Overseas briefing

November 27, 2008

Australia

Global status at risk, say elite

The global status of Australia's top universities will be lost unless research investment is concentrated in the hands of proven performers.

The argument, which was put forward by the country's Group of Eight research-intensive universities, draws on international comparisons, including the UK's research assessment exercise, in an attempt to steer the Government towards a more focused distribution of funds. In a paper seen by The Australian, the group says: "Australia has failed to take the necessary steps, and while the available measures of performance indicate that we can punch above our weight, we are not keeping up with capacity improvements being made elsewhere." Alan Robson, vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia, said: "If the country wants to be part of the international science and research arena, we have to pay for a seat at the table."

United States

Colleges may sue over advice

A number of US higher education institutions are considering suing their investment managers over losses to their endowment funds during the financial turmoil that has shaken world markets. According to a New York-based lawyer, five institutions have contacted him about possible legal action as endowments are hit by the global recession. Jacob Zamansky told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the claimants allege that brokers recommended investments unsuitable for endowments or misled them about the stability of some investments. "There should have been a much more conservative pitch from brokers after the credit crisis started and certainly after the beginning of 2008," he said. The slide is illustrated by a 20 per cent fall in the University of Virginia's endowment in the past four months, from $5.1 billion (£3.4 billion) to $4.2 billion.

Europe

Meet social demand, sector told

Many European universities must do more to meet social and economic demand, a Brussels-based think-tank has said. The study, by the Lisbon Council for Economic Competitiveness and Social Review, ranked the higher education systems of 17 countries on criteria including levels of participation and share of overseas students. Australia was placed first, followed by the UK, Denmark, Finland and the US. But the think-tank said that countries such as Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, grouped together as a "Romano-Germanic bloc", were among the lowest ranked. They "need to make their education systems more open, democratic and accessible to a broader range of people", the think-tank added.

India

Overseas links face regulation

Universities in India are set to have their overseas partnerships governed by new guidelines being drawn up by the University Grants Commission (UGC). Sukhdeo Thorat, chairman of the UGC, told The Hindu newspaper that foreign collaborations must be driven by academic gains rather than by financial ones. "The intention of entering into academic collaboration is for common mutual interest of learning and research," Professor Thorat said at a recent meeting of the Association of Indian Universities. He said the guidelines would cover dual degrees and courses that were shared between India and other countries.

China

Public respect for science is high

Scientists are among the most respected professionals in China, a survey has found. The poll, which was conducted by the Chinese Association for Science and Technology, also suggested that scientific and technological awareness was increasing in the country, which has a population of 1.3 billion. The survey covered 10,000 people aged from 18 to 69 in 31 provinces on the Chinese mainland. The state-run news agency Xinhua reported that 18.4 per cent of respondents understood scientific terms, 33.5 per cent understood scientific methods and 59.4 per cent of those surveyed understood "the relation between science and society". It also reported that teachers, scientists and doctors were the most respected professionals, and that 40 per cent of the parents surveyed hoped that their children would become scientists.

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