Overseas briefing: 11 March 2010

March 11, 2010

United States

States align to boost completion

Seventeen US states have formed an alliance with the aim of improving undergraduate completion rates. Led by Stan Jones, Indiana's former commissioner for higher education, Complete College America has already raised $12 million (£8 million) in start-up money from several non-profit groups, The New York Times reported. Mr Jones said the group hopes to ensure that 60 per cent of adults aged between 25 and 35 hold an associate's or bachelor's degree by 2020, up from 38 per cent now. Some of the participating states are among the nation's best educated, including Massachusetts, where 53 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds have degrees, and Connecticut, where 46 per cent are university graduates. But other states participating in the programme include West Virginia and Nevada, where only 28 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds have university degrees.

China

Call to end purchased credentials

The Chinese public is urging an end to a system that encourages prospective university students to lie about their ethnic status or "buy" athletics titles to gain bonus points in the application process. A survey found that nearly 80 per cent of Chinese people want the abolition of the divisive bonus-points policy element of the National College Entrance Examination. The Xinhua state news agency said that different provinces and autonomous regions apply different criteria in implementing the policy. "For instance, a candidate who qualifies as a national second-class athlete can receive 20 bonus points on actual entrance exam scores. Ethnic minority groups are also eligible for additional points or for preferential admission consideration. Public complaints about the policy have surged since candidates were caught lying about their ethnic status or 'buying' a second-class athlete certificate," said the news agency.

Australia

Overseas student fears tackled

There are "legitimate concerns" about both the quality of education and safety for fee-paying overseas students, Australia's education minister admitted as she unveiled a new agency to raise standards. After months of controversy over the safety of Indian students, Julia Gillard announced that the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) would assure quality for domestic and international students, according to a report in The Australian newspaper. Ms Gillard, the deputy prime minister and minister for employment and workplace relations, education and social inclusion, said: "Legitimate concerns have emerged about quality, about safety, about language competency and about the support for students in the international education sector. Ultimately, TEQSA will be at the heart of any effective response to these issues by bolstering our reputation by assuring quality for all students."

Chile

Administrators die in plane crash

Six members of a Chilean university's governing board were among nine people who died in a plane crash after setting off to survey the damage left by the February earthquake that devastated the country. ABC Online reported that the University of San Sebastian board members died "on an expedition to check the well-being of university students in the south of the country". The institution, one of Chile's largest private universities, is based in Santiago but has campuses in areas hit by the quake, including Concepcion, Valdivia and Osorno.

European Commission

Sights set too low, say students

The European Commission's goal for 40 per cent of people to graduate from higher education is "a problem rather than an ambition", students have said. The European Students' Union (ESU) said the target set for 2020 states that "at least 40 per cent of the younger generation should have a tertiary degree". Ligia Deca, president of the ESU, said: "Setting benchmarks is good. But if the bar is set as low as this, Europe will not be able to call itself a real knowledge economy by 2020. Having less than 50 per cent higher education graduates among the young generation is a problem rather than an ambition." Although the ESU supports a proposal for an increase in research and development investment, it has argued that this rise should be matched with funding for higher education.

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