Overseas briefing

December 4, 2008

China

Shuffled staff threaten progress

The development of China's higher education system is being hampered by a government-driven rotation of a small number of people around the sector's top jobs, a US-based academic has warned. Several Chinese universities have recently changed their presidents in a shuffle overseen by the Government. Xu Zhihong, president of Beijing University, stepped down after reaching retirement age and was replaced by Zhou Qifeng, formerly president of Jilin University. His position at Jilin was taken by Zhan Tao, former president of Shandong University. Writing on news website UPI Asia, Cong Cao, senior research associate in international relations at the State University of New York, said: "It is incomprehensible that presidents are rotated from one school to another and there is a term limit for their service. Developing world-class universities requires commitment and takes time, which are luxuries not granted to China's mobile university administrators."

United States

Christmas decorations banned

Christmas trees, cards and decorations have been banned from public areas at Florida Gulf Coast University. The university's president, Wilson Bradshaw, informed staff of the ban in a memo, citing "legal limitations" as the reason for ditching festive cheer. According to USA Today, he told staff that public institutions "struggle" to show respect to all traditions during the Christmas period, although he insisted that he did not want to "suppress expression of the holiday spirit". However, Ruth Rodrigues, president of the university's staff advisory council, said feelings about the ban were running high.

Canada

Funding for courses under threat

Students at Canadian universities may face cuts to scholarships, bursaries and course funding as endowments register multimillion-dollar losses. Across the sector, universities have an estimated C$11 billion (£5.8 billion) in endowment funds, and on average they invest more than half of their money in world markets, which have fallen more than 30 per cent this year. According to The Globe and Mail, some universities have already ordered hiring freezes, while others have begun to reduce the amount of money used from endowment funds. Queen's University is reported to have lost more than C$100 million while McGill University is facing losses of around C$185 million from its C$928 million endowment.

Australia

Influx of foreign students forecast

A surge in the number of foreign students is being forecast by Australian universities, with some institutions fearing they may struggle to accommodate the influx. The Australian National University and the University of Canberra are among those to have voiced concerns about soaking up the rise in enrolments from overseas. Both universities pointed to the lower Australian dollar as a key factor in attracting more students from abroad. John Dearn, acting vice-chancellor of Canberra, said plans had been drawn up to increase the supply of student accommodation. Undergraduate applications at the Australian National University have risen by 13 per cent and postgraduate applications are up 22 per cent year on year, The Canberra Times reported.

United States

Berkeley lead for Obama council

A professor of economics from the University of California, Berkeley has been appointed to lead Barack Obama's council of economic advisers. Christina D. Romer will chair the president-elect's advisory team, while Lawrence H. Summers, a former president of Harvard University, has been named by Mr Obama as director of the National Economic Council. Professor Romer, who has taught at Berkeley since 1988, is best known for research exploring the successes and failures of monetary policy in the 20th century. However, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that a 1994 paper she wrote with her husband, a professor of political economy at Berkeley, argued that interest-rate reductions, not tax cuts, were the key to ending recessions. As the Federal Reserve's rates are already close to zero, there is thought to be little scope to pursue this policy as a means of escape from the current economic crisis.

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