News in brief

December 9, 2010

India

Turn it up to six, protests demand

Thousands of staff from about 200 universities took part in a march to demand that the Indian government increase its investment in education. The protesters, who gathered in Delhi, called for the allocation of 6 per cent of the gross domestic product to education and for university education to be saved "from the onslaught of private and foreign direct investment", according to the Indo-Asian News Service. Bhabani Hota, a former MP and president of the All India University Employees' Confederation, said: "Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi committed to allocate 6 per cent, but nothing of the sort was done. Again, the United Progressive Alliance government committed to do so in 2004...However, the fund allocation is still only 2.6 per cent. If the private sector is given a free hand, large sections of the people in this country would be deprived of access to higher education."

Canada

Pensions are down in the hole

University pension plans in Canada have "fallen into a collective C$2.6 billion (£1.6 billion) hole and may have no choice but to cut services to begin climbing back out". That was the warning from The Globe and Mail newspaper, which said new provincial laws will force universities to find money to plug the pension deficits at a time of limits on tuition fee increases and unstable endowment income. A survey of "more than 20" universities by the newspaper showed a combined pension plan solvency deficit of at least C$2.59 billion. For some institutions, those figures dated from before 2008, meaning the impact of the financial crisis could have worsened the situation.

Australia

Visa move spares universities

Universities in Australia have been spared from a visa clampdown, but colleges are threatening the immigration minister with legal action after they were hit. "The changes have split the overseas student sector and sparked recriminations amid concerns that students will shift from vocational colleges...into higher education providers such as universities," The Australian newspaper said. Universities Australia, which represents the country's 39 universities, welcomed the changes, which saw higher education diplomas and advanced diplomas moved into a subclass that offers applicants easier access to visas. But Brisbane-based private provider Kelly Colleges is seeking an injunction to stop the changes.

Italy

The legions march

Students marched through Italian cities in protest against education reforms, blocking roads and railway lines in some of the biggest demonstrations in the country for decades. The reforms - which include spending cuts and set time limits on research - were approved by the lower house of Parliament and now move to the Senate for approval, the Reuters news agency reported. Thousands of students streamed through central Rome, chanting and waving banners bearing slogans such as "education is on its knees"; some threw eggs, vegetables, bottles and fireworks towards Parliament. The reforms include changes that the government believes will usher in a more merit-based system, such as capping the term of rectors at six years instead of lifelong terms. Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, described the protests as the work of left-wing extremists. "The real students are at home studying," he added.

South Africa

Open anger over unemployment

A graduate of one of South Africa's top universities attracted attention for a scathing open letter to the minister of higher education and training, in which he describes the woes of black graduates such as himself who are unable to find jobs. Fikile Dube, who graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2004 with a degree in human resource management, writes in his letter to Blade Nzimande: "I am an unemployed graduate, a product of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) with more than five years in the labour market, seemingly with no prospect of ever getting a job, and the interest on the NSFAS loan accumulating (such) that I am in serious debt even before I get employed." Mr Dube told The Globe and Mail newspaper that his debt had doubled from R40,000 (£3,649) in five years.

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