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NEWSLETTERDebate on the usefulness of international university rankings intensifies
In a Special Report examining the usefulness and accuracy of global university rankings, Philip G Altbach and Ellen Hazelkorn suggest that rankings are a losing game for most mid-range universities as they are not worth the resources required nor the changes in mission, while Bahram Bekhradnia of the Higher Education Policy Institute criticises rankings for being based on data which is unaudited and of doubtful quality and hopes that governments and potential students understand that they are essentially measures of research activity. Ranking experts counter these criticisms, including Ben Sowter of QS who says criticisms should be evidence-based and take the positive and negative into account, and Phil Baty of the Times Higher Education ranking who says the rankings provide useful analysis and are here to stay.
In our World Blog, Hans de Wit says there is still cause for optimism with regard to the internationalisation of higher education despite the political shocks of 2016 but this is likely to come from different regions than in the past.
In Features, Jens Jungblut says governments can always only reach two of three politically desirable goals in higher education – low public costs, low tuition fees and mass access – and this trilemma may see them cutting corners and sacrificing quality. Nic Mitchell reports on the European University Association’s call for the European Commission to simplify the Erasmus+ mobility programme and increase funding, following a recent survey.
In our Special Report on the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa, or HERANA, meeting held in Franschhoek near Cape Town towards the end of 2016, Karen MacGregor reports on indications that Africa’s flagship universities are showing upward trends in a number of areas, and Robert Tijssen and Erika Kraemer-Mbula argue that African science “can and should take the concept of excellence more literally”.
Brendan O’Malley – Managing Editor
NEWS: Our correspondents worldwide report
The first budget under the administration of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, signed into law on 22 December, includes allocations to scrap tuition fees in all state universities and colleges from the 2017 academic year, as part of a significant increase in the country’s education budget.
AFGHANISTANShadi Khan Saif
Two professors of the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul who were abducted last year, have called on the United States government to free Taliban fighters in exchange for their release, in a video released on Wednesday. Officials have declined to comment amid ongoing efforts to liberate them.
Five key European research organisations have called on legislators to modify current European Union copyright reform proposals, including broadening exceptions from copyright on text and data mining, to facilitate research and innovation in a digital environment – or risk impeding progress in one of the most dynamic parts of the economy.
A recent series of investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission into allegations of corruption against high-level university staff is challenging the traditional autonomy of university governing councils.
Academics in Japan are bitterly divided over defence ministry grants to universities for defence-related research, with such funding receiving a dramatic boost this year amid declining general research budgets for universities over the past decade.
Despite reports of thousands of students and scholars remaining in prison and a tightening of control of universities, the Supreme Council of Universities is pushing for autonomy and academic freedom to be established through governance reform.
A fiscally constrained Zimbabwe government has allocated a meagre US$23.2 million to both kick-start new and complete existing infrastructure projects at its burgeoning universities. The amount is far less than what is needed to effect real physical improvements on all of the country’s campuses.
UNITED KINGDOMBrendan O’Malley
Demand from international students for places at United Kingdom universities will be hit by the impact of Brexit and other global changes, but could the negative effects be softened by the Trump effect in the United States? Two new pieces of analysis offer some interesting insight.
NORWAYJan Petter Myklebust
There is a huge mismatch between student aspirations to study abroad and the number of students actually doing so, according to a new survey. It found that most students have thought about taking a whole or part of their education abroad, but currently only 10% of Norwegian students study abroad.
SOUTH KOREAAimee Chung
The repercussions of the scandal over the admission to a prestigious women’s university in Seoul of Chung Yoo-ra, daughter of the South Korean president’s confidante Choi Soon-sil, are beginning to take their toll, with a spate of arrests on charges related to criminal corruption and academic fraud.
No foreign law graduate is to be admitted to the Kenya School of Law for the 2017-18 academic year following a decision last year by the Kenya Council of Legal Education to bar the admission of law graduates from other universities in the East African region.
Does your position in global university rankings matter? The Higher Education Policy Institute's latest report on ranking has further stoked debate about how accurate and how useful international university rankings are. University World News asked its author and ranking experts to share their views.
GLOBALPhilip G Altbach and Ellen Hazelkorn
For mid-range national, regional and specialist universities and colleges, and their stakeholders and governments, rankings are a losing game – it is almost never worth the resources required or the changes in mission – and they present dangers for flagship universities too.
Governments, universities and potential students need to understand that international rankings of universities are essentially measures of research activity that are based on data which is unaudited and of doubtful quality.
While current global rankings need to be understood based on the limitations of the data available, criticism of them needs to be evidence-based and to take into account the positives as well as the negatives, which the Higher Education Policy Institute report fails to do.
The Higher Education Policy Institute report on rankings contributes to the ongoing discussion of how to improve global university rankings, but is wrong in saying governments should ignore them, as they provide useful strategic analysis and are definitely here to stay.
GLOBALFrank Ziegele and Frans van Vught
The Higher Education Policy Institute has raised significant concerns about rankings. U-Multirank offers ways to tackle many of them by offering a multi-dimensional and fair way to assess performance, and reflects the diversity of global higher education.
GLOBALHans de Wit
Although 2016 was a year of political shocks that have called into question a lot of perceived ideas about internationalisation of higher education, there is still scope for innovation if universities look outside their own walls.
Governments face a ‘trilemma’ in higher education policy as they can always only reach two out of three politically desirable goals – low public costs, low private costs (tuition fees), and mass access. Student movements such as #FeesMustFall in South Africa must demand both free higher education and matching increases in public spending, or risk incentivising governments to take the easy way out and compromise higher education quality.
The European Union’s showpiece Erasmus+ mobility and cooperation programme should be simplified and its “cumbersome” processes streamlined, according to a survey by the European University Association or EUA. Members complained that funding did not cover the full costs of cooperation and exchanges.
UNITED STATESGoldie Blumenstyk, The Chronicle of Higher Education
George Ciccariello-Maher, a scholar of revolutionary movements, was engulfed in a far-right twitter storm, along with family and friends, when he tweeted “All I want for Christmas is white genocide”. He believes it reflects a new offensive against academia by far-right and neo-Nazi groups.
HERANA 3 MEETING
The third meeting of the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa, or HERANA, held in Franschhoek in South Africa in November, was attended by representatives of seven of the eight participating universities: Botswana, Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique, Ghana, Nairobi in Kenya, Mauritius, and Makerere in Uganda. Each gave detailed and fascinating presentations on key research indicators. Led by the Centre for Higher Education Trust, the goal of HERANA is to institutionalise data collection with a view to strengthening knowledge production in a group of emerging research-intensive flagship universities.
The notion of ‘Africa Rising’ has found traction in recent years, although the ascent is very uneven, says Nico Cloete, coordinator of the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa. Certainly the continent’s flagship universities are rising. “There are upward trends in a number of areas that I think are very positive.”
Research by the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa has produced data on flagship universities in eight African countries over a 15-year period. One outcome has been to improve data collection at the universities involved. Another has been to build a first accurate picture of leading universities across the continent, their performances according to key indicators, and their achievements and challenges.
AFRICARobert Tijssen and Erika Kraemer-Mbula
Centres of excellence and related initiatives have become a high-profile feature of the African science landscape during the last decade, where the eye-catching ‘excellence’ tag usually reflects either worthy aspirations or challenging levels of ambition. We believe that African science can and should take the concept of excellence more literally, moving from aspirational to ‘outstanding performance’ or ‘highest quality’.
Recent data from Norway’s statistical office revealed that 50% of all jobs will require a masters degree in the next 10 years, while unskilled jobs will shrink to 5%. This means universities will have a growing impact on development, argues Peter Maassen of Norway’s University of Oslo – and that ensuring their success will become increasingly important. What lessons in strengthening universities may be learned from Europe?
As the editors to this festschrift note in their introduction, Peter Maassen’s academic life is “very much entangled” with the development of higher education as a research field. Thus the publication is not only a celebration and a gift to a friend and colleague, but also an informal and “hopefully interesting peek into the historical and continuous development of an academic field”.
AFGHANISTANFred M Hayward
Higher education in Afghanistan has moved quickly from no women lecturers or students in 2001 to 22.4% women students and 14% women faculty in a war environment and amid major challenges. This, along with significant transformation of the sector, bodes well for the future success of both higher education and gender equity.
Among a collection of countries and territories in the Southeast Asian and Australian region concerned with building research-intensive universities, Singaporean higher education stands as a model for what can be achieved through planned growth and development and sustained investment.
Universities around the world need to adapt to changing external and internal circumstances, but achieving intentional change in these complex institutions is often more challenging than theories of organisational change might suggest.
After establishing itself as a key player in the South African higher education policy sector in the late 1990s, the Centre for Higher Education Trust, or CHET, has broadened its horizons, moving into the area of African institutional development with an emphasis on research. At last year’s Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa meeting in Franschhoek near Cape Town, members of its board reflected on the journey thus far, with a few suggestions for the future.
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Huge cuts in government funding to public universities in the United States has led affected institutions to ramp up their recruitment of international students to offset the budget shortage, new research has revealed, reports Study International.
At least a dozen German research institutions have started the new year without access to Elsevier journals after an acrimonious breakdown in licence negotiations between the country’s research organisations and the publisher, writes David Matthews for Times Higher Education.
Peers have struck an early note of opposition to government plans for the opening of higher education to competition, highlighting the risk of a cross-party revolt against the proposals, write Helen Warrell and Henry Mance for Financial Times.
According to unofficial reports, the Committee for Ethics in Science and Higher Education has found Croatian Minister of Science and Education Pavo Barisic guilty of plagiarism, writes Vedran Pavlic for Total Croatia News. Barisic has categorically denied plagiarising anybody.
The beginning of the New Year has seen universities scrambling to keep up with the large number of applications received, with many students bound to be left disappointed as spaces are limited, writes Avantika Seeth for City Press.
The Ministry of Human Resource Development has moved a note for the cabinet to set up an independent body dedicated to entrance tests for higher education, on the lines of the Educational Testing Service in the United States, writes Ritika Chopra for The Indian Express.
New figures show that more than 70% of students do not get beyond their first year of college in some higher education courses, writes Carl O’Brien for The Irish Times.
British universities will establish global networks and recruit the world's "best and brightest" students outside of the European Union, Oxford University's head of Brexit strategy has claimed, writes Harry Yorke for The Telegraph.
Almost seven in 10 university academic staff say they have to work under a lot of pressure and 70% do at least six hours’ overtime a week, reports DutchNews.nl.
Students at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, or SOAS, are calling for white philosophers to be largely removed from the curriculum to better represent the university's focus on Asia and Africa, writes Lucy Pasha-Robinson for the Independent.
Not many women attend the University of Tokyo, colloquially known as Todai. Less than 20% of its undergraduates are female and now, it appears, the school itself is wondering if it shouldn’t do more to raise that rate, writes Philip Brasor for The Japan Times.
A leading university in southern China has banned its teachers from criticising the constitution and leaders of the Communist Party in class, the latest sign of tightening ideological control on the country’s college campuses, writes Nectar Gan for South China Morning Post.
A Shandong province professor who posted controversial comments about Mao Zedong online has been forced to retire after he was removed from his political advisor role, reports Global Times.
A masters student at Georgetown University in the United States who researches human rights and migrant labour in the Middle East was denied a student visa to spend the fall semester at the university’s Qatar campus, renewing concerns about the limits on academic freedom at American campuses in the region, writes Elizabeth Redden for Inside Higher Ed.
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