US: The pope on academic freedom

During his recent visit to America, Pope Benedict XVI told leaders of Roman Catholic colleges and universities that academic freedom was of upmost importance - but did not justify promoting positions that violated the Catholic faith. The Pope said that church teaching should shape all aspects of campus life and that Catholic educators had a profound responsibility to lead the young to truth. Benedict reaffirmed academic freedom values but said attempts to use academic freedom to justify positions that contradicted the teaching of the church would betray the university's identity and mission, Time Magazine reported. Benedict's talk contained no concrete policy directives but emphasised the compatibility of faith and reason.

Gunmen kill Pakistani professor

Gunmen have shot dead a senior university professor in Pakistan's insurgency-hit south-western province of Baluchistan, AFP news agency said. Professor Safdar Kiyani was gunned down near the campus when he returned early evening to Baluchistan University. The attack was claimed to be by a militant group, the Baluchistan Liberation Army, which claimed the professor had been working for the intelligence agencies and had been repeatedly warned. Kiyani was head of the botany department and had been teaching for more than 20 years. Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has been in the grip of a rebellion waged by Baluch tribes seeking political rights and larger profits from the region's natural resources. Hundreds of people have died in the province since the insurgency began in late 2004.

Students kidnapped in northern Iraq

Three male students and their driver were kidnapped close to the town of Baquba, north of Baghdad, the BBC reported. The students, who were returning to Diyala University after a weekend break, were stopped at a makeshift checkpoint and taken away. The gunmen, whose identities are unknown, reportedly released all the women on board, taking only men. The province of Diyala, where the incident took place, is seen as one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq. In the last week alone, two attacks in or close to Baquba itself killed at least 80 people.

UK's Higher Education Academy suspends director

Professor Lee Harvey has been suspended as Director of Research and Evaluation at the UK's Higher Education Academy, after the publication of a letter in the Times Higher Education. Harvey's letter, which he wrote in a personal capacity, criticised the National Student Survey - an action deemed to be in breach of his contract. Harvey described the NSS in his letter as a "hopelessly inadequate improvement tool", according to THE. The decision to suspend him was taken by HEA chief executive Paul Ramsden, who said that HEA clearance was necessary before such a publication. Academics across the country have condemned the HEA's handling of the case, which they say is a breach of academic freedom.

UK lecturers stage strike action

Further education college lecturers in the UK are taking strike action at the same time as school teachers and other public sector workers, according to BBC news. Staff from colleges across the country are campaigning for a 6% pay rise. Further Education Minister Bill Rammell expressed his disappointment at the action, which comes just before the beginning of a planned round of pay negotiations. Picket lines were set up at many colleges and lecturers joined forces with members of the National Union of Teachers at rallies across England. The University College Union fears a staffing crisis may be emerging with estimates that 200,000 new teaching staff will be needed by 2014.

Post-election violence against teachers in Zimbabwe

Education International, the worldwide body of educational trade unions, has called on the Zimbabwean authorities to respect human and trade union rights. This is after receiving reports that activists of the ruling Zanu-PF party threatened teachers and accused them of voting for the opposition. Since the disputed general elections held on 30 March, many teachers have been told to vacate their schools or to relocate while others have been threatened with unspecified action. Many teachers, who were deliberately deployed as polling officers in an effort to prevent them from voting, have been arrested or abducted by Central Intelligence Organisation operatives.

* Professor John Akker is executive director of the Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR). He lectures at London South Bank University.