Overseas briefing

May 7, 2009

United States

Bonds ... Stanford bonds

Top US universities are "selling debt" in a bid to shore up their recession-hit finances. Stanford University has become the latest leading institution to sell bonds to plug the financial holes left by dwindling endowments. The Californian university sold $1 billion (£685 million) worth of debt in a sale led by banking giants Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley, Reuters reported. Randy Livingston, Stanford's chief financial officer, said the sale, which will boost its cash holdings, was "insurance in case the economy gets worse". He added: "We issued the debt because the bond market was favourable. Although we don't have a pressing need for the cash now, we did not want to find ourselves in a future situation where we urgently needed the cash but the market was closed."

China

Morals added to entry criteria

The "moral and social" qualities of prospective students must be assessed alongside their academic achievements at universities in China, a government edict has said. The Chinese Ministry of Education ordered that results from the annual national college entrance examination, currently the sole criterion used to assess students' ability, be supplemented with other information in the future, including their "moral outlook". Dai Jiagan, director of the ministry's examination centre, told the People's Daily newspaper: "A scholastic assessment and a comprehensive evaluation of the student will be included in university entrance criteria in the future." Curriculum reform is currently being rolled out across the country, with 11 provinces and cities, including Guangdong and Shanghai, already signed up.

New Zealand

Fast-track masters considered

In a bid to exploit the lucrative international market, universities in New Zealand may change their rigid structures to allow students to fast-track masters degrees. Under the country's current system, such degrees are awarded only after five years of study. However, the shorter and more flexible alternatives available at universities abroad, including in Australia and the UK, have forced a rethink. Under proposals being considered, shorter, more intensive programmes - which are often a more attractive option to overseas students on tight budgets and timetables - may be introduced, the New Zealand Herald newspaper reported. Raewyn Dalziel, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Auckland, said: "We have to preserve the core of the prestige masters degree and create some flexibility around it so that the students who want to have it for other purposes can have one."

United States

Obama boosts R&D spending

President Barack Obama has pledged to raise the US' research and development budget to 3 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, up from 2.7 per cent now. The announcement, made at the National Academy of Sciences' annual meeting on April, comes on top of an economic stimulus package that includes more than $21 billion (£14.2 billion) in science funding. The latest pledge is expected to increase the country's science budget by $45 billion-$50 billion annually. "This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history," Mr Obama said. The UK spends about 1.7 per cent of GDP on R&D.

India

Poor bear brunt as IT crashes

A jobs crisis is emerging among new graduates in India as a result of the slowdown in its previously booming computer industry. The rapidly expanding higher education sector in India has focused heavily on IT, technology and engineering, but the recession has hit these areas hard. Mannar Jawahar, vice-chancellor of the Madras-based Anna University, told the BBC's Tamil service that in the past, about nine out of ten engineering students secured jobs with IT companies, but predicted that the market would remain difficult for some time. V.C. Ravichandran, head of careers at Anna, said that the families of students from poorer backgrounds were worst hit. "They sold their land or mortgaged their belongings to send their children to expensive colleges. With the job scenario not looking bright, I find a lot of depressed students from these kinds of families," he said.

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