News in brief

April 26, 2012

United States

Laws of physics

A physicist at the University of California, San Diego has used an academic paper to escape a $400 (£250) traffic fine. Dmitri Krioukov, who was accused of failing to obey a stop sign, used his knowledge of observers' perceptions of bodies in motion to argue in the paper, titled "The Proof of Innocence", that he did in fact stop, but the arresting officer simply did not see it. "I didn't apply any knowledge beyond elementary physics and mathematics," Professor Krioukov told the television channel San Diego6. The four-page paper says a passing car blocked the officer's view, whose perception was distorted by the angle from which he observed. Professor Krioukov, whose research is on "applications of geometry and statistical physics to complex network problems", said he was now receiving up to 150 emails a day asking him to help with other cases.


Violent beef

Clashes between rival sets of Hindu students broke out during a beef-eating festival at a university in Hyderabad. About 1,500 people were fed beef biryani as part of the event at Osmania University, organised by low-caste Dalit groups who want the meat put on the menu at the campus hostel, the BBC reported. But other Hindus who regard cows as sacred fought with Dalits, police said, with the violence lasting several hours. Some Dalit groups argue that beef has been part of their diet for centuries. B. Sudarshan, the festival organiser, told the BBC that they were involved in a fight for the "freedom to eat". But a senior leader from the right-wing student organisation Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad said beef eating was contrary to Hindu teachings. "Today they are asking for beef, tomorrow they will want alcohol," he said.

United States

Complimentary courses

Three elite US universities are to join a group offering some of their courses online for free. The short lectures, interactive quizzes and automatically graded exercises, from Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan, will be delivered via Coursera, a California-based online education company. Although they will not give students credit towards a degree, the company, founded this year by two Stanford University computer-science professors, is considering offering completion certificates. The 12 Pennsylvania courses planned include calculus, modern and contemporary American poetry and Greek and Roman mythology, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. "It allows us to give access to high-quality courses to millions of people," the university's president, Amy Gutmann, told the newspaper.


Overseas student slump

Universities in Australia are waiting to see whether recruitment of overseas students has suffered a serious downturn after early figures showed a slump in enrolments. Official data for the year to February showed that the number of overseas students starting higher education courses fell by 8.9 per cent, The Australian reported, with enrolments from China, the key market, down 10.8 per cent. It looked like a "very worrying trend", said Phil Honeywood, the executive director of the International Education Association of Australia. But he said that the picture would not be clear until the March figures were published because of differences in semester start dates. The February figures showed that enrolments from Malaysia fell by 16.4 per cent while those from Vietnam rose, by 3.6 per cent, as did those from India, by 28.4 per cent.


Invest to be the best

Academics in Pakistan have urged the government to increase spending on the higher education sector to boost socio-economic development. The executive director of the Higher Education Commission, Sohail H. Naqvi, told a seminar on challenges for higher education in Pakistan that the current allocation, representing 0.18 per cent of gross domestic product, was not enough to keep quality on a par with international standards, the Express Tribune reported. The keynote speaker, historian Aslam Syed, called for the creation of an environment that was conducive to research and innovation, and for the building of strong links between institutions. "Without prioritising education, we can't compete with other educational systems which have been adopted by the developed world and even some developing countries," he said.

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