Overseas briefing

June 4, 2009

United States

Surgeon in conflict-of-interest row

A US senator's campaign against alleged conflicts of interest among researchers has thrown the spotlight on a surgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Senator Charles Grassley, who has made allegations against a number of US academics, has written to UCLA officials claiming that Jeffrey Wang, head of spine surgery, has failed to tell the university about $459,500 he received over four years from medical firms whose products he was studying. In California, public university researchers are obliged to "disclose any financial ties to non-governmental entities funding their work". The newspaper said that both UCLA and Professor Wang declined to comment.

Universitas 21

PhDs get global perspective

The international higher education network Universitas 21 has agreed a memorandum of understanding designed to allow PhD students to "develop a truly global perspective on their studies". The agreement, signed by vice-chancellors and presidents from 14 universities around the world, establishes a joint PhD programme that will enable doctoral students to embark on joint degrees at two universities in the group, potentially thousands of miles apart. It is designed to enhance the research and employment opportunities of PhD candidates. The institutions involved are the universities of Auckland, Birmingham, British Columbia, Delhi, Dublin (University College), Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hong Kong, Korea, McGill, Melbourne, Nottingham, Queensland and Virginia. John Casteen, president of the University of Virginia and chair of Universitas 21, said the initiative "sets a new benchmark for international collaboration at PhD level".

United States

Cuts could wreck college system

The US's fastest growing community college system could be devastated by funding cuts, a college chancellor has warned. Louisiana Delta Community College chancellor Luke Robins told website The News Star.com that a proposed budget cut of $219 million (£137 million) would leave higher education in the state "staring down the barrel of a gun". He said that the Louisiana Community and Technical College System would absorb $28.7 million of those cuts, a budget decrease of 14.5 per cent, with his college, Delta, taking a cut of $488,000. Mr Robins said enrolment in the state's community college system has increased by per cent since 2006 to almost 60,000 students, making it the fastest-growing college system in the nation. "The current budget would bring that to a screeching halt," he told the news website. Delta was contemplating higher tuition fees, larger class sizes and faculty layoffs, he said.

South Africa

Minister pledges wider access

South Africa's new Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande, will make widening access to universities for disadvantaged students his priority. The new minister, who controversially will not step down from his other role as general secretary of the South African Communist Party, told The Times of South Africa: "Many things concern me: for example, the lack of access and success of black students in certain disciplines of higher learning. That is something that needs to be cracked. It can't be that it is white students that are still dominating - there is no reason for that 15 years into our democracy." He said he wanted to improve the resources of formerly black universities. "That gap is not closing as we would have liked it to," he said.

Japan

Registration by iPhone

Students at a Japanese university are being given free iPhones, which will be used to check their attendance. Instead of writing their name on a sheet when they arrive for class, students will type an ID and class number into their phone. The devices will initially be used by 550 students and staff at Aoyama Gakuin University, near Tokyo, and the university hopes they will also encourage discussion between students and teachers. "We don't want to use this simply to take attendance. Our hope is to use this to develop a classroom where students and teachers can discuss various topics," Yasuhiro Iijima, a professor at the university, told Reuters.

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