News in brief - 11 July 2013

July 11, 2013

United States
Fish rots from financial head?

Senior academics at a US university believe that its financial management “is doing irreparable harm” to the institution and urge the dismissal of its chief financial officer, a leaked letter shows. The council of deans at Howard University in Washington DC claims that staff cuts have been based on “inaccurate” data, lament a decline in research expenditure and contend that a “burdensome” tuition fee increase has driven students away, according to the letter obtained by The Washington Post. It says that Howard’s external auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, has “grave” concerns about the “quality of fiscal decision-making” at the university. The council criticises the “fiscal direction” of Robert M. Tarola, an independent contractor who serves as Howard’s senior vice-president for administration, chief financial officer and treasurer. The university’s president, Sidney A. Ribeau, rejected the allegations, saying that Howard was making tough calls to secure its future and that it remained in a strong position.

Mover and shaker

The number of research publications produced in Pakistan has risen by 57 per cent in the past two years, the second highest increase globally, from 3,939 to 6,200. Scimago, a firm that assesses the scientific influence of scholarly journals, forecasts that if this trend were to continue, by 2018 Pakistan would move up 26 places in Scimago’s world rankings for research publications, from 43 to – ahead of Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand for the first time, The Nation reported. The number of PhD-level academics at Pakistan’s public universities has increased by almost 50 per cent over the same period, the firm adds.

U-turn if we need to

The Australian government may forsake its target to increase university participation after its newly reinstated higher education minister warned that rapid growth in enrolments over the past three years had potentially compromised quality. Kim Carr, who returned to the federal brief after Kevin Rudd’s return as prime minister earlier this month, indicated that the government was prepared to abandon its quest to have 40 per cent of young citizens holding at least a bachelor’s degree by 2025, a goal adopted in light of the landmark Bradley Review of Australian higher education. Although this would mark a reversal in policy, it would lift budgetary pressures to fund hundreds of thousands of places by reinstating caps on how many students universities can enrol, The Australian reported. The sector has been ramping up pressure on the government to review the demand-driven system after being hit with A$3.8 billion (£2.3 billion) in cuts since last autumn.

Centurions, raise the standards

The Indian government is planning to give universities that are more than 100 years old “special heritage” status, a one-time grant of up to Rs600 million (£6.6 million) and greater administrative and academic autonomy. There is concern in the government that the quality of provision has suffered during the sector’s expansion, with private providers favouring commercial goals and public institutions developing a “systemic allergy” to promoting excellence, The Times of India reported. Ministers hope that special heritage universities will rejuvenate their academic environments and raise standards in the sector.

United States
Mississippi earning

Public universities in a US state will raise tuition by more than 6 per cent on average this autumn, an amount they say is needed to mitigate the long-lasting effects of state aid cuts during the recession. State College Board figures in Mississippi show that the average price of two terms of full-time tuition and fees will rise by around $381 (£250) to $6,329. In early 2012, the board voted on a two-year tuition plan but did not revisit the subject this year, the Associated Press reported. Hank M. Bounds, commissioner for higher education in Mississippi, said that the state’s universities were given the option to change their plans this spring, but none had done so. “We recognise that [the rises] place a burden on students and we are doing everything we can to minimise increases,” the commissioner said.

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