ISSN 1756-297XIssue No: 0040  10 August 2008
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E-learning is the focus of this edition's Special Report. Our correspondents report on issues including plans for a virtual university for a group of small nations and concerns that French universities are not catering for their digital native students.

The University of Melbourne has awarded a PhD in UFOs. Really. See our Uni-Lateral section.

The icy wastes of the Arctic are an unlikely setting for a higher education teaching initiative, but Canada’s Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, is developing an innovative teaching programme involving flying lecturers to the country’s far north territory of Nunavut. See the story in this week's Business section. Photo: Tom Weber.



China's universities have played little part preparing athletes for this week's
sporting spectacular in Beijing. See our exclusive story below.
Picture: Fireworks at the Bird's Nest Stadium. Xinhau

E-LEARNING – read our coverage in this issue

NEWS: Our correspondents worldwide report

CHINA: Olympics – low-key involvement by universities
Michael Delaney
University sports are a big deal in China, followed with great fervour by students and alumni, and many universities boast excellent sporting facilities and stadiums. Yet historically there has been a great distance, even antipathy, between the state administration and university sports departments. As a result, the nation’s centralised sports system means universities have largely been left out in the cold when it comes to preparing athletes for the Olympic Games.
Full report on the University World News site

GLOBAL: Liberalisation shelved as talks collapse
Keith Nuthall
Proposals to sweep away some restrictions preventing private universities and higher education service providers from teaching, researching and examining in foreign countries have been put on ice at the World Trade Organisation.
Full report on the University World News site

GERMANY: Plans to create more leeway for research
Michael Gardner
Germany’s federal government has adopted a five-point plan to create more autonomy for public-funded research institutions. In future, they will enjoy considerably more scope in terms of budgets, staff, networking, construction measures and procurement. The new measures will ultimately lead to a special law on academic freedom agreed to by the government last year.
Full report on the University World News site

NEW ZEALAND: Student allowances an election bribe
John Gerritsen*
University bosses are fuming after the ruling Labour Party admitted it was considering extending student allowances to all tertiary students. The party is polling badly with a general election due to take place before the end of the year, and Labour knows from past experience that students’ finances are a vote-winner: a policy of zero interest for student loans helped it win the 2005 elections.
Full report on the University World News site


E-learning is one of the buzzwords of 21st century higher education, with academics around the world increasingly relying on technology to communicate with their students – and transmit their lectures. But as University World News writers report in this special on E-learning, as some designate it, although a great boon to many lacking easy access to education, technology must be used intelligently as a tool for learning and not be regarded simply as a panacea.

UWN correspondents report from the virtual chalk face around the world – from the smaller states of the British Commonwealth, where Nick Holdsworth finds a virtual university to link students and their lecturers; from France where Jane Marshall learns that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s drive to become a “great digital power” is being hampered by lecturers with less of a knack for the internet than their savvy students; from Britain and America where Di Spencer says students prefer real teachers and real-time seminars; from Australia where Geoff Maslen celebrates nearly two decades of the Open University of Australia; from South Africa where Karen MacGregor reports on university efforts to keep abreast of e-learning developments and delivery despite bandwidth and resource constraints; and from Greece where Makkie Marseilles says universities are struggling to keep up with other European countries in the area of e-learning.

BRITISH COMMONWEALTH: Big changes in small states
Nick Holdsworth
One of the world’s leading distance learning organisations is pushing ahead with plans to give students in some of the poorest parts of the developing world equal access to university education. The Commonwealth of Learning – the world’s only intergovernmental agency solely dedicated to promoting and delivering distance education and open learning – is working with 30 of the British Commonwealth’s smaller states to create a ‘virtual university’.
Full report on the University World News site

FRANCE: Universities lag ‘digitally native’ students
Jane Marshall
French universities must urgently catch up with information and communication technologies if they are to satisfy the higher education demands of the advancing generation of ‘digitally native’ students. Although initiatives have been established in recent years to help them develop the necessary infrastructure, only a few universities have so far made satisfactory progress. But this lag is due more to systemic and human shortcomings than to technological inadequacies.
Full report on the University World News site

UK: Virtual lectures? No thanks, say students
Diane Spencer
The British government is keen to promote e-learning, as are UK universities. Yet research shows that students still prefer face-to-face learning. Next year will see the conclusion of a project which began in October 2003, run by the Joint Information Systems Committee to identify how e-learning can benefit learners, practitioners and educational institutions, and it will advise how its findings can be implemented.
Full report on the University World News site

AUSTRALIA: Online studying for the remote and on-the-move
Geoff Maslen
The only troublesome incident Kerry Grace had in four years of studying online for her bachelor of business degree through Open Universities Australia was when she was breastfeeding her first baby and had to travel to sit for an examination 90 minutes away. The university she was taking the unit with refused to allow her to bring the baby into the exam room but said she could have a babysitter outside and she could go and feed her baby if she needed to.
Full report on the University World News site

SOUTH AFRICA: Universities chase the e-learning curve
Karen MacGregor
The use of information and communication technologies to support learning in South African universities is booming and they are “not very far behind the curve” of developed countries in e-learning, says Stephen Marquard, learning technology coordinator for the University of Cape Town. Activities are limited by low internet bandwidth and uneven access by students to computers, but there is widespread experimentation within this constrained African context and interest is keen – last month participants from 14 African countries and 24 worldwide ‘attended’ the third virtual conference on educational technology in Africa, e/merge 2008.
Full report on the University World News site

GREECE: Struggling to keep up
Makki Marseilles
Greece is not in the forefront of e-learning but efforts are being made to keep the country from lagging too far behind other major European countries in and out of the EU as well as worldwide.
Full report on the University World News site


EU: New governing board for European institute
A new 18-member governing board of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology was appointed on 30 July and has until the end of 2009 to identify, select and launch the first EU ‘innovation hubs’, expected to cover the fields of climate change, renewable energy and ICT.
Full report on the University World News site


ETHIOPIA: October conference on academic freedom
Jonathan Travis*
The Network for Education and Academic Rights, Scholars at Risk Network, British Council Ethiopia, the Forum for Social Studies and the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa are organising a conference and workshop in Addis Ababa to discuss academic freedom in the region.
More academic freedom reports on the University World News site


CANADA: Academics train Inuit territory bureaucrats
Monica Dobie
Canada’s most northerly territory, Nunavut, will have access to an advanced business management diploma programme operated by the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Full report on the University World News site

NEW ZEALAND: EU agreement encourages collaboration
John Gerritsen*
New Zealand’s researchers will gain access to more European Union science and technology programmes, thanks to a newly-signed cooperation agreement.
Full report on the University World News site

SWEDEN: Inspire workers – make them redundant
Monica Dobie
A doctoral dissertation submitted to the Swedish Business School at Örebro University has revealed that failing companies could offer the secret of success for businesses yet to face dire straits. Strangely, productivity rises when companies are facing closure.
Full report on the University World News site


INDIA: A crumbling system of higher education
Geoff Maslen
India’s decision in the early 1990s to open its markets and fully participate in the global economy is widely credited for the nation’s spectacular rate of economic growth over the past decade or so, says Professor Fazal Rizvi. But Rizvi says many within and outside India believe this rate of growth is not sustainable unless India overhauls its crumbling system of higher education.
Full report on the University World News site


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CHINA: Major higher education transformation underway
As eyes turn to China and the Olympic Games, a recent study by Canada’s Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) has found that major transformation of higher education in the emerging power could impact on the global economy and global education structure. The policy brief Higher Educational Transformation in China and its Global Implications highlights recent statistics showing that the number of undergraduate and graduate students in China has increased by about 30% a year since 1999, as well as earlier studies estimating that in two years there will be many more PhD engineers and scientists in China than in the US and 90% of all PhD physical scientists and engineers in the world will be Asians living in Asia, most of them Chinese.
More on the University World News site


RUSSIA: Solzhenitsyn – a mission to save his people
Obituary: Alexander Solzhenitsyn 11 December 1918 – 3 August 2008
Nick Holdsworth
Russia went into mourning last week after the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning writer and dissident who devoted his life to exposing the horrors of Stalin’s police state and prison system.
Full report on the University World News site

UNI-LATERAL: Off-beat university stories

FRANCE: Loud music = greater alcohol consumption
Monica Dobie
Academics in France have swapped their laboratories for cafés and pubs. In a recent study, Université de Bretagne-Sud scientists found the louder the music is in a bar, the more people drank.
Full report on the University World News site

The University of Melbourne took a chance on drawing fire from academe’s many critics when it put out a release last week celebrating its first student to gain a PhD in ‘UFOlogy’. As part of his PhD thesis, Dr Martin Plowman, a student in the school of culture and communication, investigated hundreds of UFO sightings and interviewed dozens of people around the world who claimed to have seen UFOs or been abducted by aliens.
Full report on the University World News site

US: Party could be over at the University of Florida
A week after being named America’s top party school, the University of Florida released an edited version of its student conduct code, reports It includes a ban on drinking games, kegs and other activities on the Gainesville campus. Fraternity and sorority houses would also be affected. But the party isn’t over yet.
More on the University World News site

US: 26 cheerleaders jam lift at University of Texas
Police and fire-fighters were called to the University of Texas’ Jester Hall to free 26 cheerleaders who had crammed themselves into an elevator, reports The Dallas Morning News. A group of teenagers attending Texas Cheer Camp in Austin decided to see how many girls they could squeeze into the elevator last Tuesday evening, campus police said.
More on the University World News site


TURKEY: Academics quit over president’s rector choices
More than a dozen senior Turkish academics resigned last week in protest at President Abdullah Gul’s choice of university rectors, a sign of renewed tensions between the secularist establishment and the government, reports The Peninsula in Qatar. Turkish media said several rectors who support the ruling AK Party, including those favourable to ending a ban on students wearing the Muslim headscarf on campus, had been picked over secularist professors.
More on the University World News site

US: Scientists homes firebombed
Firebombs that struck the home and car of two University of California, Santa Cruz, scientists last weekend were part of an increasingly aggressive campaign by animal rights activists against animal researchers, officials said. The LA Times reported Santa Cruz police officials as saying that the blasts, which occurred three minutes apart, caused one of the scientists, his wife and two young children to flee their home through a second-story window.
More on the University World News site

US: Google, Microsoft vie for universities
You can think of it as ‘Schoogle’, writes John Cox in That would be Google’s laid-back but unflinchingly ambitious plan to woo college and university IT departments into outsourcing not just student e-mail but web-based productivity applications and calendaring to the search giant. And a growing number of schools are doing just that. Last week, Google announced that 13 new US institutions had signed up for the free, and ad-free, cloud-based services – bringing the total of ‘Googlised’ institutions worldwide to 2,000 since the Google Apps Education Edition programme was announced almost two years ago.
More on the University World News site

UK: New universities could struggle to survive
Newer British universities may disappear because of global competition forcing them to spend more, a leading ratings agency has warned, reports The Guardian. Credit analysis by Standard & Poors warns of “certain universities ceasing to exist” because of increasing competition from China and India and within the UK.
More on the University World News site

UK: Arctic map plots new ‘gold rush’
Researchers at Durham University have drawn up the first ever Arctic map to show the disputed territories that states might lay claim to in the future, reports ScienceDaily. The new map design follows a series of historical and ongoing arguments about ownership, and the race for resources, in the frozen lands and seas of the Arctic. The potential for conflicts is increasing as the search for new oil, gas and minerals intensifies.
More on the University World News site

ISRAEL: Worries about damaging brain drain
When it comes to hi-tech start-ups, Nobel laureates and computer innovation, Israel has few equals. It attracts more venture capital that any country outside the United States. But now a country whose only significant resource is its brain power finds itself losing its best and brightest, with one out of four Israeli academics working in the US because of low pay and limited research budgets at home, reports the Jerusalem Post.
More on the University World News site

SAUDI ARABIA: HE to enrol 236,000 new students
Saudi Arabia’s universities will enrol more than 236,000 students who passed out of secondary schools this year, according to Higher Education Minister Khaled Al-Anqari, – around 88% of 267,122 school leavers – reports Arab News.
More on the University World News site

SOUTH KOREA: HE to attract 100,000 foreign students
The South Korean government plans to attract 100,000 foreign students to the country by 2010, reports Korea Times. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said the number of scholarships available to foreign students will jump to 2,450 in 2010 and 3,000 by 2012, up from 1,500 this year. Universities will receive a combined $2 million to open more English-only and Korean-language classes.
More on the University World News site

SOUTH AFRICA: Universities must help new students more
Education Minister Naledi Pandor has urged universities to do more to help first-year students adjust to the new academic learning and teaching styles they experience when they reach the tertiary level, reports the government agency Bua News. Pandor said the failure of schools to support learners in acquiring effective competence in the language of learning and teaching was among several factors contributing to the difference between success at school and success at university.
More on the University World News site

AUSTRALIA: Universities fail strugglers
The Federal Government has been urged to dramatically increase the number of disadvantaged students attending university, as new figures show Victoria state has some of the lowest rates of participation by poor and indigenous groups, reports The Age. In a series of submissions to the government’s long-awaited review into higher education, university chiefs have called for a shake-up of funding, better access for low-income groups, and new scholarships to encourage more high school students from poorer families.
More on the University World News site


SOUTH AFRICA: Deputy Vice-Chancellors
University of Cape Town, Cape Town
Full specifications on the University World News site
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