Overseas briefing

March 6, 2008



A boom in e-learning is being hailed as an opportunity for Indians who did not attend university to benefit from higher education. S. Ramachandran, the vice-chancellor of Madras University, said India's institutions were ready to join the global rise in online distance learning, with work on the necessary infrastructure under way, the Indian national newspaper The Hindu reported. Speaking at a seminar on adult and continuing education, he said: "The prospects of e-learning are immense. It continues to grow at a tremendous rate. Geographical barriers are eliminated, opening up broader educational options."



Cash-strapped universities diverted millions of dollars provided to tackle Australia's skills crisis in maths and statistics to other areas, a report has found. A study by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute suggests that up to 80 per cent of new money allocated to the disciplines has been spent covering other costs instead, The Australian newspaper reported. Hyam Rubinstein, the chairman of the National Committee for Mathematical Sciences and a professor at the University of Melbourne, said: "Universities have to make money. This issue of national priorities has become secondary to what will pay the bills."



Stanford University has become the latest elite US institution to expand its financial aid programme to include students from the ranks of the middle classes. From next year, students from families earning less than $100,000 (£50,350) a year will not be charged tuition, the university has announced, and those from families earning less than $60,000 will not pay for room and board, the International Herald Tribune reported. Stanford's full tuition rate next year is $36,000 while room and board will cost almost $12,000. The move follows similar announcements by Harvard and Yale universities, among others.



The Canadian Government's attitude to science is one of "manifest disregard", a leading academic journal has said. An editorial in Nature criticised the Conservative Government of Stephen Harper, warning that scientists at Canadian universities were now facing "chronic" problems. "Science has long faced an uphill battle for recognition in Canada, but the slope became steeper when the Conservative Government was elected in 2006," Nature said. The journal also urged Canada's scientists to be better public advocates for scientific funding, and it criticised the decision to axe the office of the National Science Adviser. Jim Prentice, the Industry Minister, responded that the Government was committed to "supporting world-leading research".



A study in Hong Kong aims to determine how academic performance affects students' prospects. The project at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which is seeking HK$2 million (£129,500) from the Research General Council, will follow the fortunes of 8,000 15 to 25-year-olds. Esther Ho Sui-chu, the project leader, told The Standard newspaper that those who tailored studies for a career in finance were limiting their options, as there were more employment opportunities in science and technology.



US universities are coming up with novel ways of selecting students for oversubscribed classes. Patricia de Castries, assistant director of the Stanford Language Center, who teaches a popular wine-tasting course at the university, encourages students to sleep outside her door, according to the US Chronicle of Higher Education. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology uses a computer program to select students for some courses at random. The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School auctions places on its MBA classes to students, using a system of points that they build up during their studies. An average course may sell for a few hundred points, while the most sought-after ones can top 10,000, the paper reported, and students are encouraged to "sell" places to each other.

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