News in brief

January 13, 2011

United States

High earners in pensions fight

The University of California is standing firm on its refusal to calculate the pensions of its highest-paid executives on their full salaries despite threats of legal action. Mark Yudof, UC president, and Russell Gould, chair of the board of regents, spoke out after 36 executives supported a letter threatening to sue the university. "While those who signed the letter are without question highly valued employees, we must disagree with them on this particular issue," the pair say in a joint statement. The aggrieved executives say that the university is reneging on a 1999 agreement by the regents to calculate retirement pay as a percentage of their entire salaries, instead of just the first $245,000 (£158,000). But the university contends that the higher rate was not automatically ensured under the resolution. The University of California is under intense financial pressure amid state funding cuts, which have prompted sharp rises in tuition fees.

Australia

Visa shift sparks outcry

The Australian government is facing a backlash by tens of thousands of overseas students angered by the tightening of the visa system, according to an official report. The Australian newspaper reported that the Department of Immigration told its incoming minister, Chris Bowen, of growing discontent on the issue. Some 455,000 foreign students held student visas when the government moved to review its points system and reserve the right to cap visa places for some occupations. About one-third of the 455,000 students could have expected to attain permanent residence after graduation, but the reforms would "render a majority of them ineligible", a departmental briefing says. "Even if their expectations of permanent residence have been unreasonably formed, this group is sizeable, many are aggrieved and they are beginning to mobilise," it adds.

Pakistan

Students blamed for blast

Several people were injured in a recent explosion at the main state-run university in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. The incident at the University of Karachi was thought to have been sparked by long-running tensions between student groups. Karachi police chief Fayyaz Leghari described it as a "low-intensity" blast, "most likely by a (fire)cracker", according to the Reuters news agency. Mr Leghari said three people were wounded in the incident, but a senior university official claimed that at least six were injured. The campus has been the scene of several violent clashes between rival student groups. The university spokesman said the latest incident may be related to these rivalries.

Canada

Lecturer sues employer over PhD

An academic is suing a Canadian institution over a degree granted to a student. Gabor Lukacs, assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba, is taking his employer to court over a PhD awarded to a student who failed a component of the degree. Professor Lukacs says his fight is motivated by concern about the dilution of academic standards at the institution. The university's dean of graduate studies waived a comprehensive exam requirement for the doctoral candidate, who said he failed the test because he suffered from "extreme exam anxiety", the CBC website reported. But "crusading academic" Professor Lukacs, who did not teach the student, launched a legal fight - and was suspended by the university for three months for making public details of the student's state of health.

Venezuela

Chávez kills widening-access bill

The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, has scrapped a bill that would have increased government oversight of the country's universities. The law "would have given central authorities greater control over the South American country's autonomous higher education institutions, where there has also been much criticism of Chávez's 21st-century socialist revolution", the Dow Jones newswire reported. Government officials argued that the proposed change would make admissions to universities more egalitarian by increasing access to applicants from poorer backgrounds. But students mobilised to fight the legislation, saying it infringed on academic freedom. Although the bill was passed by the National Assembly, it required final ratification by the president.

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