News in brief

July 14, 2011

China

Vicious circle of debt

Chinese universities racked up debts totalling about £25 billion between 1999 and 2010, according to a senior official. Liu Liyun, deputy director of the research institute of the National Audit Office of China, said that more than 1,100 institutions accounted for the debt, the Shanghai Daily reported. According to Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, the main reasons for the deficit were the overexpansion of university enrolment and the sector's ambitious construction programmes. Many institutions have borrowed money to pay off debts, exacerbating the situation. About 40 universities in Shaanxi Province alone have accumulated debts of more than 10 billion yuan (£1 billion), forcing the provincial government to allocate 1.65 billion yuan to help keep them afloat.

Iran

Sex segregation on the cards

The Iranian government may ban co-education in the country's universities. The National newspaper, based in Abu Dhabi, reported that Kamran Daneshjoo, the higher education minister, had ordered a study to assess the viability of enforcing gender segregation from September. Mr Daneshjoo is a strong advocate of separating male and female students, and has voiced concerns that Iran's universities "copy Western models in both form and content". Gender segregation has been enforced in all Iranian primary and secondary schools since the 1979 Islamic revolution, but universities have allowed the sexes to attend lectures together, provided they sit separately. Supporters of Mr Daneshjoo's proposals say that mingling "causes moral corruption" and distracts students from their studies.

Australia

Added extras - but sans subsidy

About a quarter of Australia's universities expect to be over-enrolled by more than 20 per cent this year, according to government figures. Estimates by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations also show that more than two-thirds of institutions plan to take on extra students without federal teaching subsidies to offset the costs. Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne, told The Australian: "The magnitude of some of the planned unfunded enrolment is worrying...The worst-case scenario is for an institution to over-enrol by 20 per cent or more...[then] its quality drops and it loses students in numbers through transfer and non-completion."

United States

Nurses prescribed damages

A group of 16 former nursing students have won a legal battle against their former institution after it failed to inform them that it had lost its national nursing accreditation. The students from Virginia Western Community College are the first among a larger group of 75 plaintiffs who claim to have been misled and defrauded during their two-year programmes, The Roanoke Times reported. After a nine-day trial, the jury awarded each of the 16 claimants $47,000 (£29,000). They also received $6,800 ($4,245) for breach of contract, apart from one who received $11,500 (£7,182). "It took perseverance and courage for these former nursing students to bring this lawsuit," said the plaintiffs' lawyer, John Fishwick.

Egypt

'Mubarak-era' leaders deposed

After months of protests, the Egyptian government has dismissed all serving university presidents from their positions. A council of ministers from the interim government approved a law last week that also established new selection processes for the positions, Al Ahram's website reported. The Ministry of Higher Education has submitted the amendments to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The amended law follows many days of demonstrations by faculty members across the country demanding that university heads from the "Mubarak era" be replaced. Prior to the announcement, representatives from the universities of Cairo and Ain Shams plus numerous other institutions had begun sit-ins demanding the removal of the incumbents and their replacement by elected leaders. Some of the legislative amendments have yet to be approved by the Supreme Council and protesters have said they will continue their sit-ins until all their demands are met.

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