News in brief

March 29, 2012

United States

Fine not dandy

A federal judge has reduced a fine levied last year against a US university for campus safety violations. Washington State University was originally fined $82,500 (£52,000) by the Department of Education for improperly reporting two sexual assaults in 2007 in violation of the Clery Act - a campus crime reporting law, The Bellingham Herald newspaper reported. Earlier this month, judge Ernest Canellos reduced the fine to $15,000, concluding: "There was no evidence of a fraudulent intent by anyone associated with the erroneous submissions - in fact, there was no evidence of previous violations of the reporting requirements." Elson Floyd, the university's president, said: "We believed that the earlier fine did not accurately reflect the level of the violations or the steps that our university had already taken to guarantee Clery Act compliance in the future."


Clean out the 'garages'

Ecuador's president has threatened to close down a number of universities if they fail to make major improvements. Rafael Correa, who has dubbed the institutions "garage universities", has threatened to shut 24 privately owned and two state-run institutions that have received failing grades from his government, The New York Times reported. Mr Correa, a former economics professor, has made higher education reform a priority after recently stating that Ecuador had "probably the worst universities" in South America. He added that many of the threatened institutions - which cater for more than 69,000 students - "are cheating their students because they don't have the minimum elements to guarantee academic excellence". His government began an overhaul of Ecuador's 71 universities in 2009.


Heritage industry

An Indian state has announced a collaboration with a US university to expand research into its own culture and history. Assam's Institute of Research and Documentation of Indigenous Studies, a newly established centre, will partner with Stanford University to document "the rich culture, traditional knowledge, customs and indigenous practices of various communities in the state", said Tarun Gogoi, chief minister of the region. He added: "All this needs to be researched and documented for [the] posterity of the communities."


Technically, they're struggling

Technical and further education (Tafe) institutions in an Australian state are facing financial problems as they struggle to compete with private providers, a study has found. Details from an unpublished quarterly report by Skills Australia show that Tafes in Victoria take less than half of state-supported enrolments, The Australian newspaper reported. The revelations emerged the day after Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that states needed to protect their Tafes. Victorian training enrolments have soared in the three years since the state opened up government training funding to private competition, but Tafes' market share has dropped from 66 to 48 per cent. In contrast, private college enrolments have quadrupled since 2008. The figures suggest that some Tafes are close to insolvency, but a spokesman for Peter Hall, Victoria's minister for higher education and skills, said that the market share needed to be looked at in the context of the sector's overall growth. He added that Victoria's Tafes would reveal that the sector continued to report a "strong funded surplus".

United States

No discrimination? How unfair

The US Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a Christian sorority and fraternity that challenged a university system's refusal to provide funding and other campus benefits to student groups that exclude members of other creeds. The California State University system denies official recognition and funding to student organisations that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin and sexual orientation, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Christian groups at San Diego State University claimed the policy itself was discriminatory and hypocritical. A spokesman for Alliance Defense Fund - which represents religious groups - said the ruling meant that San Diego's "supposed marketplace of ideas...will remain a stronghold for censorship".

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