News in brief

March 22, 2012

United States

State of the union: denied

A US governor has signed a bill prohibiting postgraduate students from forming unions at public universities in his state. Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, ratified the law after graduate research assistants at the University of Michigan attempted to form a union, the Detroit Free Press reported. Mr Snyder says in a statement that "while graduate-student research assistants provide valuable efforts for universities, they are students first and foremost...Considering them [as] public employees with union representation would alter the nature of the critical relationship between students and teachers."

India

Profitable growth

The number of private universities in India has risen steeply in the past six years, according to a report. While there were 20 private institutions in 2005, the figure grew to 107 last year, Private Universities in India: An Investment in National Development reveals. "Private...universities are capital efficient and self-sustaining enterprises for entrepreneurs and investors. Private education serves to bridge the employability gap for students and employers," argues the study, written by The Parthenon Group consultancy. Rupa Shah, former vice-chancellor of SNDT Women's University in Mumbai, said good private universities would motivate teachers and pay them better. "But there also needs to be an effective regulatory body to monitor these universities," she told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

Australia

Is the customer always right?

An academic has warned that a change in consumer law means that Australian universities could face lawsuits from students who fail their courses. Stephen Corones, professor of law at Queensland University of Technology, said the law enforced "consumer guarantees" on service providers. Universities therefore needed to manage student expectations carefully and put compliance programmes in place, the scholar told The Australian newspaper. Professor Corones acknowledged that students would find it difficult to prove that their failure was not down to their own shortcomings, but added that it was possible for people admitted into university with less academic preparation than others to argue that the institution was obliged to provide additional support to compensate.

United States

You can come for the right price

A US institution is introducing controversial two-tier course pricing in the face of stringent funding cuts, course closures and increased student demand. Santa Monica College will offer a selection of classes to students who initially missed out on places, but for a considerably higher price. The proposal has provoked protests from some commentators questioning the fairness of a two-tier education system, the Los Angeles Times newspaper reported. Under the proposal, the college would create a non-profit foundation to offer in-demand courses such as English and mathematics for $200 (£1) per unit. Currently, Californian community colleges charge $36 per unit. Administrators said the plan was a reaction to drastic state funding retrenchment that had forced the campus to cut back more than 1,000 classes since 2008. However, critics said higher-priced classes were tantamount to privatising the public institution.

Vietnam

Test case

The Vietnamese government is to punish 15 institutions that unlawfully admitted thousands of students. The Ministry of Education and Training recently discovered that the institutions, including the elite University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City, had enrolled students last summer without asking them to sit a foreign-language test - a ministry requirement. Hoang Thi Lan Phuong, a ministry official, said the institutions had intentionally ignored the rule and would be censured as a result, the Tuoi Tre News website reported. The universities have also been asked to discharge the affected students. Many of the institutions have blamed ambiguity in the memo outlining the test requirement, as it does not specify how it should be included in the admissions process. They added that they would be unable to discharge the students because they began their studies five months ago and had already paid half, or even all, of their tuition fees.

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