News in brief

January 3, 2013

United States

Brains trust

A businessman has pledged $200 million (£123 million) to a US university to establish an institute for neuroscience research. Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman and co-founder of real estate company Boston Properties, promised Columbia University the sum to endow the Mind Brain Behavior Institute, helping to support 65 faculty members and eventually 1,000 scientists and staff, the Bloomberg news agency reported. The institute will be based at the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, which is currently being built at Columbia's new Manhattanville campus in New York. "This is an investment in accomplished scholars whose collective mission is both greater understanding of the human condition and the discovery of new cures for human suffering," Mr Zuckerman said. "I [can't] think of anything more important than that."

Australia

Equity release

An Australian university is to create its own centre for equity in higher education, despite government plans to devise a national project. Caroline McMillen, vice-chancellor of the University of Newcastle, said the institution would build its own centre because of its track record in teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds, The Australian reported. It has made the decision despite the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education currently assessing tenders to replace a defunct centre at the University of South Australia. Professor McMillen said that the centre could help Newcastle to become even better at widening participation. "Some 25 per cent of our students are from low socioeconomic backgrounds...and we needed to take that strong practitioner base and add a strong policy base to it," she added.

United States

Virtual institution

The board of governors of a US state university system is considering making its next public university online only. Florida State University governors said earlier this year that they would create a 12th institution within the system and had already begun discussing the requirement for a 13th. Will Weatherford, Florida speaker in the House of Representatives, recently challenged the board to consider creating an online-only institution to increase access to distance learning, The Miami Herald reported. Last month, the governors discussed such a move following the results of an independent study on the topic by the Parthenon Group. However, in a written response to the study, state university provosts say they have "serious concerns" about creating a new university, such as the cost, competition with existing programmes and more bureaucracy.

Russia

The weak shall perish

The Russian government is planning to close struggling institutions and increase funding for the best in a massive shake-up of its academy. Hundreds of underachieving universities will lose state support, with funding concentrated on a smaller number of high performers, Nature reported. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, demand for degrees has soared and the number of public and private universities in the country has doubled to about 1,100. However, higher education experts and employers have voiced concerns over the poor quality of many university programmes, and suggest that no more than 50 institutions meet international standards. To identify weak universities, the Ministry of Education and Science commissioned an external audit of almost 600 public higher education institutions. Nearly 500 were deemed inadequate on criteria such as research intensity and productivity.

India

Together we're better

Indian higher education needs to bridge the gaps between the sciences to facilitate the advancement of interdisciplinary knowledge, a leading computer scientist has claimed. Vijay Bhatkar, one of India's most renowned scientists, made the comments at the inaugural session of the 17th national conference of the Indian Aerobiological Society. He cited an example of how it would be impossible to achieve progress in cellular science or mathematical modelling without the use of computers, and that it was essential for biology to be taught to engineering students and vice versa, The Times of India reported.

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