Overseas briefing

April 2, 2009

United States

Measures of success

Academics must seize the initiative by showing how success should be measured in higher education, an American expert on accreditation has said. Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, said that universities have to live up to a "heightened sense of public ownership" and added that the "success" of higher education was currently judged according to different criteria by universities, state and federal authorities, and industry. She added: "It's not enough to claim success ... any consideration of (the) centralisation of expectations must come from the grassroots level, led by faculty and institutions."

Africa

Blueprint for humanities research

A blueprint for strengthening research in the humanities and social sciences in Africa has been unveiled by the British Academy and the Association of Commonwealth Universities. In a study, titled the Nairobi Report, the organisations say that action is needed to help African universities address the continent's key problems. Based on a two-year collaboration between African and UK academics, the report's main recommendations are: research structures and governance ought to be improved; collaborations between researchers in different African countries should be strengthened; and universities must invest in early-career researchers.

Canada

Minister evades Darwin question

The Canadian Science Minister has been forced to quash speculation that he does not believe in evolution after refusing to be drawn on the issue in a newspaper interview. Gary Goodyear, the Conservative Minister of State for Science and Technology, was asked by The Globe and Mail for his views on Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. He responded: "I am not going to answer that. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate." However, when pressed about whether he believed in evolution during an interview for television channel CTV, he said: "Of course I do, but it is an irrelevant question."

Australia

When mosquitoes mass ...

Mosquito outbreaks that are expected to trigger an increase in illnesses such as dengue fever as weather patterns change are being targeted by new research. Over the past year, dengue fever and the Barmah Forest and the Ross River viruses have become growing problems in North Queensland in the wake of tropical floods. As a result, researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed a new system for predicting large mosquito outbreaks to facilitate their control. Corey Bradshaw, research director of marine impacts at Adelaide and leader of the work, told ABC News: "We may even see diseases (such as) malaria come back, and it is something we have to be prepared for."

India

Ban on the cards for 'ragging'

The mistreatment of new students by their peers - known in India as "ragging" - may become punishable by a lifelong ban on attending university. The tough line is being considered by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is also considering an alternative punishment of temporary exclusion for one to four terms. An institutional penalty is also being considered where ragging is a particular problem. Sukhadeo Thorat, chairman of the UGC, told The Hindu newspaper that the regulations would be discussed at a meeting of 17 higher education councils scheduled this month. The proposals follow the formation of anti-ragging squads at many institutions to put a stop to a tradition that can see young students being mentally, physically or sexually abused.

China

Marx! The Musical

A Chinese academic is advising a musical production of Karl Marx's Das Kapital to help explain the economic crisis to the residents of Shanghai. Zhang Jun, an economics professor at Fudan University, is acting as an adviser to the stage version of the 1867 work, which offers a critical analysis of capitalism. He told news agency AFP: "The theatrical elements will help ordinary people better understand why the crisis is happening."

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