News in brief

June 28, 2012

United States

Ravages of ageing

A US university system is facing soaring costs for pensions and retired employees' healthcare that are putting pressure on officials to raise tuition fees still further and cut academic programmes. The University of California system is struggling to shore up its pension funds as it faces a wave of retirements and prepares to tackle a $10 billion (£6.4 billion) unfunded liability, Associated Press reported. The problems come as the system faces unprecedented cuts in state funding, which have already led to sharp tuition hikes, redundancies and student protests. The UC system has 56,000 retirees and another 116,000 employees nearing retirement. The UC Retirement Plan's massive deficit was caused by investment losses during the worldwide economic crisis - exacerbated by a period of almost 20 years when campuses, employees and the state did not contribute towards staff pensions.

Australia

Hold the trainees - stat!

An Australian university's plans to create a medical school have been labelled unnecessary by a professional body. In response to Curtin University's proposals, Steve Hambleton, president of the Australian Medical Association, said: "There is no place for opening up a new school at this time. Australia has as many medical students in the pipeline now as it can train." Curtin announced earlier this month that William Hart - who helped set up a medical school at Monash University - will be its foundation head of medicine, The Australian reported. "Congratulations to the guy but we certainly don't support the opening of a new medical school," Dr Hambleton said.

India

Security minded

An Indian university is one of five institutions that have been given government permission to reform one of its departments to potentially create a state-supported "thinktank". The department of defence and strategic studies at the University of Allahabad is among the quintet given the go-ahead by the University Grants Commission to become a "department of national security studies". As a result of the decision, Allahabad's department will receive central support to offer postgraduate research and teaching dedicated to enhancing students' opportunities in policy-related national security studies and analysis, The Times of India reported. The initiative by the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the UGC is being implemented because the government has indicated that national security disciplines are not receiving the attention they deserve in Indian higher education, despite their importance to the country's future.

China

We appreciate the depreciation

More Chinese students are being attracted to Europe because of the weakness of the euro, a newspaper has reported. Attending one of the top European universities is normally expensive for Chinese students, but the fragility of the single currency has encouraged more of them to consider such institutions, China Daily reported. According to Wang Yue, a tutor at New Oriental Corporation in Beijing, the depreciation of the currency has reduced tuition fees and living costs considerably. "Expenses are 20 per cent lower than the year before," the tutor said.

United States

No absolution for Catholic body

An independent agency for employee rights has rejected a university's attempt to be exempted from its jurisdiction on religious grounds. The National Labor Relations Board in Pittsburgh denied an appeal from Duquesne University to halt a union recruitment drive on campus because it is run by the Catholic Church. The university cited a 1979 US Supreme Court case, NLRB v Catholic Bishop of Chicago, which asserted that schools operated by churches to teach both religious and secular subjects are not bound by the National Labor Relations Act, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper reported. However, the NLRB's two-page rejection argues that in 1982 the board asserted its jurisdiction over Duquesne, something the university had never challenged. The institution is now appealing to the NLRB in Washington DC.

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