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18 October 2015 Issue 386 Register to receive our free e-newspaper by email each week Advanced Search
New OECD plan to benchmark the performance of higher education systems

In a Special Report on the “Higher Education Futures” conference organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, and the Singapore government, Yojana Sharma reports that the OECD has not abandoned its attempts to compare learning outcomes internationally and is planning a new project aimed at benchmarking the performance of higher education systems. She also reports from the conference that China has announced a new scheme, dubbed ‘World Class 2.0’, to ensure that its best universities achieve world-class status, and she writes that the rise of Asia is set to change the bipolar world of higher education dominated by Europe and North America.
In another Special Report from a different part of the globe, Karen MacGregor reports from the world conference of the International Council for Open and Distance Education held in South Africa that the boundaries between institutions and developers of technology-enhanced learning ought to be broken down in the interests of sustainable development. Also, Stephen Coan reports on keynote speaker Laura Czerniewicz’s message that higher education leaders would have to learn to manage uncertainty associated with rapid changes in learning technologies, and Munyaradzi Makoni covers another keynote emphasising that education expansion must balance increased access with greater equality of access.
The Commentary section focuses on rankings this week, with Richard Holmes, who produces the University Ranking Watch blog, arguing that the Times Higher Education rankings’ methodology changes have led to some remarkable fluctuations, questioning their credibility. In contrast, Waldemar Siwinski is very upbeat about the dependability and future of national university rankings, which are on the increase worldwide. Philip G Altbach bemoans the irrationality of contemporary science in which systems of scientific credit have run amok, partly due to the obsession with rankings.
In our World Blog, Anna Notaro urges European universities to become intellectual benefactors in the refugee crisis that has engulfed their continent.
And finally, in Features, Rebecca Warden reports on a gathering of international academics to review the blueprint for the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals on education.
Brendan O’Malley – Managing Editor
NEWS: Our correspondents worldwide report
Brendan O'Malley and Jan Petter Myklebust

The European Commission is to invest almost €16 billion (US$18 billion) in research and innovation in 2016 and 2017 under its Horizon 2020 programme, it was announced last Tuesday. It follows the adoption of a new 'Work Programme' for those two years, covering nearly 600 topics.
Sharon Dell

The transformation of universities has become a burning issue in South Africa, but is real change possible without adequate student funding? If discussions at the Second National Higher Education Summit held in the coastal city of Durban last week are any indication, it seems unlikely.
Eugene Vorotnikov

The government of Bulgaria is planning widespread reform in national science and higher education to improve competitiveness in the global arena, with help from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Policy Support Facility.

Nearly two-thirds of Brazilian agents expect to have sent fewer students abroad this year compared to last year, and nine in 10 say the exchange rate and economic crisis are the main influence on this decrease.
Maina Waruru

Plans by one of Kenya’s fastest growing private universities to become a regional higher education powerhouse are running into headwinds after the government of Rwanda last month ordered the closure of Mount Kenya University, Kigali campus over government claims of xenophobia, discrimination and failure to meet quality standards set by the host country.
Katherine Mangan, The Chronicle of Higher Education

On 1 August 2016 – exactly 50 years after a student named Charles Whitman climbed into the University of Texas tower and shot 46 people, killing 14 of them – a new law on concealed firearms will take effect here. Already, emotions are exploding.

Minister for Tourism and International Education, Senator Richard Colbeck, has announced a sharp rise in the number of tertiary students being supported to study abroad with government Endeavour Mobility Grants in 2016.
There were 900 delegates from 67 countries at the 26th International Council for Open and Distance Education, or ICDE, World Conference held in South Africa from 14 to 16 October. Open, distance and e-learning’s major global gathering was hosted by the University of South Africa under the theme “Growing Capacities for Sustainable Distance e-Learning Provision”.
Karen MacGregor

Boundaries between contact and distance universities are rapidly blurring, and boundaries between institutions and developers of technology-enhanced learning ought to be broken down if both worlds are to benefit from each other’s expertise in the interests of sustainable development, thought leaders told a global conference on open, distance and e-learning.
Stephen Coan

“You have got to get good at managing ongoing uncertainty,” was Laura Czerniewicz’s blunt message to higher education leaders at the biennial conference of the International Council for Open and Distance Education. Online and onsite learning are being blended and learning technologies are advancing at breakneck speed.
Munyaradzi Makoni

Online education holds promise – and also danger when adopted without transformation, in the name of benefiting everyone who needs it – according to Tressie McMillan Cottom, assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University in the United States. She warned that education expansion in a structure defined by unequal access to resources could deepen inequalities.
Stephen Coan

A “tricky world with pervasive war and tragedy” is nevertheless one that “could see the golden age of open learning”. This was the prophetic view of Barney Pityana, a keynote speaker at the Presidents’ Summit of the International Council for Open and Distance Education, held in South Africa last week.
Sungula Nkabinde

The African Virtual University, Nigerian higher education leader Olugbemiro Jegede and Russian academic Irina Smirnova were awarded major global awards related to open, distance and e-learning by the International Council for Open and Distance Education on Friday.
Sungula Nkabinde

The availability of credits for a MOOC – massive open online course – at St George’s University in Grenada in the Caribbean was a prime driver of a more than five-fold rise in student retention, from 11% completion in 2013 to 58% the following year, the International Council for Open and Distance Education conference heard last week.
The "Higher Education Futures" conference held in Singapore from 14 to 15 October was an initiative jointly organised by the OECD in partnership with the Singapore ministry for education.
Yojana Sharma

The development of technology, particularly online learning, and the emergence of Asian countries as strong higher education performers and a major source of students will shape the future of higher education in the coming years, the "Higher Education Futures" conference, jointly organised by the OECD and Singapore government, heard last Wednesday.
Yojana Sharma

A new project to benchmark the performance of higher education systems is on the cards at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, to replace the discredited Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes project, which failed to gain the backing of key OECD member states to go ahead.
Yojana Sharma

China has announced a new scheme, likely to be backed by billions of dollars of funding, to ensure its elite universities rise into the global club of world-class universities.
Yojana Sharma

Asia is becoming a ‘third pole’ in higher education, as the bipolar world of higher education previously dominated by Europe and North America is set to change, a conference organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Singapore government heard last week.
Waldemar Siwinski

Every year at least three new national university rankings are published. These rankings are increasingly seen as a tool to help domestic and international students select the institution that is best for them to study at. Have national rankings come of age?
Richard Holmes

The latest Times Higher Education rankings show some major changes in ranking for universities around the world because of a change in methodology. The changes are in some cases so dramatic that they make either the current rankings or the previous ones seem scarcely credible.
Ly Pham

The number of universities and colleges has mushroomed in Vietnam and new legislation has been brought in to rank them, but it is pointless in the absence of efforts to help them differentiate themselves.
Edward Byrne

What can universities do to stay on top and burnish their reputations? Addressing global challenges, promoting teaching and research and recognising the importance of impact are key.
Philip G Altbach

A rational approach to academic credits is needed to restore sanity to a system that is increasingly out of control, from the Nobel Prizes to articles 'authored' by thousands, and which skews rankings. A better approach would recognise the reality of modern science.
Anna Notaro

Universities need to take action to help refugees by offering scholarships and bursaries and countering propaganda that demonises them.
Rebecca Warden

There was no role for higher education in the Millennium Development Goals, the eight ambitious United Nations’ targets for solving some of the world’s most pressing problems due to expire at the end of 2015. But universities will be expected to be bigger players this time around, according to academics gathered at a recent conference in Barcelona.
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Graduates from many of the little-known regional universities have a better chance of getting a job than those from top institutions in big cities, according to new data from the federal government that allows the job outcomes of universities to be compared for the first time, write Tim Dodd and Edmund Tadros for the Australian Financial Review.

There have been rising voices advocating a direct presidential election system among national universities across the country, reports The Dong-A Ilbo.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students, or HKFS, along with the student unions of eight universities, will discuss the possibility of class boycotts and campus “occupations” should their request to amend the universities’ laws be refused, according to Alan Wong Ka-fai, deputy secretary-general of HKFS, writes Karen Cheung for Hong Kong Free Press.

An esteemed economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin resigned in the wake of a new open carry law that could allow people to have concealed weapons in college buildings, writes Maya Rhodan for Time. The law goes into effect on 1 August 2016 and would allow licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons into classrooms and university buildings.

The Inter-University Council for East Africa expects the East African Community to be declared a Common Higher Education Area this year, writes Agnes Bateta for East African Business Week.

The French university system has made headlines in France this term after a massive influx of students saw the government scramble to invest €100 million (US$114 million) to try to prop up the creaking higher education system. But does the problem run deeper? asks Oliver Gee for The Local.

Several leading scientists have voiced their support for a campaign for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union, warning that an exit would harm the country’s research base, writes Emma Stoye for Chemistry World.

Professional bodies in the country may be locked out of accreditation of degree programmes in universities and the task handled solely by the Commission for University Education, writes Ouma Wanzala for Daily Nation.

Universities may have a lingering reputation for being ivory towers with little direct intellectual or practical links to the ‘outside world’. But in reality, the so-called refugee crisis offers up a number of significant opportunities and challenges to European higher education, writes Jack Grove for Times Higher Education.

The Council for At-Risk Academics is helping scholars fleeing the ongoing conflict in Syria find their way into British universities, reports

The Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry said that students graduating from universities and colleges that were inactive on account of various violations will not receive diplomas acknowledged by the government, writes Fedina Sundaryani for The Jakarta Post.

A documentary film about the social and personal costs of South Koreans' craze for being admitted to the nation's top three universities depicts a system that is a far cry from President Barack Obama's praise of the Asian country as a model for United States educational reforms, writes Youkyung Lee for Associated Press.

The black college doomsayer searching for a sign of imminent extinction can only relish the woes of Bill Cosby, with dozens of rape allegations against him leaving black colleges wondering what’s next. However, few figures living or dead can boast the impact that Cosby has wielded across the black higher education landscape, writes Ron Stodghill for Salon.

Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has urged universities to attract students from African countries to pursue their education in Indonesia, reports Antara News.
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