Overseas briefing

November 26, 2009

United States

Tweckled via the back channel

College professionals angered by a disappointing conference presentation "flayed" the speaker by delivering 500 caustic comments on social-networking website Twitter as he spoke. A higher education conference in Milwaukee provided a notable example of the phenomenon of "tweckling" - hecklers who slate speakers using Twitter "back channels" that bring conference attendees together. The Chronicle of Higher Education said last month's HighEdWeb Association conference had "gone down in social-media history as perhaps the most brutal abuse of the back channel yet". The speaker was David Galper of the now-defunct online music service for college students, Ruckus Network. Tweets included "We need a T-shirt: 'I survived the keynote disaster of '09'", and "It's awesome in the 'I don't want to turn away from the accident because I might see a severed head' way".


Mass protests against fees

University students across Germany have taken to the streets in protest against tuition fees and higher education reform. Organisers said about 85,000 students demonstrated in 50 German cities, including Berlin, Cologne, Freiburg and Hamburg. Broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that more than 1,000 teachers and students assembled outside Munich University carrying banners that read: "Education is too expensive! What is the cost of stupidity?" and "Welcome to the education factory". Protestors object to the fees that German students pay each semester, plus Europe-wide reforms designed to force students to graduate more quickly.


'Sorry' for child experiments

The University of Melbourne has apologised to the children used by its researchers as subjects in medical trials. The Age newspaper reported that the apology, which comes with an offer of counselling, "puts on the public record the university's involvement in the practice of using orphans to test experimental medical research". In an email to staff, Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of Melbourne, acknowledges that its researchers used orphans as subjects in vaccination trials for whooping cough, influenza and polio after the Second World War. And he backs the Australian Government's apology to the "forgotten Australians" who suffered abuse in state institutions - including child migrants shipped from Britain. "The Melbourne council and the university community join with other Australians in saying a heartfelt 'sorry' to those children whose personal rights were infringed by these experiments," the email adds.


Petting police's kiss and yell

Despite fierce opposition, student guards wearing red armbands are patrolling a Chinese university to enforce a ban on public kissing. Nanjing Forestry University introduced the ban on campus canoodling two months ago, state news agency Xinhua said, and is deploying about 100 student-petting police in the face of online protests. "My boyfriend and I were interrupted by a red armband as we were sitting together on campus. The guy came over and warned us to behave. I really can't bear this," said a student using the name "Dian Dian" on a social website. The university authorities have declined to comment but show no sign of lifting the ban, Xinhua added.


Cash for Anglo-American links

The British Council will contribute £300,000 towards an initiative to build relationships between UK and US higher education institutions. The UK-US Higher Education New Partnerships Fund is linked to research carried out in co-operation with the US Institute of International Education earlier in the year on higher education partnerships between the two countries. David Lammy, Britain's Higher Education Minister, said: "The UK and the US have excellent higher education systems, and for many years students from both countries have benefited from the close working relationships that have developed between our two countries. These new partnerships, funded through the Prime Minister's Initiative for International Education, will build on this and encourage even more links between universities and students across both our systems."

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