Overseas briefing

October 30, 2008

Australia

Millions in funding fast-tracked

Hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for Australian university infrastructure is to be fast-tracked in a bid to mitigate the effects of the global financial crisis. Proposals from 14 universities, amounting to A$700 million (£3.5 million), were shortlisted in the first stage of applications to the Australian Higher Education Endowment Fund, but now the Government is accelerating a second round of bidding, The Australian newspaper says. Glenn Withers, chief executive of higher education lobby group Universities Australia, called for the Government to dip into budget surpluses to pay for extra investment. He said: "Bringing forward investment in university infrastructure will help reduce the massive backlogs in teaching and research facilities, supporting economic activity and enhancing graduate skills, productivity and exports."

India

Research body to open university

A research council is to set up its own university in a bid to increase the number of doctoral students in India. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India's largest publicly funded research body, is responding to concerns about the country's research output. The proposed institution, which has yet to win cabinet approval, will aim to generate 1,500 PhDs a year and will be spread across 38 laboratories, The Wall Street Journal says. An official from the CSIR said: "Our primary aim is to boost the number of quality PhDs and free students from the bureaucratic requirements of signing up with one university and pursuing research at a CSIR lab."

United States

Former dean accused of fraud

A former dean of education has been accused of diverting more than $2 million (£1.25 million) into private bank accounts, including money from federal research grants. Robert D. Felner, who was at the University of Louisville, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the allegations centre on a research unit that Mr Felner established at the University of Rhode Island in 1997. In 2001, it is alleged, he hatched a scheme to divert funds from the centre to his own accounts by setting up a company with an almost identical name to the centre. He is accused of duping clients into paying this dummy corporation rather than the research centre then transferring the cash into his own bank accounts. He denies all the charges.

Australia

Universities 'undermining' FoI

Universities have been accused of drawing a veil of secrecy over vice-chancellor's pay at some Australian universities. The New South Wales ombudsman has ruled that some institutions have deliberately created clauses in vice-chancellor's contracts to hide figures from public scrutiny. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the ruling relates to the Freedom of Information Act, which the ombudsman said was being undermined. By including a clause in contracts that states that the disclosure of salary is a breach of confidence, institutions are "expressly creating a contractual obligation of confidentiality - and therefore predetermining the exemption of documents under FoI".

The ombudsman said that the universities were acting contrary to the public interest by refusing to disclose the salaries.

China

Greater exchange with Taiwan

The number of Chinese students admitted to study at universities in Taiwan is to increase after a shift in policy by the Government. Taiwan's education authority has extended the period that students from mainland China are allowed to remain on the island, from four months to a year, the Xinhua news agency reported. The move is aimed at increasing educational exchanges, although there will still be a limit on the total number of mainland students admitted at any one time. Xinhua said Taiwan had reserved the right to reject applications to study "sensitive" subjects such as nuclear science or hydrology. Restrictions on Taiwanese universities offering courses in mainland China have also been relaxed, the agency said.

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