News in brief

June 17, 2010

United States
The borrowers

Hard-up public universities in a US state will be able to borrow millions of dollars to stay open and pay staff. Pat Quinn, governor of Illinois, has signed into law a measure allowing its public universities to borrow up to three-quarters of the money owed to them by the state. "Lawmakers say the state owes more than $730 million (£500 million) to nine public universities, including more than $430 million to the University of Illinois, which required its faculty and administrators to take 10 unpaid days off this spring," the Chicago Tribune newspaper reported. Glenn Poshard, president of Southern Illinois University, said the only way to help struggling universities was to let them take out loans. Dr Poshard, who said his university had instituted a hiring freeze, estimated it will borrow about $80 million. The loans must be repaid within a year. "It's like the perfect storm," he said. "The bill is critical to getting us through the July and August payrolls."

Czech Republic
Fees on centre-right agenda

All three parties in a potential Czech centre-right coalition want to introduce university tuition fees. The Prague Daily Monitor newspaper said that the position on fees had been confirmed by negotiators from the Civic Democrats (ODS), TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV) parties. "We are outlining a model of postponed, socially sensitive tuition fees, together with loans for students," said Walter Bartos, a member of the ODS. Students would probably repay the loans only after graduating. Bohuslav Sobotka, acting chairman of the majority Social Democrat Party, said it would do its utmost to prevent the centre-right parties from pushing their plan through.

21st-century cheats

Students have been caught using wristwatch receivers and earphones to cheat in China's intense system of national university examinations. Seven students in northwest China's Gansu Province were found to have used high-tech devices to cheat in the exam. The students scored zero marks and police detained three people who allegedly sold the devices to them. Supervisors "found wireless earphones as well as ruler- and wristwatch-like receiving devices on the students," the Xinhua news agency said. It added: "The annual two-day exam, or gao kao in Chinese, is the only opportunity for high school students to win a place at university, making it the most important test most will ever sit in their lives." More than 9 million people sat this year's exam and about 6 million will be enrolled at the nation's universities.

Funding for a 'win-win-win-win'

The head of Universities Australia has called on both major political parties to consider higher education as a funding priority as they prepare for this year's federal election. Glenn Withers said that while he is satisfied with current funding levels, he is concerned about budget projections that could take Australia back to "the bad old days", ABC Online reported. Dr Withers said Labor and the Coalition had to recognise the pay-off from giving universities appropriate funding. "(They) contribute mightily to the economy and that's sometimes not appreciated," he said. "They are also seen as enhancing cultural engagement, environmental sustainability and social opportunity ... they do the lot. Universities are a remarkable win-win-win-win, if I could put it that way."

Republic of Ireland
Rock, meet hard place

A confidential working paper drawn up by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) warns that courses will have to be axed. The Irish Independent newspaper reported that the document "says funding and staffing cutbacks have resulted in a reduction in tutorials, and class sizes of up to 200 students. The universities are caught between the 'rock' of a surge in student numbers and the 'hard place' of cutbacks in staff." Ireland has drastically cut public spending in the wake of the global financial crisis. Attempts by universities to undertake limited staff recruitment while improving staff-to-student ratios have proved unsuccessful. "This is especially notable in respect of candidates from the US, where we are uncompetitive in terms of securing high-quality academics and researchers," the IUA paper says.

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