Overseas briefing

October 9, 2008

Innovation is key, summit told

"Innovate or perish" was the tough message to higher education institutions at a summit held in Bangalore recently. R. Natarajan, former chairman of the All India Council of Technical Education, told the sixth national summit on quality in education that it was vital for institutions to embrace innovation as a core value if the sector was to improve. He also voiced concerns that peer pressure forces many students to go straight into work after graduating, hampering the research efforts of Indian universities. "What industry requires is not how much knowledge the student has gathered, rather what the student can do with the knowledge gathered. The impetus is on output, not input," The Times of India reported him as saying.

Chancellor's parting gift

The outgoing chancellor of the University of Alberta is making a C$1 million (£526,000) donation to be used to build an on-campus meeting place for First Nations students and staff. Eric Newell, who is about to retire, said that he hoped the development of an "aboriginal gathering place" would help Native Canadians achieve greater success. "It's a group that's disadvantaged, but the great equaliser is education," he told the Edmonton Journal. The donation has enabled the university to reach a milestone in its Campaign 2008 fundraising drive - it has now passed the C$500 million mark, which makes it the second most successful university in fundraising terms in Canada this year, after the University of Toronto.

Astronomer's starring role

Australia has appointed an astronomer as its first full-time chief scientist. Penny Sackett will take up the post as director of the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics in November. She replaces Jim Peacock, who has been in the role on a part-time basis for the past two and a half years. She is a member of the Association for Women in Science and is an elected international fellow of the UK's Royal Astronomical Society.

South Korea
Demographic decline

South Korea's ageing population is starting to take its toll on the university sector. A fall in the number of young people in the country is leaving some universities struggling to fill even three quarters of their places. This year, enrolment has fallen below 70 per cent of capacity at 20 universities, with a total of 22,500 student places unfilled nationally. According to news website Dong-a Ilbo, the average enrolment rate fell from 95.8 per cent last year to 94.3 per cent this year. The worst affected institutions were those farthest from the capital, Seoul.

United States
Iraqis sue over discrimination

Two Iraqi Muslims are suing Texas A&M University in the US after accusing colleagues of throwing faeces and urine on their prayer rug. The married doctors, who both worked as researchers at the university, claim they were routinely mocked and mistreated because of their nationality and religion. Mundhir Ridha and Saeeda Ali Muhsen, who specialised in in vitro fertilisation and worked at the reproductive sciences laboratory, are suing the university, several of its divisions and five former colleagues for discrimination, The New York Times reported. They are seeking unspecified damages.

United States
Trial of alternative therapy halted

The largest alternative medicine study ever conducted in the US has been stopped amid fears that participants were not adequately informed of the risks involved. About 1,500 heart-attack survivors are involved in the $30 million (£17 million) research programme into a controversial treatment. The research, led by a team at the University of Miami, was to test high doses of vitamin and mineral supplements and chelation, which involves intravenous doses of a drug that proponents claim binds to calcium built up in artery walls and flushes it from the body. However, the American Heart Association has spoken out against it, warning that its effectiveness is unproven and that the drug involved carries the risk of kidney failure and other serious side-effects.

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