News in brief

May 10, 2012


To boldly have another go

A struggling university will undergo a "bold and exciting" restructure to boost its standing, according to its vice-chancellor. Peter Dawkins, head of Victoria University, added that it needed to be "decisive" at an uncertain time for the institution. Victoria has been hit by competition reforms in higher and vocational education, The Australian reported. The government has uncapped domestic student places, which has affected Victoria's traditional low socio-economic market, and funding cuts to vocational education have made some of its courses un-viable. The university recorded a deficit of A$13 million (£8.3 million) last year. Professor Dawkins' solutions will include introducing three broad-access degrees in arts, science and business, and he also plans to boost overseas student revenue by exploring the option of a branch campus in Malaysia with a local partner.

United States

Providence's extra blessings

A university has agreed to nearly double its payments to its host city after its mayor pleaded for help to stave off municipal bankruptcy. Brown University, which is based in Providence, the state capital of Rhode Island, owns more than $1 billion (£617.9 million) of property in the city and is the sixth-largest employer in the state. The Ivy League institution has been under pressure to increase its $4 million annual payments to the city, Reuters reported. Under the new agreement, Brown will pay an extra $3.9 million over the next five years before dropping to $2 million between 2017 and 2022. The pact represents a "renewal of our shared willingness to work together to make both Brown and Providence successful", said Angel Taveras, the city's mayor.


Backdoor privatisation

An Israeli government watchdog has warned that the employment of professors in programmes catering to special sectors may be leading to unlawful and unregulated privatisation of the higher education sector. Examining programmes at Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan universities, the State Comptroller found cases in which professors were paid three to eight times more than the law permits for courses feeding specific sectors, such as the Ministry of Defense, the Haaretz newspaper reported. The report says that the country's academic supervisory body, the Israel Council for Higher Learning, had "failed to fill its role and thus impaired its ability to protect the public interest". It adds that it took the council over a decade simply to address the issue and that bans on the practice had still not been enforced.

United States

Global giants join forces online

Two of the most prestigious global universities have joined together to offer several of their lectures for free online in the latest attempt to grab a stake of a rapidly growing market. From this autumn, classes from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be available through a joint non-profit venture called edX, the Nature news blog reported. It follows MIT's launch of its own MITx online learning project last year. The edX courses will cover a number of different disciplines and include video lectures, quizzes, student-discussion forums and certificates for students who finish and pass programmes. Richard DeMillo, director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, said the move could represent a "tipping point" in online university education.

Saudi Arabia

Monarch's vision thing

King Abdullah has launched the first phase of a plan to create a world-class university infrastructure across Saudi Arabia. The project, which is expected to cost 81.5 billion riyals (£13.4 billion), was launched during a ceremony at the Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh. The event was attended by high-ranking Saudi officials including Khalid Al-Anqari, the higher education minister, the Arab News newspaper reported. Dr Al-Anqari said that a total of 18 higher education cities and academies would be built in numerous Saudi regions. The Ministry of Higher Education also plans to build 167 and 161 single-sex colleges for male and female students respectively, along with 11,000 housing units for academic and non-academic staff and 100 student hostels.

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