News in brief

December 15, 2011

United States

Probationary measures

A US higher education accreditation body has placed a university on probation for a year to deal with its financial problems. The measure placed on Fisk University by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is a more serious step than the "warning" sanction it handed out in December last year. Despite the judgement, Belle S. Wheelan, the commission's president, told The Tennessean newspaper that Fisk was worthy of accreditation and that its officials were working hard to solve its problems. Accreditation gives Fisk an academic stamp of approval and makes its students eligible for federal student loans. One of Fisk's proposed financial remedies - the sale of its 50 per cent share of a Georgia O'Keeffe art collection - has been held up by litigation.


That's not exactly what we said

A privately funded, university-based thinktank has come under fire from conservation biologists for allegedly misrepresenting their research. According to the academics, a report published by the Think Tank for Kangaroos (Thinkk), Advocating Kangaroo Meat: Towards Ecological Benefit or Plunder?, lacked academic rigour, contained factual errors and misrepresented research in an attempt to end kangaroo harvesting, The Australian reported. In a forthcoming article in a journal of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, the scholars also voice their concerns about how cash-strapped universities manage funding provided by organisations with an interest in research outcomes. Thinkk, hosted by the University of Technology, Sydney, is funded primarily by the Sherman Foundation and animal-welfare group Voiceless. The latter has called kangaroo harvesting "the largest massacre of land-based wildlife on the planet".


West Bank deposit to aid poor

An Israeli entrepreneur who set up an online university has opened an operations centre in the West Bank. Shai Reshef, founder of University of the People, said his agreement with ASAL Technologies, a Palestinian software and IT services company based in Ramallah, was the first stage of a plan to move the university's entire office to the disputed area. University of the People is a not-for-profit institution offering free online education to students in more than 120 countries, The New York Times reported. Students pay a one-time application-processing fee on a sliding scale depending on their income and country of residence. Mr Reshef recently initiated a fundraising drive to provide scholarships for its poorest students and to allow the university to become self-sustaining. "This is low-cost, high-quality education for people who can't afford anything else," he said.

United States

Trading majors

A US senator has said that university leaders should trade courses "like baseball cards" to make savings. Mike Haridopolos, president of the Florida Senate, warned the state's universities of forthcoming cuts and told them to look closely at their programmes to decide which ones to eliminate to save money, the Orlando Sentinel reported. "Higher education reforms are going to come," Mr Haridopolos said. "I would prefer that the college presidents sit around a table and literally start trading like baseball cards some of these majors." In October, Rick Scott, Florida's governor, controversially suggested that degrees in anthropology and journalism were useless in employment terms and called for state funds to be spent only on job-generating fields.

New Zealand

Fiscal aftershocks

The earthquake that hit Christchurch in February has left the city's university in financial trouble. The New Zealand Herald said the University of Canterbury "will rely on its implicit government guarantee to meet payments to investors on its unrated 10-year bonds after the earthquakes scared off students, seriously denting [its] finances". It is now in talks with the Tertiary Education Commission. "The university's case for support envisages a return to surplus within five to seven years," said Rod Carr, Canterbury's vice-chancellor. "However, this will depend on student enrolments." Canterbury broke new ground in 2009 by becoming "the only university to tap investors via a debt sale", the Herald said.

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