News in brief

June 16, 2011


Plans to enshrine freedom in law

Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has unveiled plans for legislation that would explicitly protect academic freedom. Under the proposals, the 2003 Higher Education Support Act would be altered to include protection for free intellectual enquiry, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported. It would also stipulate that universities must have policies upholding academic freedom in order to receive state funding. The proposals follow a commitment on the issue made by the Labor Party last year, as well as intensive lobbying by the National Tertiary Education Union. Jeannie Rea, the union's president, said the changes were "an explicit acknowledgement that university staff have a right and a responsibility to exercise free intellectual enquiry, including the right to expression of controversial or unpopular opinions without being disadvantaged or discriminated against".


Students cut down by blast

At least two students are reported to have been killed and two policemen injured in an explosion last week at Kandahar University in Afghanistan. Hazrat Mir Totakhil, the university's chancellor, said that the casualties were caused when a bomb attached to a motorcycle exploded in a campus car park. Police subsequently found another booby-trapped bike and when they attempted to defuse it the device went off, injuring two of them, according to reports. Kandahar has been a target for terrorist attacks in the past two years after the US government pledged to build up Afghanistan's higher education institutions.


Cheat trick ends behind bars

Authorities in China have detained 62 people for selling electrical devices to help students cheat on the nationwide college-entrance examination, known as the gao kao. The devices included two-way radios and wireless headphones. The Ministry of Education said that the detentions had been timed to protect the exam's integrity. More than 9 million high school students sat the test last week, which is highly competitive and decides which university they will attend. The exam was described by the Global Times newspaper as "one of the fairest social institutions in China" and "a great leveller".


The more the merrier

The European Students' Union has hailed the record number of Erasmus grants being allocated, but said that it wanted to see even more of them in the future. According to a report by the European Commission, 213,000 students received Erasmus grants to study abroad during the 2009-10 academic year. The figure is the highest ever, and represents a 7.4 per cent increase on the previous year. However, the average monthly Erasmus grant received by students fell by about 7 per cent to €254 (£2) owing to higher numbers of people receiving support. Bert Vandenkendelaere, the ESU's chair, said: "We need this surge of available grants, but let's also invest in the quality and size of the (that the chance to study abroad) becomes one for all European citizens and not only the elite." The three most popular student destinations were the UK, France and Spain.


Plus ça change for protesters

A number of students were injured in Cairo during clashes with security guards at the Ministry of Higher Education as a long-running protest was forcibly dispersed. Students have been demonstrating outside the ministry for several months, calling on it to lower the minimum grades required to get into engineering and business schools. In response to the refusal of officials to meet to discuss their demands, a group of the protesters declared a sit-in at the ministry, which went on for nine days before it was broken up. The Al Masry Al Youm newspaper reported that security officials used fire hoses and rocks last week to break up the protest. "The ministry promised to lower the (grades required), but they stayed the same. This is completely unfair for us," said Mahmoud al-Toughy, one of the protesters. Another witness is quoted as saying: "The security has harassed and beaten those students. This is unacceptable: the revolution hasn't changed anything."

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