News in brief

October 27, 2011

South Africa

State steps in at Walter Sisulu

A third South African university has been placed in government administration after landing in financial difficulties. Hundreds of staff at Walter Sisulu University went on strike last week after the institution's 2,000 employees were told that they would not be paid this month. Siyabulela Mnyaiza, the university's acting executive director of human resources, said the institution had been "unable to raise sufficient capital to meet its financial obligations". The strikers are members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union based at Walter Sisulu's Butterworth and Buffalo City campuses. The move to place the institution into administration follows similar interventions at the University of Zululand and the Tshwane University of Technology earlier this year.

United States

Accounting errors of omission

The practice of levying fees from students for a host of specific services has come under scrutiny at a US university, where auditors have found that revenue is often poorly accounted for. Last year, the University of Utah increased its "student recreation" fee, even though its recreation fund, used mainly to pay for sports clubs, had a balance of more than $1 million (£633,000). It also levied a fee to support a money-management advisory service that few students use, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Now an audit has found that Utah does a poor job of accounting for the $.4 million it reaps in student fees annually and has no clear rationale for some charges. The inquiry was ordered by the Republican state representative Curtis Oda and follows a string of legislative investigations into how universities handle money, the Tribune reported.


Arctic funding levels melt

The Canadian federal government has slashed its funding to the University of the Arctic, forcing the online organisation to scale back its operations. It was set up in 2001 and is made up of more than 120 institutions across the circumpolar region, including 33 in Canada. It receives funding from the Finnish and Norwegian governments as well as Canada's, which has cut its contribution from about C$700,000 (£436,000) to $150,000. CBC News reported that aboriginal students would be hardest hit by the decision. "You have a lot of aboriginal students in the North and they don't do as well when they come to a large southern institution. They will be more successful taking these courses online in their own communities," said James Stauch, vice-president for programmes and operations at the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, which works to improve Arctic governance.


Birth pangs of a new problem

Pregnant international students are being refused medical care by Australian universities, it has been claimed. The nation recently announced changes to its student-visa system to make it more welcoming to fee-paying international students after a difficult period in which demand fell following a series of attacks on students from the Indian subcontinent. However, the latest scare for the sector is the question of non-emergency medical care such as obstetrics and gynaecology, The Australian reported, which is being withheld from foreign students irrespective of whether they have medical insurance. The Council of International Students Australia said students had also been refused pregnancy-related treatment by three Melbourne hospitals, as well as large public hospitals in Perth and Adelaide.

United States

Let's hear the bang for our buck

Florida's public universities have been given a warning on funding after the state's governor said he does not know "why our universities cost what they cost". Rick Scott, the Republican governor, wants to know where the state's graduates are employed, how much they earn and what academics are paid. He has sent a letter to Florida's 11 state university leaders with 17 requests for data, surveys and other information, The Miami Herald reported. In a radio interview, Mr Scott said: "The growing jobs in our state over the next 10 years are going to be science, technology, engineering and math-degree jobs. So what are we doing? What percentage of our graduates are in those areas? How are we promoting that?...That's the type of thing I'm asking for."

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