News in brief - 19 September 2013

September 19, 2013

Taiwan
Wrong formula for libel

A court has dismissed a libel case against an academic whose research suggested that emissions from an industrial conglomerate’s chemical plants had raised cancer rates in Taiwan. In 2010, Ben-Jei Tsuang, an environmental scientist at National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, presented findings at scientific meetings and to government agencies showing elevated cancer rates in the town of Mailiao and linking them to emissions from plants owned by several companies belonging to the Formosa Plastics Group. In April 2012, two FPG companies sued Professor Tsuang for defamation. However, the court has dismissed the suit, stating that the scholar’s declarations were “fair comments on a fact subject to public criticism”, Nature reported. Despite the favourable outcome, the case has “had a chilling effect on Taiwan’s academic community”, said Severia Lu, a lawyer representing Professor Tsuang, Science reported.

United States
About that cash we promised…

A liberal arts college in Kentucky has missed out on one of the largest gifts in US higher education history after a $250 million (£160 million) donation was withdrawn, officials have confirmed. Centre College in Danville said the all-stock gift from the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust was linked to a “significant capital market event” that did not pan out. Consequently, the gift was withdrawn and a proposed scholarship programme at the college has been put on hold. “We’re not happy, in any shape or form, with this outcome,” John Roush, Centre College’s president, told Associated Press. The scholarship programme would have helped up to 160 students every year majoring in the natural and computational sciences.

Australia
Pressure on the fees cap

Australia’s new government could face pressure to deregulate student fees, according to analysts. Andrew Norton, higher education programme director at the Grattan Institute and an adviser in the office of Liberal education minister David Kemp in the 1990s, said any move on the cap was “far from certain”, The Australian reported. However, policy consultant Brendan Sheehan believed that fee deregulation was a “given”. “They (could) pull the subsidy altogether from things that they don’t see as economically essential,” said Mr Sheehan, who has run education ministers’ offices at the state and federal level.

Spain
Mixed reviews for ‘godfather’

A scheme that would involve “godfathers” helping out Spanish university students in financial difficulty has received a mixed response from the sector. The idea originated in July when the dean of the University of Málaga, Adelaida de la Calle, received a call from a pensioner offering to pay the fees of one student, The Local newspaper reported. “Just as it’s possible to sponsor a child, it would also be possible to ‘sponsor a student’ and pay their tuition fees,” said Professor De la Calle, who is also head of the Association of Spanish University Deans. The Federation of Spanish Students Associations welcomed the idea, but also said it “could only be a temporary measure” and that the state should “provide help and grants to students in need”. Ana García, secretary general of Spain’s Union of Students, said the proposal would lead to education becoming “a form of charity rather than a right”.

Canada
Anti-booze, but more so

A Canadian university is redoubling its efforts to reduce binge drinking and alcohol abuse despite being regarded as having one of the toughest policies in the country. Carleton University in Ottawa, whose strict policy has been adopted by other Canadian institutions, will introduce its new strategy this autumn. The decision comes in light of the fact that since the majority of first-year students are not of legal drinking age (19 in Ontario), Carleton students tend to drink in dorm rooms and off campus. Despite alcohol use decreasing, Ryan Flannagan, director of student affairs at Carleton, said that binge drinking remained a persistent problem, the Ottawa Citizen reported. Under the strategy, the university will aim to more effectively coordinate alcohol awareness campaigns, even involving parents in the months before their children enter college in an effort to promote responsible drinking.

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