News in brief

October 11, 2012


The brick wall of learning

The reluctance of Australia's higher education regulator to embrace new technologies for teaching and learning is "obstructing innovation in online delivery" and "jeopardising the nation's competitiveness", a leading vice-chancellor has argued. At a conference in Melbourne last week on high-speed broadband and higher education, Jim Barber, vice-chancellor of the University of New England, attacked the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency for its outdated view of university as a "bricks-and-mortar" campus-based experience. He said Teqsa was undermining government objectives by imposing a "uniform and now-outdated model of education", The Australian reported. A Teqsa spokesman said the risk framework was "not designed to assess risk against a preconceived provider operating model".

United States

A Wiley online move

A global academic publisher has agreed to buy an online education company for $220 million (£140 million). John Wiley & Sons will purchase LLC in a bid to expand its education business. Deltak works with institutions to develop and support online degree and certificate programmes, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Chicago-based company, which supports more than 100 online programmes, reported revenues of $54 million in the past fiscal year. Wiley said it expects Deltak to contribute significantly to the growth of its education business and to the company as a whole.


Cheques for research uncashed

Billions of euros in the Spanish government's science budget went unspent in the past four years, analysis has found. According to a report by the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE), at least €8.6 billion (£6.9 billion) has lain unused since 2008, Science reported. The science budget has been declining for years and despite strong resistance from scientists, the government approved a draft bill in June reducing this year's national science funding to €6.39 billion, 26 per cent less than the 2011 budget. However, Carlos Andradas Heranz, president of COSCE, says in the report that "the true quantity of money that has been (research and development) is even less than what appears on the budget bills". According to the report, actual public spending on research was at least €3.01 billion less than allocated in 2011 and €2.36 billion less in 2010. "It is clear that the system is dysfunctional," the report says.


A kick in the teeth

Close to two-thirds of dental students in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu did not pass their final-year examinations, it has been reported. This is a drastic decline from last year, when 70 per cent of students passed, the Times of India reported. Just under 60 per cent of the 945 students who took the exams failed. The number of failures has been attributed to changes in examination and evaluation policies, which previously allowed students a 49-mark leniency if they were on the cusp of passing. This was reduced to a 5-mark "grace" zone this year. "We had to do this to build better dentists," said Mayil Vahanan Natarajan, vice-chancellor of Tamil Nadu Dr M.G.R. Medical University. India has a severe shortage of dentists - statistics from the World Health Organization show there is less than one dentist (0.8) per 10,000 people.

United States

That sounds like a really bad idea

A US university's decision to oust its president and then backtrack in the face of strong protestations has been described as one of the "Worst Ideas of 2012" by a leading newspaper. Teresa Sullivan, the president of the University of Virginia, was forced to resign from her post less than two years into her tenure because of a "philosophical difference of opinion" with the governing board and, in particular, the rector, Helen Dragas. After what The Washington Post, which compiled the list, described as "protests, resignations and an avalanche of bad publicity for the university", Professor Sullivan was unanimously reinstated by the board little more than two weeks after her ouster. "For every genius creation, there's some spark that somehow goes unchecked, gets green-lighted and leads to anger, embarrassment and humiliation," the newspaper reported as its rationale for the list.

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