Could this be the beginning of the end of the American century in science?

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9 December 2018 Issue 532 Register to receive our free e-newspaper by email each week Advanced Search


Could this be the beginning of the end of the American century in science?

   In Commentary, John Richard Schrock says the rise of China in scientific fields and decline in the volume of science papers written by American scientists, coupled with the fall of international students studying in the United States, may presage the end of US dominance of science. Also focusing on China and the US, Gerard A Postiglione and Denis Simon encourage universities in China and the United States to do what they can to keep US-China relations on an even keel as the trade war between the two leading economies threatens to spill over into academic cooperation. And John Aubrey Douglass warns that the University of California system in the US, celebrated around the world as a model public university system, has reached a tipping point with regard to funding and needs to urgently consider new ways of complying with its public mission.

   In our World Blog this week, Betty Leask, Elspeth Jones and Hans de Wit say internationalisation of higher education must promote inclusive intercultural learning in order to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the world.

   In our series on Transformative Leadership, published in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, Joanna Newman encourages universities and governments to work together to empower women academics by redistributing resources and confronting cultural attitudes.

   In Academic Freedom, Jason E Lane argues that as threats against academics and academic freedom intensify around the world, higher education should become more internationally engaged, not less. And William G Tierney warns that academic freedom is on trial in Hong Kong as no one from the city’s universities is speaking up for free speech in the case of two academics going on trial for peaceful protest.

   In Features, Edwin Naidu interviews Mamokgethi Phakeng, the newly appointed vice-chancellor of South Africa’s top research university, the University of Cape Town, who aims to “do things differently”.

Brendan O’Malley – Managing Editor


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NEWS – Our correspondents worldwide report


Research misconduct penalties extended into other areas

Yojana Sharma

A raft of new punishments for research misconduct by institutions and individual researchers in China extends the penalties for those blacklisted for serious misconduct breaches outside the higher education and research area, as scientific research becomes linked to the country’s Social Credit System.


Top universities call for expansion of 5-100 project

Eugene Vorotnikov

Leading Russian universities are demanding an expansion of the project that aims to get five universities into the top 100 in global rankings to support 30 universities, enabling the country to compete in rankings for transport, biotechnology, urban studies and other fields.


Call for improved student-teacher ratio as enrolment dips

Michael Gardner

Higher education heads are calling for more support to invest in reducing the student-teacher ratio after new official statistics showed a slight dip in the number of students enrolling at universities for the first time, although overall student numbers have again increased.


Labor promises taskforce on campus sexual harassment

Geoff Maslen

Australia's universities and their residential colleges will be answerable to a new independent taskforce responsible for tackling sexual harassment and assault on campus and universities will face penalties if they do not act – if a Labor government takes office at the next federal election.


New cross-border university launched under HE reforms

Wagdy Sawahel

The Cameroonian government has announced the start of classes at a Cameroon-Republic of Congo inter-state university next academic year as part of a raft of measures to promote higher education reform and graduate employability, as well as greater cooperation between the two central African countries.



When trade war spills over into academic cooperation

Gerard A Postiglione and Denis Simon

The world’s two leading economies have hit a rough patch that has begun to spill over into their 40 years of cooperation in higher education. At stake is the ability of their universities to be instruments of global integration, mutual understanding and geopolitical stability.


American science in decline as China’s rises

John Richard Schrock

Chinese authorship of science papers is on a sharp upward slope while those by Americans has declined slightly in recent years. United States President Donald Trump’s nativism is not helping either and is deterring international students. Is this the beginning of the end of the American century?


UC at tipping point, in pursuit of a new funding model

John Aubrey Douglass

The University of California (UC) has been celebrated around the world as a model public university system, but it has reached a tipping point with regard to funding. Like other universities around the world, it needs to urgently consider new ways of complying with its public mission.


Leading a university in financially challenging times

Petra Wend

Leading a university can become very difficult when finances are strapped, policy changes are imposed and difficult decisions must be made. Leaders need to have good people skills, be emotionally intelligent and able to listen, and they need to develop resilience.



Towards inclusive intercultural learning for all

Betty Leask, Elspeth Jones and Hans de Wit

Internationalisation of higher education can only make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the world if it promotes inclusive intercultural learning for all and is respectful of diverse contexts, agendas and perspectives on a global scale.



Creating safe, inclusive campuses through collaboration

Joanna Newman

Empowering women academics across countries means redistributing resources and confronting cultural attitudes, and enabling them to contribute to the international consensus forming on gender equity. As governments and universities across the Commonwealth are showing, nations working together can create lasting and positive change.



Answer threats to academic freedom with engagement

Jason E Lane

Amid threats to academic freedom and unjust actions against academics – such as the jailing for life of United Kingdom PhD researcher Matthew Hedges in the United Arab Emirates recently – international branch campuses should engage with their host country and promote acceptance of free inquiry rather than retreat.


Academic freedom goes on trial in Hong Kong

William G Tierney

Two academics are going on trial in Hong Kong for peaceful protest, but no one is speaking up on their campuses. Their universities have not defended their right to free speech. Yet the whole academic endeavour will be harmed if they do not support them.


Saudi partnerships too valuable to give up – MIT report

Steven Johnson, The Chronicle of Higher Education

A new report examining the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, while acknowledging that taking money from agencies affiliated with the Saudi government raises ethical issues, concludes that MIT should not sever those ties.


Soros-backed CEU says it has been forced out of Hungary

The Central European University (CEU) has announced that it has been forced to launch all new United States-accredited degree programmes in Vienna in September 2019 instead of Budapest, to guarantee that it can recruit students in time for the new academic year.


Concern over freedoms as university curbs thesis topics

Ashraf Khaled

An Egyptian state university has said that thesis proposals for masters and doctoral degrees must conform to governmental development plans, raising concerns about academic and research freedoms in the country.



Defiant vice-chancellor aims to ‘do things differently’

Edwin Naidu

She was recently criticised on social media for her “inappropriate” attire at a recent university event, but the newly-appointed vice-chancellor of South Africa’s top research university says she is less concerned with fashion, and other criticisms, than with ensuring a shift in unfashionable attitudes on campus.



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Researchers sign petition backing plans to end paywalls

More than 1,400 researchers have signed an online letter backing the principles of Plan S, the bold open-access initiative led by research agencies in Europe who say that, by 2020, papers resulting from their funding should be immediately free to read on publication, writes Richard Van Noorden for Nature.


Science body proposes human genetics ethics guidelines

The Academy of Science of South Africa has released a study it says is aimed at creating a more certain regulatory environment for government departments on matters relating to human genetics and the human genome, writes Duncan Alfreds for News24.


Leading academic disputes claims of threat to free speech

Leading academic Professor Glyn Davis has disputed claims that free speech and academic inquiry are under threat on university campuses in Australia, labelling the issue a “confected calamity” that is ideologically driven, imported from the United States and not backed by Australian examples, writes Fergus Hunter for The Sydney Morning Herald.


Knesset committee votes on university gender law

University heads say they favour integrating ultra-Orthodox groups into academic institutions, but strongly oppose legislation on gender segregation, as an Israeli government ministerial committee prepared to vote on a bill that would allow separate study tracks for men and women at Israeli universities, reports The Times of Israel.


Bid to downgrade universities on teaching hours shelved

Plans to downgrade universities where students receive only a few hours of teaching each week have been quietly shelved. A backlash from vice-chancellors has forced the United Kingdom’s higher education regulator to abandon its proposal to consider the number of lectures and tutorials on offer when awarding new ratings for degree courses, writes Julie Henry for The Mail on Sunday.


Reorganisation sparks turmoil at top research museum

Over the past decade, the 40 researchers at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen have published more than 100 papers in Nature and Science, putting it among the world’s top research museums. But budget pressures are forcing a reorganisation that will split museum research from curation and outreach, writes Gretchen Vogel for Science Mag.


Teaching engineering costs more than teaching English

New research on the cost differences in higher education found that colleges and universities in the United States spend more money on providing courses in pre-professional programmes and high-paying academic fields in science and engineering than on courses in the humanities and social sciences, writes Marjorie Valbrun for Inside Higher Ed.


The affluent are far more likely to attend university

Students from the most affluent parts of Dublin are up to 14 times more likely to progress to university than their counterparts from some schools in the city’s most disadvantaged areas, according to the annual Irish Times ‘Feeder Schools’ supplement, write Carl O’Brien, Peter McGuire and Éanna Ó Caollaí for The Irish Times.


Ministry to reform universities with World Bank funding

The education ministry has begun work on improving the quality of education in Cambodia’s top five universities after the World Bank agreed to provide US$90 million to fund higher education reforms, writes Sen David for the Khmer Times.


Public university staff to strike over pay in January

The teaching and administrative staff from the nine public universities in Uganda have declared an indefinite, comprehensive nationwide strike effective from January 2019. The strike aims to force government to address its 2015 promise to improve staff salaries at public universities, reports The Observer.


Can’t cancel PhD over fake claim, Panjab University told

A committee formed by the Panjab University vice-chancellor to review the decision to cancel the PhD registration of a scholar whose sexual harassment complaint was found to be fake has found that there is no rule in the university’s calendar to cancel the registration on the basis of any “non-academic reason”, writes Vishakha Chaman for the The Times of India.


Vice president challenges academics on state of education

Vice President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo said the current state of education in the country and in Africa generally cannot be divorced from the roles played by the lecturers and university administrators, writes Yinka Adeniran for The Nation.


Top universities collaborate on teaching

Five universities across the Yangtze River Delta in China have reached an agreement to explore a new teaching cooperation scheme that focuses on student development. It is expected to provide high-quality educational resources and promote lecturers’ teaching capability, writes Yang Meiping for Shine.

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