Overseas briefing

April 23, 2009

Australia

Dung dearth thwarts DNA hunt

A lack of fossilised dung is hindering the efforts of a researcher to identify the DNA of ancient animals. Since 2005, Alan Cooper, director of the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, has been looking for the droppings of the country's now extinct "megafauna", including the giant marsupial diprotodon, but without success. He told The Australian newspaper that things were easier in New Zealand, as a paper he co-wrote documented the discovery of 1,500 samples of moa faeces. He said: "It is possible Australia is so vast that it has not yet been found. Poo is hard to recognise ... under layers of sediment on a cave floor."

United States

Coach claims wrongful dismissal

The University of Hawaii is facing a legal battle after a sports coach claimed he was fired for demanding that female athletes receive equal funding to their male counterparts. Basketball coach Jim Bolla is suing for wrongful dismissal, alleging he was ousted for complaining that female athletes were being discriminated against. The claims cast light on the highly politicised world of varsity sport in the US, where team coaches often earn more than university presidents. According to the Associated Press, Mr Bolla was fired following allegations that he kicked one of his players, but he claims his constitutional right to freedom of speech was violated and that he was fired for demanding gender equality.

China

Fungi travel back home

A collection of rare mushrooms that was sent to a foreign university for safe keeping at the outbreak of the Second World War has been returned to China. The collection contains about 1,700 items, 60 of them "irreplaceable" specimens. It has been held by Cornell University in the US for about 70 years. At a repatriation ceremony, David Skorton, president of Cornell, presented Liu Yandong, State Councillor of China, with one of the rare mushrooms. Ms Liu told the state-run news agency Xinhua: "Examples of this kind almost do not exist in China, which makes this collection invaluable."

India

Students may eschew UK and US

The flow of Indian students to universities in key Western markets including the UK may diminish, commentators have warned. Although the number of fee-paying students travelling from India to the US, the UK and other countries has risen steadily in recent years, the global recession is forecast to have a serious impact. The Business Standard newspaper quoted Vinayak Kamath, director of Bee Gee Education, a Mumbai-based international student recruitment agency, predicting that the number of Indian students studying in the US could fall by 15 to 25 per cent this year. He added that America's loss could be other countries' gain. "We are advising students to take up studies in New Zealand and Canada, where the economic situation is pretty stable and the job market is still robust," he said.

Turkey

University head among 'plotters'

A university head was among a dozen people arrested in Turkey in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the Government. According to reports, the arrests are part of a long-running inquiry into an ultra-nationalist group called Ergenekon, members of which have been accused of plotting attacks to trigger a military coup. The BBC said that one of the 12 people detained was Mehmet Haberal, president of Baskent University in the Turkish capital Ankara, and Fatih Hilmioglu, the former head of Inonu University in Malatya.

United States

Plans for gay halls shelved

Plans for gay and lesbian-themed student accommodation at a Christian university in America have been shelved following an outcry. Texas Christian University planned to reserve a block of rooms on campus for students wanting to learn about sexual orientation and gender identity. The plan was part of a wider project to provide themed residential blocks, with themes including patriotism, Christianity and marine biology. The project followed similar initiatives at institutions including the University of Minnesota and Texas A&M, the Dallas Morning News newspaper said.

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