News in brief

February 2, 2012

United States

Fire report points finger at UCLA

A report into a 2008 laboratory fire that killed a 23-year-old research assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles is far more critical of the institution than the previous criminal investigation into the accident, according to the Los Angeles Times. The 95-page report by the California Department of Industrial Relations claims that Sheharbano Sangji was neither experienced enough nor sufficiently well trained in handling the chemicals that burst into flames and caused the blaze. The UC board of regents along with chemistry professor Patrick G. Harran were scheduled to appear before the Los Angeles County Superior Court on 2 February on three counts of wilfully violating workplace-safety standards. If found guilty, Professor Harran could face up to four and half years in prison and the board could be fined up to $4.5 million (£2.9 million). University officials have branded the accusations "unwarranted" and "appalling".


Siege broken by state security

A two-month siege of a Tunisian university has been broken by government security forces, the Associated Press has reported. The protesters who took control of Manouba University, just outside Tunis, were reported to be ultraconservative Muslims demanding that the university change its policy prohibiting female students from wearing the niqab during examinations. As a result of the protests, Manouba has been unable to hold exams since November. University officials claimed that academics had been threatened by the protesters, with the institution becoming a focal point for wider clashes between religious and secular groups in Tunisia.


Eat quietly to stop 'decay'

A code of conduct for students has been issued by Uzbekistan's Ministry of Higher and Secondary Special Education. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty described the rules as a government attempt to keep students in check. The code lays out guidelines for matters such as how to shake hands with professors and the correct time to take lavatory breaks during classes. The code, which must be signed by all students and scholars, also bans religious clothing and prohibits students from uploading content that is "not in line with national values" to internet sites such as YouTube. It instructs students not to be "noisy when taking meals" and not to walk around campus "with no reason". The code states that it aims to "prevent the decay of students", and the government claims that it is part of a drive to tackle extremism and drug addiction.


Open door opens wider

Taiwanese universities have relaxed the rules surrounding the admission of students from mainland China, according to the China Daily newspaper. Under the regulations, mainland students applying for graduate and doctorate programmes are no longer restricted by age (previously those over 40 were barred) and may choose up to five majors on each application, where previously they were permitted only one. Taiwan opened its doors to Chinese students last year and 937 people took up its offer to seek qualifications there. The registration period has been brought forward to immediately after the entrance exams for mainland graduate schools in a bid to drive up applications. The reforms were introduced following concerns that Taiwan's slow population growth and saturated educational market might make it hard for its universities to compete with those on the mainland.

United States

Central control

The governor of Massachusetts has proposed an overhaul of the state's 15 community colleges, The Boston Globe reports. The reforms would see authority over the institutions centralised, with a single board awarding funding on the basis of student numbers and performance. Governor Deval Patrick highlighted the importance of the colleges in meeting the "skill gap" that he said was stopping the state's 240,000 unemployed from filling the 120,000 job openings available. Bill Hart, executive director of the Massachusetts Community Colleges Executive Office, said more detail about the plan was needed: "The [college] presidents want to do whatever they can to strengthen the role community colleges play. If there's any way they can do things better and more efficiently, they'll want to do that."

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