Overseas briefing

February 26, 2009

United States

Biologists boycott Louisiana

A national organisation of scientists has cancelled plans to hold its annual convention in Louisiana and blacklisted the state until a law affecting the teaching of evolution is repealed. The row focuses on a law ratified by Governor Bobby Jindal, which critics warn has diluted the strength of scientific teaching in Louisiana. Passed last summer, the law gives schools greater latitude to teach alternative theories to evolution and was backed by the Discovery Institute, which promotes "intelligent design". The Society for Integrative Comparative Biology wrote in a letter to Governor Jindal that it would not visit Louisiana as long as the law stands, newspaper The Times-Picayune reported. It cited the "official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution" as the reason for its boycott.


Art attack on train 'part of thesis'

He may have terrified passengers and caused thousands of pounds worth of damage but, according to a student who vandalised a train in Sweden, it was all in the name of art. The unidentified man, who was wearing a mask, boarded a train in Stockholm and proceeded to spray-paint graffiti over the walls before smashing a window and leaping on to the platform. According to press reports, he is a student at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in the Swedish capital, and the attack was part of his thesis. The transit authority has filed a complaint against the student, demanding 100,000 Swedish kronor (£7,990) to pay for the damage. The university told Associated Press that it was investigating whether the student had participated in the vandalism or simply made a video recording of it.


Millions to fund Fulbright rival

The European Union has put up more than three quarters of a billion pounds over five years to attract foreign scholars. The scholarships, worth £846 million, will be made available through Erasmus Mundus, a co-operation and mobility programme that promotes higher education in the EU, after funding was approved by the European Commission. The scholarships are intended to rival the US Fulbright scheme. Erasmus Mundus was launched in 2004 and has been expanded after a five-year pilot, during which 323 universities worldwide took part. Jan Figel', Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, said the scheme's next phase would aim to strengthen ties with non-European institutions and focus more on postgraduate studies.


Big three break-up mooted again

Three leading Indian institutions may be split up after becoming too unwieldy due to the large number of colleges affiliated with them. According to The Times of India, the universities of Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur will be divided into several branches to streamline their operations. The plan was proposed last year but subsequently put on hold by Dilip Walse-Patil, former Minister for Higher and Technical Education. Now his successor, Rajesh Tope, has revived the proposals and promised to establish a committee to look at the plans. "The University Grants Committee ... has repeatedly said that these universities are overloaded," he said.

United States

Plea to Obama for investment

A leading academic has made an impassioned plea to Barack Obama to invest in higher education for the future vitality of the country. In an open letter to the President, Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, implored him to put aside arguments about public spending versus tax cuts and give higher education the support it needs. He said: "Educational funding is neither a bloated governmental cost nor a jobs programme. It should be seen as an entrepreneurial investment ... that millions of individuals and families make, to achieve a better life. It is an investment made by communities throughout (US) history that have worked to have a college established in their midst. As a country, we should make that investment to secure a solid foundation for sustaining and expanding our middle class, for the surest route into a middle-class life is through college."


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