Overseas briefing

December 31, 2009

United States

Plans for tuition tax dropped

Plans to charge students in Pittsburgh a tuition tax to fund pensions for retired city employees have been dropped after universities stepped in.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had proposed a 1 per cent tuition tax on students in the city, in a bid to raise $16.2 million (£9.9 million) in annual revenue needed to pay pensions for retired city workers. The tax would have been the first of its kind in the US, and students and college officials argued that it would have driven people away and placed an unfair burden on institutions that already contribute substantially to the city's coffers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the proposals had been dropped after unspecified donations were secured from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, as well as other organisations, to tide the city over.

France

Creme de la creme cash

A EUR35 billion (£31 billion) package to turn France's struggling universities into the best in the world has been unveiled by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The scheme will be partly funded by EUR13 billion in loans repaid by banks since the peak of the financial crisis, with the rest coming from state borrowing. It will provide EUR8 billion to create ten campuses bringing together leading institutions, it was reported. One campus, to the southwest of Paris at Saclay, will become a centre for science and technology, Mr Sarkozy said. He added: "Our aim is simple - we want the best universities in the world."

Australia

Good on ya, scholars

Australian universities perform at an "exceptional level" by world standards in 16 out of 23 hard-science research fields, the Australian Research Council states. It has published trial results to inform the allocation of A$500 million (£4 million) in the Excellence in Research for Australia initiative, which will run in 2010. The Australian newspaper reported that universities performed at an "exceptional level" in 16 out of 23 research fields in physics, chemistry and the earth sciences, as well as in half the humanities and creative arts fields tested. Glenn Withers, chief executive of Universities Australia, said: "Given that public funding of Australian universities is well below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average, these results are a testament to the hard work and achievements of academics." He added that the results justified continued state funding for research.

The Netherlands

Legal challenge to Iranian ban

Iranian students are taking court action against legislation that bans them from taking certain postgraduate courses at Dutch universities for fear they will access "proliferation-sensitive" information. In July 2008, the Government of the Netherlands passed legislation that prevents Iranian nationals and Dutch nationals of Iranian descent from enrolling in certain programmes, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported. The law also designates five locations as "off limits" to these students in order to prevent sensitive information from being accessed or passed on. The claimants argue that this constitutes unjustified discrimination and is illegal. The Government said that the legislation simply fulfilled its responsibilities under a United Nations Security Council Resolution that asks all UN members to prevent specialised training of Iranian nationals that could potentially contribute to its nuclear activities.

United States

Agents come out of the shadows

A firm that places international students with universities has publicly declared its client base, sparking speculation that the use of recruitment agents may be "going mainstream". IDP Education released the names of ten US universities, describing them as "charter partners". The website InsideHigherEd said: "Perhaps more significant than the names of the institutions themselves is the fact that they have been publicly declared - an indication that the use of paid private counsellors for recruitment abroad may be going mainstream, or at least coming out of the shadows." Mark Shay, North American director of IDP Education, said: "US universities face unprecedented competition that, if left unchecked, could lead to another iconic American industry succumbing to foreign competition."

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