News in brief - 12 December 2013

December 12, 2013

Australia
Oppositional position

Cuts of A$2.3 billion (£1.3 billion) to Australian universities planned by Labor when in government are unlikely to go through after the party, now in opposition, announced that it would oppose them. The plans provoked bitter opposition from universities when they were proposed earlier this year as a way to raise revenue to finance school reforms. The cuts included a A$900 million “efficiency dividend”, the conversion of some scholarships into loans and the removal of discounts on tuition fees paid up front. The country’s centre-right Liberal-National Coalition government, which came to power in September, has pledged an extra A$1.2 billion to schools, but has declined to continue school reform beyond the first year of a six-year programme. This has prompted Labor to remove its support for the university cuts, which have not yet been approved by Australia’s Parliament. Together with the Greens, which have always opposed the plans, the party has enough votes to block the measure.

United States
Decline and fall

US universities’ spending on research dropped last year for the first time in almost four decades, according to a survey by the National Science Foundation. Although spending on higher education research and development in all fields totalled $65.8 billion (£40.2 billion) in 2012, this represented a 1.1 per cent decline compared with 2011. “This represents the first constant-dollar decline since [fiscal year] 1974 and ends a period of modest growth during FYs 2009–11,” the survey states. The report adds that federal spending for higher education R&D declined from $40.8 billion in 2011 to $40.1 billion in the fiscal year 2012.

Israel
Wages of inequality

Female staff at an Israeli university are paid almost 20 per cent less than their male counterparts, a study has discovered. The average salary for women at Tel Aviv University – who account for 30 per cent of the institution’s senior faculty – is 17 per cent lower than that of male employees, according to the study initiated by a group of senior academics at the institution. The survey used data provided by Tel Aviv’s administration. “In higher education, a system that is so bureaucratic and structured, wage differentials should be much smaller,” said Hadas Mandel, senior lecturer in the department of sociology and anthropology at Tel Aviv, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

Denmark
Home bias

The Danish government has admitted to treating international students applying to the country’s universities unfairly. In a reply to a parliamentary question on 2 December, Morten Østergaard, the higher education minister, said that International Baccalaureate students who had their marks converted to the Danish upper-secondary equivalent, STX, have been undermarked since 2007 – the year Denmark introduced its seven-point grading scale for school results. The government converts IB marks to the STX according to a distribution curve based on the students’ predicted performance, The Copenhagen Post reported. Danish students have consistently performed better than expected; however, as the curve was not adjusted to reflect this, IB students received undeservedly low STX scores.

United States
Safe from racial harm

The US is the safest place for Indian students to study without fear of encountering racism, a diplomat has asserted. Nelson Wu, consular manager at the US Consulate in Chennai, added that people should not be perturbed by one or two isolated incidents of prejudice, The Times of India reported. “Actually, the universities in the US are encouraging diversity and celebrating it across the nation,” he said. “There is no need for any apprehension for Indian students on the issue of racism.” Mr Wu was speaking as part of a three-member consular information unit that addressed a student outreach event at the Camford International School in Tamil Nadu. He added that at any given time, more than 100,000 Indian students study in the US, more than any overseas student group save the Chinese.

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