News in brief - 4 July 2013

July 4, 2013

United States
STEM cell aims to raise standards

An organisation representing 62 elite US universities has selected eight members to serve as project sites for a five-year initiative aimed at improving the quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The Association of American Universities’ STEM project was conceived in 2011 and designed to encourage members to adopt “proven, evidence-based teaching practices” and to provide academics with the “encouragement, training, and support to do so”, an online statement says. The institutions, including Brown University and the University of California, Davis, were chosen from 31 AAU members that submitted concept papers based on criteria such as staff engagement and commitment to assessment. The initiative received a $4.7 million (£3.1 million) three-year grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust last October.

Blind growth

An Indian higher education teachers’ union has accused the Rajasthan state government of “opening new universities blindly”. The All Rajasthan Universities Teachers Association said that the government was ignoring the development of existing institutions in its haste and raised concerns over their outdated curricula, poor infrastructure and ill-equipped laboratories and libraries, The Times of India reported. “Pumping [money into] new universities at a time when Rajasthan University’s chemistry department building collapsed due to heavy rain is highly illogical,” said B. D. Rawat, president of the union. The student-teacher ratio in some existing institutions is around 300:1, he added.

Selection pressure

The process to pick the president of a leading Chinese university has been criticised for not being transparent enough. The top post at Zhejiang University, which has been vacant for several months, is decided by the Communist Party’s central committee and the Ministry of Education. However, the process has been condemned by Zhejiang alumni worldwide, who have started an internet campaign in protest, the Xinhua news agency reported. The campaign was kicked off by a student who posted an open letter online calling for alumni to oppose the possible appointment of Lin Jianhua, president of Chongqing University, considered the most likely candidate for selection. The critic argued that Professor Lin lacks the academic background needed to carry on Zhejiang’s “distinguished cultural legacies”.

Guilty as charged

A former lecturer at an Australian university has pleaded guilty to raising the examination grades of students who would otherwise have failed. Foong Tuck Cheong pleaded guilty in Perth Magistrates Court last week to three charges of corruption and two counts of bribery after increasing the marks of two students at Curtin University who should have failed their applied science in construction management units. The case followed a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation into the offences committed last year, the Australian Associated Press reported. One student paid Foong A$3,000 (£1,815) and the other shelled out A$1,500. For a third student, Foong, a former lecturer in Curtin’s construction and management department, increased the mark on one assignment and gave him a pass on another, even though the project had not been submitted.

Road ahead blocked

A state-owned university in Kenya has closed indefinitely after refusing to meet with protesters to discuss outstanding student fees. Students obstructed a road in protest at the decision by officials at the Multimedia University College of Kenya to send on academic leave all undergraduates who owed fees until they could pay the balance, The Star reported. After the students’ dispersal by riot police, the protesters requested a meeting with university management in a bid to convince them that the money owed would be paid. However, Multimedia University College declined. After a second student demonstration, the institution’s senate issued the protesters with letters asking them to leave the university until further notice.

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