Overseas briefing

May 1, 2008

United States

Artwork tests freedom's limits

The boundaries of academic freedom have been tested by a controversial student art exhibit at Yale University. Aliza Shvarts claimed that she had repeatedly inseminated herself with donated sperm then induced miscarriages for an art project. She told a student newspaper that she planned to suspend her blood-soaked sheets in a cube and then project on it footage of her aborting a pregnancy. Yale insisted that the abortions had been staged, and when Ms Shvarts repeated her claims, university officials accused her of lying and said the exhibit would not be shown unless she signed a disclaimer. Ms Shvarts argued that the project aimed to "inspire discourse" but that it was not her intention to "scandalise anyone". Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, said the project was indicative of a "loss of moral compass" at some institutions.

Australia

Fee offset would aid the well-off

Rich students stand to benefit most from plans to discount university debts in recognition of community work in Australia. Bruce Chapman, an economist and the original architect of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (Hecs), which requires students to pay part of their university fees, said the proposal would disadvantage poor students who had to work to earn money. "If you've got time to do work and you need the money, you will choose a wage instead of a Hecs reduction," he told The Australian newspaper. "But if you are relatively well off, you are more likely to find this attractive. Part-time work now for students is about putting groceries on the table." The idea was tabled at a summit on the future of higher education that was attended by the Prime Minister.

Hong Kong

Boost private sector, official says

Hong Kong needs more private universities to compete with regional rivals, a government official has said. Daniel Cheng Chung-Wai, principal assistant secretary of education, pointed out that private higher education institutions produced about 70 per cent of all graduates in Japan and South Korea, Hong Kong newspaper The Standard reported. "Of the 57,000 students pursuing degree programmes in Hong Kong," he said, "only 5,000 are studying in a private university or a self-financing degree programme. There is a big area open to private participation." Despite calling for more private provision, Mr Cheng also warned that quality must be maintained and admitted that developing the sector would take time.

Canada

Shooting fears put exam on hold

A university in Alberta cancelled an exam being sat by 500 people after a shooting incident at the home of one of its students. The University of Calgary turned students away from the exam last week after the student asked officials to defer his exam because he was scared for his personal safety. Roman Cooney, a university spokesman, said: "We were given information that suggested that the perpetrator or perpetrators might still be looking for the student." He acknowledged that the postponement was a "tremendous inconvenience" to students but insisted that the university had made the right decision. Referring to college shootings in the US, he said: "Given what has happened at other institutions, it's important to err on the side of caution."

United States

Bioterrorism charges dismissed

A professor who was accused of bioterrorism and charged with fraud offences for illegally obtaining biological materials has been cleared of any wrongdoing. Judge Richard J. Arcara threw out the case against University of Buffalo professor Steven J. Kurtz, ruling that it was "insufficient" to proceed. The charges of illegally obtaining the material were brought after emergency services arrived at his home to attend his wife, who had collapsed and who later died of a suspected heart attack. Investigators found samples of bacteria and lab equipment, which later were not found to pose a public health risk, but the professor was accused of improperly obtaining the harmful organisms. Professor Kurtz is a founding member of the Critical Art Ensemble, which has used biological materials in art. He has maintained that the equipment in his home was for an exhibit criticising US government food policies.

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