Overseas Briefing

March 13, 2008



Weak departments at Australian universities may be barred from signing up research students under new proposals. A higher education sector working party, involving members of the Group of Eight research-intensive universities and Universities Australia, is hoping to reach a common position that can be put to the Government on proposed funding for the sector, The Australian newspaper reports. One idea under discussion is a reform that would see universities lose the right to take on research masters or doctoral students in weak areas, although they would retain the associated federal funding if it were redirected to areas such as innovation activities.



Public spending on prisons has overtaken investment in higher education in five US states, a report has found. Prison spending exceeds higher education spending in Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware, a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found. The news website InsideHigherEd.com said that the report found only three states - Alabama, Nevada and Virginia - seeing gains in spending on higher education relative to prisons. During the past 20 years, spending on prisons has increased by 1 per cent above inflation, while spending on higher education has risen 21 per cent.



A new Europe-wide quality assurance system for higher education has been set up. The European Quality Assurance Register is part of the Bologna Process to harmonise higher education courses across Europe, and it has been hailed as a landmark for European co-operation. It aims to provide clear and objective information about trustworthy quality assurance agencies and, ultimately, to improve the quality of higher education across the Continent. It was launched in Brussels by the E4 group, comprising the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, the European Students' Union, the European University Association and the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education. Inclusion in the register will be voluntary, and those applying to join will be assessed by an independent committee established by the E4 group.



Academics in Uganda are facing the end of job security as the Government draws up plans to scrap all permanent positions at public universities. The Ministry of Education has begun drafting a policy document to phase out permanent jobs and replace them with temporary contracts in a bid to improve staff performance. Gabriel Opio, the State Minister for Higher Education, told Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor: "We are already preparing a White Paper, and top managers in the ministry will meet to scrutinise it before the proposal goes to the Cabinet." The plan is based on recommendations by the Universities Visitation Committee, which found that open-ended employment was hindering "innovative and industrious effort" and resulting in poor-quality graduates.



Thai students were banned from wearing watches in national university entrance exams after a cheat was caught receiving text messages on a mobile phone wristwatch. Education Ministry officials sent photographs of the watch to exam centres around the country, insisting that students would have to rely on wall clocks instead, according to Reuters. "I have ordered the 18 examination centres nationwide to ban students wearing all kinds of watches to the exams this weekend," senior ministry official Sumate Yamnoon said. Invigilators caught the student receiving text messages on his phone watch during a national exam in Bangkok this month. Competition for university places is particularly tough in Thailand, where some engineering or medicine departments take only one in 100 candidates. Utumporn Jamornmam, another ministry official, said: "Cheating techniques have developed along with technology advancement. What will students use next year?"

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