Overseas briefing

December 11, 2008

United States

Band initiation strikes harsh note

The tradition of "hazing" at US universities has led to the hospitalisation of two students following a violent initiation ceremony in which new recruits were beaten or humiliated by older students. The injured students were being initiated into the Southern University marching band when they were ordered to strip to the waist, blindfolded and slapped. Their tormentors then hit them with a wooden board more than 50 times, it is alleged. According to local media, a police report said the victims were being initiated into an unofficial fraternity of the French horn section of the band. Six men have been arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Canada

Native university hit by boycott

A boycott of a Canadian university mired in controversy over political interference and academic freedom has been called by a university teaching union. The Canadian Association of University Teachers has voted to boycott the First Nations University, a move it called a "measure of last resort" as the university "does not have any reasonable degree of autonomy from the government that created it". Concerns about the institution, which was founded by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), date from 2005 when a FSIN vice-chief and chairman of the board of governors launched what some academics described as a coup, sacking managers and seizing university computer files, including the private files of professors, The Globe and Mail reported.

Vietnam

Not enough lecturers to go around

A shortage of lecturers in Vietnam has inflated the student-to-staff ratio as high as 743 to one, official statistics suggest. According to figures from the National Title Council, reported by Chinese news agency Xinhua, there is a particular shortage of senior academic staff. Although Vietnam has more than 56,000 lecturers, including 1,845 associate professors, there are only 314 fully fledged professors in the country, it said. Since Vietnam has 369 universities, this represents fewer than one per institution. The news agency also reported that doctorates are held by fewer than 15 per cent of university teachers, a figure the Government wants to see increased to 20 per cent by 2020.

India

Teaching humanities 'irrational'

Alumni from a group of elite engineering and technology-focused higher education institutions in India have opposed a plan to broaden the institutes' area of study. A commission headed by a senior government adviser has proposed "upgrading the character" of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) to offer courses in medicine and the humanities. However, the IIT alumni association warned that changes of this type would load IITs with "political baggage", The Times of India reported. Shashi Gulhati, a former professor of civil engineering at IIT-Delhi, said: "Already there is a faculty shortage. At this juncture, asking IITs to teach humanities is irrational."

Australia

Climate change menaces possum

A white possum found in Australia's high-altitude rainforest may be the "first victim of climate change", an academic has said. Stephen Williams, director of the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change at James Cook University, Queensland, fears the white lemuroid possum may have been pushed to extinction by rising temperatures. If so, it would be the first Australian mammal to become a casualty of climate change, he said.

United States

At Stanford, every little helps

As the global credit crunch continues to bite, senior managers at one of the world's wealthiest universities have agreed to cut their own salaries. Stanford University, which is the third-richest higher education institution in the US, announced that the president and provost had both agreed to a 10 per cent pay reduction. In a gloomy letter to staff, John Etchemendy, Stanford's provost, said that all seven deans and most of the 20-strong university cabinet had also agreed to a reduction. The announcement is the start of a two-year cost-cutting plan that is likely to include lay-offs, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

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