News in brief

September 30, 2010

United States

Biden vamps research cash

US vice-president Joe Biden has held a meeting with university leaders at the White House to draw attention to the $18 billion (£11.5 billion) in federal stimulus money put into academic research. Mr Biden said the spending was "among the most critical parts" of the stimulus effort, being key to job growth and the nation's continued global competitiveness, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. "Our economic future will grow from ideas that are incubating at universities," he said. "That's the breeding ground, and it always has been." Mr Biden said he was "always amazed" by critics who regard federal spending on research as a type of social intervention. He contrasted that attitude with countries such as China, where, he argued, leaders understand the need to invest in research.


Deaths at graduation ceremony

Two students at Zimbabwe's Bindura University are reported to have died after being assaulted by security guards trying to prevent people who had not paid their tuition fees from attending a graduation ceremony. Another 16 students were injured, according to the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU). The SW Radio Africa website said the violence came "two weeks after higher education minister Stan Mudenge said no student should be barred from sitting exams, harassed or victimised, for failing to pay fees". ZINASU said it "joins the families of the lost comrades in mourning and calls for the rest of the country to join hands in condemning this vile act".


Protests close state academies

Students and staff at Pakistan's 72 state-run universities have gone on an indefinite strike to protest against cuts in funding. "There was no academic activity in the universities and thousands of students and teachers took out (sic) rallies to press for their demands," said the Indo-Asian News Service. The agency said that agreed increases in government funding to the Higher Education Commission had not been paid out, with only 20 per cent of the current financial year's funding being received by the HEC. The cost of the relief effort for the devastating floods in Pakistan has proved another barrier to funding.


Boost for foreign intakes

The Irish government has announced plans to increase the number of international students the nation attracts by 50 per cent in the next five years. Taoiseach Brian Cowen, said it will be worth €1.2 billion (£1 billion) a year to the economy by 2015. "Part of the plan will be to assist non-European Economic Area graduates progress within the immigration system to utilise their skills for the benefit of the economy," reported the Irish website, BreakingNews. Mary Coughlan, Tanáiste and education minister, denied that Irish students would lose out.


Light touch for top rankers

The Group of Eight leading research-intensive universities is to establish Australia's first system of external examiners. The move aims to ensure that the country's new Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency does not impinge too heavily on the elite universities. Richard Henry, who serves on the Group of 8 academic policy committee and is deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at the University of New South Wales, was quoted in The Australian newspaper as saying that when TEQSA says that universities "deserve a light-touch approach, this is really a very proactive way of ... demonstrating standards". The Australian said that the system could begin next year.


Staff threaten walk-out

Academics at the University of Western Ontario are considering a strike over management moves that they say threaten academic freedom by weakening tenure. Some 200 members of the faculty union (UWOFA) voted to give the union's board authority to call a strike ballot, reported the weekly news magazine, Maclean's. According to UWOFA president James Compton, the university wants to implement a centralised review committee for evaluating and reviewing faculty job performance, staffed by senior administrators, which he called "a continual tenure review".

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