New Zealand became the first developed nation to sign a free trade agreement with China last week but the multi-million dollar deal is unlikely to bring direct benefits for the Pacific nation's education sector.
Full report on the University World News site

GERMANY: In-car computer navigation to avoid red lights
Keith Nuthall
Imagine an intelligent transport system so clever it could tell a motorist how fast to drive in a city to avoid all red lights in a given journey. And then also imagine a system that could advise a driver how to motor at the most constant speed possible, avoiding unnecessary accelerations and braking, saving litres of fuel and engine wear-and-tear to boot. Well, German scientists at the Technical University of Berlin have done exactly that, and they have developed a prototype system that proves the concept is workable.
Full report on the University World News site

GLOBAL: University research round-up
Monica Dobie
University World News again features a selection of commercially important and cutting edge higher education research developments.
Full report on the University World News site

UK: University's multi-million pound satellite sale
The University of Surrey has sold almost all of its 85% stake in its campus-based satellite firm in what is thought to be the largest cash sale of a college company in UK history, reports the Surrey Advertiser. It is believed European space industry giant EADS Astrium has paid between £40 million and £50 million for Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. The university will retain a 1% stake in the company.
More on the University World News site

US: Minnesota’s transfer problem
The anti-AIDS drug Ziagen has been good to the University of Minnesota. Maybe a little too good, comments the Star Tribune. Since 1999, Ziagen, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, has generated $290 million in royalties for the university. But take away Ziagen and the university is left with very little else to show for its recent intellectual property investments.
More on the University World News site


AUSTRALIA: Science's hard sell
Andrew Baker*
Recent studies have raised concerns over public science illiteracy in the shadow of the upcoming US elections in November. When the American government flexes political muscle, the world is often squeezed into economic and social reform. And if the US and the global public are not more scientifically aware in this, the Age of Science, how can they apply pressure on aspiring or reigning governments to make policy based on sound scientific thinking? The solution may seem simple. Scientists should sell science. Yet how can scientists better convince the public of science's value? A critical limiting factor is language. Most scientists are unable to broker knowledge in a clear, understandable fashion to the person on the street. A major reason for this stems from science education itself. But there is a deeper force driving it. Because of research-geared spec ialisation and an ever-expanding body of knowledge, scientific disciplines are becoming almost submerged in their own rising tide of jargon-rich information.
Full report on the University World News site

US: American Higher Education Transformed, 1940-2005
It has been a memorable and often tumultuous half-century for American higher education, writes Johns Hopkins University Press about its new offering American Higher Education Transformed, 1940-2005: Documenting the National Discourse, by Professors Wilson Smith and Thomas Bender. This sequel to Richard Hofstadter and Wilson Smith's classic anthology American Higher Education: A Documentary History presents, in a 544-page volume, 172 key edited documents that record the transformation of higher education over 60 years.
More on the University World News site


UK: Pathway pioneers build bridges to the world
Diane Spencer
The north of England has a reputation for its down-to-earth common-sense attitude to making a bob or two, so it is no surprise to learn that 20 years ago, 12 universities in the region spotted a business opportunity and formed a consortium to attract overseas students to their institutions. The Northern Consortium UK's slogan is "your bridge to international success" as it pioneered what are now known as "pathway programmes" to prepare students in their home countries to continue studying abroad, mainly in the UK. The consortium has just opened a new centre in Sri Lanka.
Full report on the University World News site

UNI-LATERAL: Off-beat university stories

PORTUGAL: Linguistic t errorism strikes: three letters hit
Paul Rigg
Plans to drop the letters c, p and h from some Portuguese words have provoked outrage among academics who describe the move as an act of ‘linguistic t errorism’. "The proponents of change say that there will be a breakdown in communication, and that Brazil will take over in the future if we do not do something," says António M Feijó, Professor of Literature at the University of Lisbon. "But I think that this proposal is both absurd and reckless."
Full report on the University World News site

JAPAN: Cartoons making science easier
Visualisation of scientific ideas in cartoon form has proved effective in helping people understand advanced concepts and technologies, reports The Yomiuri Shimbun. Examples include a newly discovered enzyme that was made into a cartoon character by a professional animator, and a Kyoto University professor's research on induced pluripotent stem cells that was carried out after an illustration he created convinced an agency to support the research with a grant. The use of the visual in science education will be aided by the just-launched Science Visualisation Society of Japan, established by scientists and other experts.
More on the University World News site


US: The seniority pay cut
To get a good raise, do you need to quit? asks Inside Higher Ed. That may well be the case at many colleges that are suffering from salary compression and salary inversion – situations where those hired most recently are paid disproportionately more or flat out more than those with more experience. The issue is attracting the attention not only of faculty leaders, but of college administrators, who fear that these salary gaps discourage talented faculty members from staying at an institution.
More on the University World News site

US: Getting older students into the mix
Bruce Chaloux, director of student access programmes and services for the Southern Regional Education Board, says colleges in his region have long missed out on a key demographic. By his group’s count, 20 million 25- to 55-year-olds in 16 southern states have enrolled at a college but left without a degree. “Some institutions have reached out to them, but it hasn’t been a broad effort,” Chaloux told Inside Higher Ed. “We’re making the argument that this is your work force, and you need to craft programmes that allow adults to complete their degrees.”
More on the University World News site

CANADA: Cheating numbers soar at Ottawa universities
As students hand in end-of-term assignments and cram for final exams this month, an Ottawa Citizen survey of Ottawa universities found the reported rates of cheating and plagiarism have risen sharply over the past decade. The highest rates were recorded among arts, social science and engineering majors.
More on the University World News site

CANADA: Improve education for aboriginals, immigrants
Canada must improve the educational outcomes of aboriginals and new immigrants in order to prosper in the global economy, according to the executive vice-president of The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, report McCleans magazine. “It is clear that Canada cannot rest on its laurels,” said David Stewart-Patterson in a keynote speech at an international conference on higher education access. “If we want to continue enjoying steady growth in our standard of living, we need to do better.”
More on the University World News site

TURKEY: 40 detained, shooter missing after students clash
A 34-year-old man who opened fire during a clash between student groups of opposing ideologies at Akdeniz University last weekend is still on the loose, but six police teams are working to capture him, reports Today’s Zaman. Forty people were detained by the police as part of an investigation into a skirmish between student groups of differing political opinions at a dorm of Antalya’s Akdeniz University on 6 April. The clashes alarmed Turkey as they brought to mind the memories of the 1980 coup
More on the University World News site

SAUDI ARABIA: Major facelift for higher education
Final touches are being put to a 25-year higher education strategy that will soon be presented to higher authorities for approval, Minister of Higher Education Dr Khaled Al Anqari is reported by Khaleej Times as saying. Saudi academics and officials have been involved in preparing the strategy to develop the country’s higher education system in line with its development and job market requirements.
More on the University World News site

SCOTLAND: Warning over rise in foreign postgraduates
Postgraduate students from overseas studying in Scottish universities are rapidly overtaking the number of those born in Scotland, reports The Herald. In 2000, there were just 7,395 postgraduates from outside the UK, compared to 13,660 from Scotland – but sharp annual increases since then have seen the gap close dramatically. Last year, there were 15,540 overseas compared to 15,855 ‘home-grown’ postgraduates. Next year, Scottish postgraduates could be in a minority for the first time.
More on the University World News site

UK: 'Spoon-fed' students pass on lower marks
Academics across the country are reporting pressure to ignore poor course work and to pass students who “cannot string a sentence together”, according to the most detailed study yet, reports The Telegraph. Nearly 90% of academics agreed that “funding pressures have led to the admission of weaker students”, research by Greenwich University found.
More on the University World News site
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