News in brief

June 21, 2012

Australia

Now a part of a 'nitwit nation'?

Universities in Australia are "haemorrhaging expertise" and "finding it increasingly difficult to recruit first-class home-grown talent", according to a former academic. In his free "warts and all" e-book, Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline, Donald Meyers, environmental consultant and former lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast, asks whether institutions are creating a "clever country" or fostering a "nitwit nation", The Australian reported. Dr Meyers blames the state of the sector on former education minister John Dawkins' tertiary education reforms in the late 1980s, which introduced tuition fees and forced some universities and colleges to merge. He also attacks subsequent Australian governments for following the same path. "The driving force for this book was the need to publicly expose a great wrong, rather than resign myself, as I have seen so many others do, to becoming an accepting malcontent," Dr Meyers said.

Canada

Costs of academic freedom

Ontario's information and privacy commissioner has ruled that the expenses of a university law professor are protected by the principle of academic freedom. Ann Cavoukian upheld the University of Ottawa's decision to withhold the research-related expense records of Amir Attaran, associate professor in law, which had been requested by an unnamed individual. The Ottawa Citizen reported that the same individual had filed a series of requests for information relating to Professor Attaran, a high-profile critic of the Canadian government's Afghan-detainee policy. Justifying her decision, Ms Cavoukian said that academic freedom ensures that universities can conduct research without interference from a disapproving government or public.

India

Debased currency

The Indian rupee's declining value is making it increasingly difficult for students to study abroad, especially in the US, a news website has reported. Although students are not deferring plans to study at international universities, they are left with little choice but to borrow more money and risk debt problems, Livemint.com reported. Studying abroad has always been expensive for Indian students, with the cost of a US university education running into tens of thousands of dollars a year in tuition fees alone. The rupee has depreciated by more than 23 per cent against the US currency in the past year. In May alone it declined by around 6.5 per cent because of uncertainty in the global markets.

United States

Going to need a bigger sticker

Average tuition fees for a four-year degree at a US public university rose by 15 per cent between 2008 and 2010, fuelled by state budget cuts and fee hikes of 40 per cent or more in states such as Georgia, Arizona and California, Associated Press reported. The US Department of Education's annual look at college affordability also found significant price increases at private universities, including for-profit organisations, where the net price for a degree can be twice that at Harvard University. At Full Sail University in central Florida, for example, the average cost totals around $43,990 (£28,300), even when grants and scholarships are factored in. By contrast, the average net price for a Harvard student is around $18,7. US education secretary Arne Duncan said that to turn things round, students needed to be smart consumers and states needed to make higher education a budget priority.

France

Ne nous quittez pas

The new French government led by Francois Hollande has overturned a controversial directive that limited the prospects of international students remaining in the country once they finished their studies. The 2011 Gueant memorandum, which ordered prefectures to strictly apply immigration laws to foreign graduates seeking to change their legal status to permanent residency, was repealed at the end of May, just under a year after it was introduced, The New York Times reported. The law had attracted public criticism for being nationalistic, even xenophobic. "The new memorandum will restore France's image in the world and will reinforce positive aspects of our system," a statement from the higher education ministry says.

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