News in brief

May 31, 2012

Australia

Generation disengaged

The chief scientist of Australia has claimed that young people are "disengaged" from scientific subjects. Ian Chubb said that although the nation's science commands global respect, its future success depends on young physicists, mathematicians, agricultural scientists and, in particular, engineers. Professor Chubb made the warning as he launched the Health of Australian Science report, a comprehensive overview of the country's strengths and vulnerabilities, The Australian reported. "Our younger generations appear to be...disengaged from science, even though they use its applications every day," he told the National Press Club in Canberra. The study concludes that poor perceptions of science by students could affect university funding. "Less funding means fewer staff, eventually," Professor Chubb said. "Fewer staff means less research and less innovation."

South Africa

'Intellectual terrorism'?

A South African university has sparked debate about freedom of speech and human rights after its last-minute decision to cancel a lecture by an Israeli Embassy official. The University of KwaZulu-Natal had planned to invite deputy ambassador Yaakov Finkelstein to speak at an event, but changed course after some academics raised objections, citing Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, the Daily News reported. In an email to staff, deputy vice-chancellor Joseph Ayee says he had reconsidered "the sensitivities" generated by the visit. A spokeswoman for the embassy said that "anti-Israeli elements" had "embarked on a campaign [of] intellectual terror, which rejects everything that academia believes in: dialogue, discussions, research, understanding and freedom of speech".

Spain

First strike to spare education

University staff in Spain have joined representatives from the country's wider education sector in strikes against retrenchment. The Spanish government is poised to introduce education cuts of €10 billion (£8 billion), designed to meet its stringent budget targets. The strike, organised by the country's five main teaching unions, is the first of its kind, The New York Times reported. Students also joined in, holding protests in Spain's main cities. "Education is absolutely the last thing that should get squeezed because it's absurd to try to make amends for the spending mistakes of the past by jeopardising the prospects of the next generation," said Ignacio Valero, professor of economics at the Complutense University. The government insists that the overhaul is not just about austerity, but is also an attempt to raise standards.

United States

Seven-figure figures

A number of public university presidents in the US were paid nearly $2 million (£1.3 million) each in "total compensation" in the 2011 fiscal year, according to a survey. Gordon Gee, head of Ohio State University, and Michael McKinney, Texas A&M University's chancellor, both earned just under the $2 million mark. The Washington Post also reported that Graham Spanier, the ousted Pennsylvania State University president, earned $1.07 million. The data point to a rapid rise in top executive compensation from the preceding year, when only Dr Gee earned more than seven figures. However, the survey also notes that public university chiefs earn considerably less than their counterparts at private institutions.

Australia

Grammar 'errors' spur lawsuit

A privately educated Australian schoolgirl who failed to get in to the degree course of her choice has sued her school, blaming it for her lack of success. Rose Ashton-Weir claimed that the prestigious Geelong Grammar School did not provide her with adequate support after her final examination score was too low to enter a law course at the University of Sydney, The Age newspaper reported. Ms Ashton-Weir, who is now pursuing an arts and sciences degree at the same institution, said that Geelong did not provide her with appropriate academic support, particularly in mathematics, and is seeking compensation from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. "I didn't ever feel I was getting the support I needed to really excel," she said. Her mother, Elizabeth Weir, is also suing the school for lost income and other expenses. The hearing will resume in August.

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