News in brief - 2 May 2013

May 2, 2013

United States
Everything has its price

The governor of California wants to tie some state funding for its public universities to a host of reforms. Jerry Brown aims to attach the investment to requirements such as increasing by 10per cent the number of students transferring from community colleges and raising the percentage of students graduating within four years. Mr Brown, who has frequently said that California’s public universities should be leaner and cater for more students, also wants funding to help raise overall graduate numbers, the Los Angeles Times reported. He has formulated a strategic plan - seen by the newspaper - which updates his January budget proposal for overhauling higher education. The plan reaffirms his demand for a four- year freeze on tuition fees for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

We’re not standing for that

The Romanian education ministry has requested that universities nominate replacements for 19 members of the country’s principal research funding agency who resigned en masse in protest against retroactive grant cuts, Science reported. The members of the National Research Council (CNCS) stood down after government emails sent to CNCS grantees announced cuts to the 2013 instalment of multiannual research grants issued in 2011. Bogdan Onac, a palaeoclimatologist at the University of South Florida and one of the researchers affected, received an email in early April informing him that the 2013 tranche of his 2011 CNCS grant, which was worth $455,000 (£297,799), would be 45 per cent smaller than agreed. Other grant winners lost as much as 55 per cent, he said. The government defended the cuts, claiming that CNCS approval rates had been unsustainable.

United States
Economic peanuts, lose monkeys

An elite US university is to shut its controversial primate research facility, citing the tough economic climate. Harvard University is winding down operations at the New England Primate Research Center and aims to largely close the facility by 2015, Harvard Medical School said last week. It attributed the decision to difficult financial conditions for biomedical research funding and shifting long-term strategic plans, The Boston Globe reported. The centre drew controversy when four monkeys died as a result of animal-care failures between June 2010 and February 2012. The US Department of Agriculture investigated the centre and cited Harvard for violations of animal welfare rules. The medical school said that the closure decision was unrelated to those cases.

STEM uprooted?

The Australian government’s cuts to university funding risk exacerbating skills shortages because they are hitting science, technology, engineering and medical students hardest, it has been warned. The 2 per cent cut scheduled for next year, to be followed by a 1.25 per cent decrease in 2015, is a bid to save A$900 million (£606 million). The list of areas to be cut includes funding rates per student, The Australian reported, but because the rates vary, the most expensive disciplines will be hit disproportionately hard. Areas already largely funded by student contributions, such as business and law, will be less affected. “One of the great wins of the government’s demand-driven system has been the increase in STEM disciplines and yet the cuts seem to be punishing [them] most,” John Dewar, La Trobe University’s vice-chancellor, said.

Peace dividends

A US investment tycoon has pledged to help fund a $300 million (£196.6 million) scholarship programme at a Chinese university. Stephen Schwarzman, founder of investment company Blackstone, promised the money to Tsinghua University to allow international students the opportunity to study in China. It will be one of the largest donations made to a Chinese academic institution, The Nation reported. Mr Schwarzman is donating $100 million, with the rest to be raised from private donors to aid 200 scholars a year. He said he hoped the fund would help ease tensions caused by China’s meteoric economic rise. “I’m concerned with China growing at double or triple the rate of the West, that there will be tensions…one needs to do something to start addressing misunderstandings and frustration,” he said.

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