News in brief - 18 April 2013

April 18, 2013

New Zealand
Victory for Victoria

Victoria University of Wellington has claimed the top spot among New Zealand’s institutions in the research rankings released by the country’s Tertiary Education Commission. Its dominant position in the 2012 Performance-Based Research Fund Quality Evaluation marks a steady climb for Victoria, which rose from fifth place in 2003 and fourth place in 2006, the Dominion Post reported. It was also ranked first or second in 24 subject areas, an increase from 11 in 2006. The University of Auckland was ranked second and the University of Otago placed third in the national research league table. Pat Walsh, vice-chancellor of Victoria, said: “This validates the commitment of our staff to undertaking and disseminating world-class research.” In 2009, Victoria set itself a target to dramatically improve its research performance. The university has 678 staff actively involved in research, with 70 per cent of them operating at the highest levels.

Israel
In a spin over tuition fee rise

A row has developed in Israel over whether tuition fees at universities will rise as a result of cuts to higher education in the budget. The Israeli news website Haaretz reported that a discussion between student representatives and the Treasury about a tuition-fee rise was authorised, despite a denial by the finance minister, Yair Lapid, that there were no plans to raise fees. Mr Lapid wrote in a Facebook post that claims that the government would raise fees were “media spin” and the “oldest political trick”. He also said: “If I knew this would harm students, I would have driven to my own home to strike against myself.” However, Uri Rashtik, chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students, said he was told that if the students had agreed to a fee increase, the budget for higher education would in effect be spared any cuts.

India
Private door opens

Private institutions will be able to enter the higher education sector in the Indian state of Maharashtra after the state government approved new guidelines. The region, which includes the city of Mumbai, will not proceed with the original plan for a private universities bill later this year. There has been controversy over the proposed bill’s stipulation about how many places need to be reserved for underprivileged students. The new guidelines state that half of places at such institutions should be reserved for entrants from disadvantaged groups. The move will allow any private organisation to establish a university, although each institution will require legislative approval, The Times of India reported.

United States
Moocs, work your magic

A federal US official has argued that more Americans must graduate from college and has emphasised the need for a wider range of higher education options. In a speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Martha Kanter, undersecretary in the Department of Education, said that post- secondary education was vital to the country’s future, The Daily Cardinal reported. She also expressed concern about levels of student debt. As examples of welcome new avenues into higher education, Ms Kanter cited massive open online courses, which Wisconsin will offer this autumn, and the University of Wisconsin System’s Flex-Option degree, a self-paced programme that credits previous experience. Turning to the cost of study, she said the median student debt for US college graduates was $25,000 (£16,300) and that tax credits for post-secondary education “mostly advantage wealthier folks”.

Australia
Tangling with red tape

A 47-page survey sent to universities by Australia’s Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency is an example of the “dead weight of regulation” that is putting pressure on the sector, the Group of Eight has warned. The organisation, which represents some of Australia’s most research-intensive universities, described the “Quality assessment on third-party arrangements” form as onerous, saying that it would take up at least a month of a senior executive’s time at each institution. Fred Hilmer, chair of the Go8, said the survey had arrived at a time of “increasing concern about red tape as a barrier to productivity”. Teqsa said in a statement that it “would not be meeting its legislated obligations if it did not conduct [quality assessments]”, The Australian reported.

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