News in brief

January 20, 2011


Fewer students, more unity

Public universities in Taiwan are to merge as student numbers continue to decline in a country that has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. The Ministry of Education said last week that it planned two mergers, one of them involving the leading National Taiwan University, after parliament passed a bill allowing higher education institutions to team up to make better use of resources. The bill followed a recent forecast that about 60 colleges out of the country's 164 institutions could close by 2021 owing to the severe shortage of students, news agency AFP reported. Currently, there are about 300,000 young people eligible for university each year, but the number is expected to fall by a third in the next decade.


Palestinians cross border to study

Large numbers of Palestinian students are opting to study at universities in Jordan, according to figures from its Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. In 2008-09, the most recent year for which figures are available, 25 per cent of the 5,592 foreign students in Jordanian universities were Palestinian, more than any other nationality. Jamal Hussein, director general of the university education department in the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, told The Jordan Times that although there were 14 public and private universities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, many Palestinian students found it "safer and easier" to study in Jordan because of the security situation at home. The newspaper added that Jordan was actively encouraging more Palestinian students to choose to study for their degrees in the country.


Unrest leads to campus closures

Universities and schools were closed in Tunisia last week after a state of emergency was declared in the country. As the country's president was swept from power, unrest led to the indefinite closure of all educational establishments in a bid to prevent more clashes with the police, which have already resulted in a number of deaths. Students were among those taking part in the anti-government demonstrations, which the ousted former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali blamed on "gangs of thugs" taking orders from "foreign parties".


Another early exit at Concordia

The board of governors of a Canadian university has defended its actions after the abrupt and costly departures of two presidents in three years. Criticism is mounting after Judith Woodsworth stepped down as president of Concordia University halfway through her first term. Peter Kruyt, chairman of the board of governors, suggested that she "did not fit with the university's plans", the National Post reported. It said she would receive a C$700,000 (£453,000) severance package. Mr Kruyt said: "We aim to rank among Canada's top comprehensive universities within the next decade and to be a first-choice university for students and faculty in Canada and internationally in defined fields. It was in this context, and following discussions with members of the board, that Dr Woodsworth made the decision to resign." Her departure mirrors that of her predecessor, Claude Lajeunesse, in 2008, who also left after a run-in with the board. He was paid C$1.3 million in severance.


Solidarity with Belarus dissidents

The European Students Union took part in a demonstration in Brussels last week to raise awareness about the threat of a new wave of expulsions from universities in Belarus. The ESU said the arrests of political dissidents in the country were continuing, and there were signs that the government could be considering a repeat of the university expulsions of 2006, when more than 300 student dissidents were barred following protests against the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko. The Brussels protest follows a demonstration in Belarus last month that resulted in 650 people being arrested. The ESU said many students were among those held and they feared that they could be expelled from university for missing exams while they were imprisoned.

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