Overseas briefing

September 24, 2009

United States

Funding threatens Obama's goal

Without major additional investment, the US will fail to meet Barack Obama's plan to drastically increase the proportion of Americans who complete college, it has been warned. A report from the National Centre for Education Statistics estimates that by 2018, the number of college enrolments will increase to 20.6 million students, and the number of associate and bachelors degrees awarded will grow by 15 and 19 per cent respectively, the Inside Higher Ed website reported. However, such growth would represent a slowdown from the pace of expansion apparent since 1993. Under current funding conditions, the US will fall short of the President's goal, the report concludes.


Peer review on the Rope

The Australian Research Council (ARC), which administers one of Australia's biggest national grant programmes, wants to end its reliance on academics' track records in the peer-review process and instead take a broader view of researchers' capabilities. According to The Australian newspaper, the idea is to make teaching and early-career academics more competitive. In a consultation paper, the ARC canvasses replacing track records with a new concept, research opportunity and performance evidence (Rope). This aims to take into account constraints faced by some applicants, such as teaching loads or career interruptions. "I am very keen to get reviewers to take into account opportunity for research as well as absolute track records," Margaret Sheil, chief executive of the ARC, said. The report also proposes giving more weight to the views of specialist reviewers and incentives to counter a chronic shortage of reviewers.

South Africa

Cops called to quell fees protest

Johannesburg police were called to the University of the Witwatersrand during a student protest against rising fees, according to the www.news24.com website. "As the students once again disrupted lectures, the university has been obliged to call the police on to campus to protect students and staff who wish to continue with their academic and other university activities," said Shirona Patel, a Witwatersrand spokeswoman. Students are protesting against a hike in upfront registration fees to R6,000 (£493), and want them capped.


Sector paralysed by pay strike

About half of Australia's universities have been hit by strike action over wages. The National Tertiary Education Union for academic workers is campaigning to secure pay rises of 4 per cent to 6 per cent a year and improved conditions, The Australian newspaper reported. Sydney-based institutions were the focus of the industrial action. In total, 16 universities that have not signed pay deals were affected.

United States

Elite open-access 'compact'

Five of America's premier institutions - Cornell, Dartmouth and Harvard universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley - have announced their joint commitment to a "compact" for open-access publication. The compact commits each institution to the "timely establishment of durable mechanisms for underwriting reasonable publication charges for articles written by its faculty and published in fee-based open-access journals and for which other institutions would not be expected to provide funds". More institutions are being encouraged to sign up.



Singapore outpost is established

Japan's Waseda University has opened a research institute in Singapore. The Waseda Bioscience Research Institute will focus on bio-imaging, bioengineering, biophysics and nano-biotechnology. It has committed SGD2 million (£856,000) for its research activities in Singapore and will commence operations with a small number of researchers from both nations. Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research has signed an agreement with Katsuhiko Shirai, president of Waseda, that will support research collaborations between scientists from the two organisations through joint symposiums and workshops.

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