News in brief

February 21, 2013

United States
Legal challenge

Representatives from the US legal profession have called for drastic changes in law education, including more practical training. The proposals come in the wake of evidence of a sharp drop in law school applications and large numbers of underemployed and heavily indebted law graduates, even as a high percentage of Americans’ legal needs go unmet. “There is almost universal agreement that the…system is broken,” said Thomas W. Lyons III, a Rhode Island lawyer and member of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education. Despite a few law schools making changes such as increasing hands-on learning, critics say the system cannot solve its own problems, partly because of the vested interests of tenured professors tied to an antiquated system, The New York Times reported.

Massive gift for the gifted

An entrepreneur has donated A$50 million (£33.2 million) to his alma mater to fund undergraduate scholarships. Graham Tuckwell, chairman and founder of ETF Securities, an investment company, has given the sum with his wife Louise to Australian National University. The gift is said to be the largest in the sector’s history and will be known as the Tuckwell Scholarship programme, The Australian reported. “We wanted it to be a national programme, so from our perspective it was best done at the National University in Australia,” Mr Tuckwell said. The programme will operate from 2014, paying A$20,000 annually to 25 starting undergraduates for up to five years. It will target students who are “innately smart”, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, Mr Tuckwell added.

Privatisation exposed

A number of semi-naked male students gathered outside Thailand’s parliament last week to protest against the privatisation of their university. The students from Kasetsart University demanded that all parties be consulted on the plans before a decision is taken. The protesters wrapped banners around the lower half of their bodies and held placards opposing the privatisation, the Bangkok Post reported. Nipitpon Kamyos, an engineering student who led the protest, submitted a letter to Somsak Kiatsuranont, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Tuang Anthachai, chairman of the Senate Committee on Human Rights and Freedom, asking them to order the university’s executives to postpone plans to consider the Kasetsart University Bill, which would make the institution autonomous.

Political reversal

Israel’s higher education supervisory body has reversed a controversial decision to close a university politics department whose members had been labelled by far-Right activists as anti-Zionists out to harm the country. The Council for Higher Education’s decision last year to close the department at Ben-Gurion University rather than make the changes called for by a quality assessment of Israeli politics departments was met with widespread opposition. In September, more than 300 academics signed a petition protesting against the closure. “We sense that academic freedom in Israel’s higher education system is in severe danger,” said the petition, initiated by Gilad Haran, full professor in the department of chemical physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. After a legal appeal by Ben-Gurion, the council announced that the university had three weeks to commit to amending the shortcomings identified by the assessment and promised to review the closure, Haaretz reported. After the commitment was submitted, the council reversed its decision.

United States
Moocs apocalypse

A senior business academic has claimed that the US academy is “on the edge of the crevasse” in financial terms. Clayton Christensen, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, made the comments in an interview with the magazine Wired, warning of the threat from online learning. “I think higher education is just on the edge of the crevasse,” he said. “Generally, universities are doing very well financially, so they don’t feel from the data that their world is going to collapse. But I think even five years from now these enterprises are going to be in real trouble.”

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