News in brief

January 6, 2011

United States

Republican ire at for-profit report

Republican congressmen have questioned a US government report that exposed recruiting fraud at for-profit higher education institutions. Darrell Issa and John Kline, the incoming Republican chairmen of two key House committees (oversight and education respectively) sent a letter to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) asking it to explain the circumstances surrounding its decision to amend the final report on for-profit colleges. The institutions and their Republican supporters argue that the changes in the report undermine its conclusions, but the GAO and Democrats insist the changes did not affect the report's overall message, The Chronicle of Higher Education said. In the letter, the Republicans suggest that the government watchdog did not live up to its own standards of "accountability, integrity, and reliability".

Italy

Unrest over reform bill grows

Fresh waves of student protests hit the streets of Italian cities as unrest over university reforms continues. There were protests in cities including Rome, Palermo, Naples, Milan and Turin as the Senate discussed the bill. The reform aims to cut the number of courses and faculties and reduce funding for grants, the Reuters news agency reported. It also looks to set time limits for research, to overhaul the admissions system, to increase the role of the private sector in governance and to limit the duration of rectorships. Critics, many of whom also support the principle of reforming the universities, say that the system has been starved of funds and that further cuts will endanger Italy's research capacity.

India

Academic fights obscenity charge

A senior professor has been charged by police in India for setting an exam question with "obscene content". Shad Ramzan, a professor of Kashmiri at Kashmir University, was questioned by police and charged over a translation question relating to "the biological facts pertaining to the female anatomy", the Press Trust of India reported. Professor Ramzan described the decision to press charges as "academic terrorism". He said: "I took this paragraph from a textbook of Unani medicine. The police should first book the author (of that textbook) and then they should book the people who prescribed it. They should also ban medical colleges ... because it is all being taught there."

Poland/Belarus

Support protesters, says minister

Poland's universities should admit Belarusian students who have been expelled from their institutions for protests against their president, Alexander Lukashenko, a leading politician has said. Barbara Kudrycka, Poland's minister of science and higher education and a professor of administrative law at the University of Bialystok, made the call in a letter to rectors of Polish universities. "In the face of the recent disturbing actions by the Belarusian authorities, which involved the violation of fundamental rights and civil liberties, which also affected professors and students, I call for Polish universities, for which freedom is the highest value, to express their solidarity with Belarusian students," she writes. Poland's Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Foreign Ministry would offer the students financial support, Professor Kudrycka added.

China

State control criticised

The main problem with China's higher education system is state control over the selection and enrolment of students, according to the founder of a university. Zhu Qingshi, president of Shenzhen South University of Science and Technology, said in an interview with China Central Television that the national college entrance examination was the root of the problem. "The degree-granting mode is what the planned economy has left for us. The bottleneck for the (Shenzhen South University of Science and Technology) is degree-granting issues," Professor Zhu said. The university, which has yet to receive authorisation from the Ministry of Education, has taken matters into its own hands. When it announced a first experimental enrolment of 50 students, 600 parents showed up with their children to apply. Professor Zhu said that instead of concentrating on good teaching, too many institutions focus on ministry authorisation and public relations.

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