News in brief

December 6, 2012

United States

Going to pot

A university in California has set up an interdisciplinary institute focused on marijuana research. Humboldt State University's Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research will host a series of public lectures and undertake marijuana-centred research in several academic fields. Josh Meisel, associate professor in Humboldt's sociology department and co-chair of the institute, said faculty members began discussing the idea in 2010, when marijuana started to be seen as an acceptable research topic, the Times-Standard newspaper reported. According to Professor Meisel, other universities have illicit drug research centres but none is devoted to marijuana: "Across the country, there was the tendency to ignore the 'green elephant' in the room." Erick Eschker, a professor of economics at Humboldt and the other co-chair, said the institute aimed not to advocate but rather to provide answers to questions about the drug.


Six into three

The Taiwanese ministry of education has announced that six of its leading universities will merge into three because of the nation's declining birth rate. Falling student numbers have forced the government to cut the number of universities and polytechnic institutions. The ministry has decided on a new admissions policy based on university amalgamation, The China Post reported. The merging institutions are: National Taiwan University and National Taipei University of Education; National Tsing Hua University and National Hsinchu University of Education; and National Pingtung University of Education and National Pingtung Institute of Commerce. Chiang Wei-ling, the minister of education, said he expects the process to be concluded next year.


It's over for overseas aid

Australian universities face cuts of up to 90 per cent in federal funding for overseas students in the next academic year. International offices learned of the reductions soon after the government launched its Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, which promises more study-abroad possibilities and closer links with universities in the region. Institutions reported cuts for next year ranging from 44 per cent up to 90 per cent under the Short-Term Mobility Program and the longer International Student Exchange Program, The Australian reported. One unnamed university that received A$400,000 (£260,000) under these two schemes for 2012 will get just A$40,000 next year. Chris Evans, the tertiary education minister, announced a A$37 million study grants programme to complement the White Paper's release, but the sector has yet to learn how it will work and when it will start, the newspaper reported.


A check-up for would-be doctors

The Chinese government has begun a 10-year programme to cultivate better doctors and to train more general medical practitioners to serve rural areas. The initiative, announced last week by the ministry of education, emphasises improving medical students' clinical skills and requires them to study medical ethics and to complete a formal residency before they qualify as doctors, Shanghai Daily reported. The programme will kick off at 125 universities. Unlike other countries such as the US, where medical graduates must complete rigorous exams and residencies to qualify, most Chinese students go straight into work after graduation, doing their residency training as hospital employees.

United States

For community's sake, drop prices

The governor of Florida has challenged community colleges to create undergraduate degree programmes costing $10,000 (£6,250) or less. Rick Scott's plea comes at a time when institutions across the state are struggling with budget cuts and students are dogged by rising costs and loan debts, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Although viewed as reasonably priced, pursuing a bachelor's degree at a community college in Florida still costs considerably more than Mr Scott's proposal. According to the state's Department of Education, it costs on average $13,264 (£8,300) to study at a community college and more than $24,000 (£15,000) at a four-year public university. Mr Scott has been pressing publicly funded institutions to hold down tuition costs. Several community colleges have agreed to take him up on his proposition.

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