News in brief - 3 October 2013

October 3, 2013

United States
Ill-fated rating

A credit ratings agency has downgraded a US university, citing loss of revenue from its hospital arm and cuts in federal funding among the reasons. Moody’s Investors Service re-evaluated Howard University from A3 (a low credit risk) to Baa1. This means that the agency considers the $290 million (£180 million) in revenue bonds issued by the private institution in Washington, DC to be a moderate risk to investors. Moody’s also warned that the rating comes with a negative outlook, meaning further downgrades are possible, The Washington Post reported. Sidney A. Ribeau, Howard’s president, said the university had put in place “a robust strategy” to boost operational efficiency and to undertake long-term structural improvements.

Going underground

Two of Singapore’s public universities have completed preliminary studies on expanding their campuses by developing the space beneath them. Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore have investigated the possibility of building underground lecture theatres, laboratories, sports facilities and performance halls, while Singapore Management University has already constructed a basement-level space linking its main surface-level buildings. The New York Times reported that a group of NTU researchers has spent the past year gathering available data on the university’s surface topography and sub-surface geology. They found that the campus offers opportunities for underground development.

No room for manoeuvre

An Indian university may have to shelve plans to develop a campus in Hyderabad after the government allotted just over a sixth of the money requested by the institution. The English and Foreign Languages University had asked the Ministry of Human Resource Development for Rs6 billion (£60 million) to procure land from the state government to accommodate the expansion plan, but it was given only around Rs1.6 billion under the 12th Five-Year Plan. Officials are planning to appeal to the ministry for a one-off grant to underwrite the development’s infrastructure. “A new campus is a necessity and not a luxury…as the current campus is suffocating” because of overpopulation, said Syed Sayeed, a spokesman for the university.

Misplaced honour?

A Thai university has been criticised for its decision to award an honorary degree to the Indonesian minister of religious affairs in light of his record on promoting religious tolerance. Activists condemned the Princess of Naradhiwas University for giving the degree to Suryadharma Ali for his role in creating religious tolerance, given his often “counterproductive” statements on the subject. Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence in Indonesia, said that Dr Ali’s regulations had disrupted religious harmony in the country. He also accused the minister of being reluctant to take a stand against discrimination, especially that targeting minority groups, the Jakarta Globe reported.

United States
Fixing a hole first

Jerry Brown, the governor of California, has warned one of the state’s university systems to improve its infrastructure before increasing student numbers. Mr Brown used a budget debate with California State University trustees last week to suggest that fixing leaking roofs was more important than boosting enrolment. He also repeated his call for more online education. The discussion arose after the board presented a preliminary budget plan seeking an additional $250 million (£160 million) in state funding next year, the Los Angeles Times reported. University officials said the extra money would be used to admit an additional 20,000 students, increase course offerings and expand advisory and other programmes to help the cohort succeed. But Mr Brown questioned whether the 430,000-strong student system was overreaching in its enrolment plans. “If you take more people than you’re already serving, you’re going to expand the need for space, gas, electricity,” he said. “It sounds like buildings need to be taken care of before you bring more students in.”

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