Overseas briefing

February 4, 2010

United States

Obama to reform student loans

Barack Obama has promised to make higher education more affordable by reforming student loans. In his first State of the Union address, the US President said that "a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job", urging the Senate to pass a Bill to revitalise community colleges "which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families". He said the Bill would end the "unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans" and increase Pell Grants for poorer students. Mr Obama added: "And let's tell another 1 million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 per cent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years - and forgiven after ten years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college."


Beijing bonanza for PhDs

More than 40,000 PhD students at 35 universities in Beijing will be given a fourfold increase in their grants. The grants for the students, who are sponsored by government ministries, were frozen at 250 yuan (£23) a month in 1996. The new scheme boosts the monthly stipend to about 1,000 yuan. China Daily said the Government wanted students to focus on their studies without having to worry about money. Tsinghua University, Renmin University and Beijing Foreign Studies University immediately increased their grants to about 1,000 yuan and paid them a lump sum covering the difference between the new and old grants.


Organised crime muscles in

The foreign education market in Australian universities has been infiltrated by fraudsters. The Australian newspaper cited a report to the immigration department, obtained under freedom of information laws, that says that nearly 40 per cent of fraud involving student visas was aimed at universities. The problem had previously been thought to afflict mainly private colleges and language schools. The report, by Ernst & Young, says Australian immigration and education officers in diplomatic posts are working with local law enforcement agencies to counter "increased levels of organised fraud". The newspaper said this "amounts to an admission that organised crime is targeting the student visa to shoehorn illegal migrants into the country as fee-paying students".


Court stops title strip

Moves by the Government to strip 44 institutions of university status have been halted by India's Supreme Court. Students had rioted at some universities threatened with derecognition under plans that the Hindu Times said were aimed at institutions "run as family fiefdoms rather than on academic considerations". The Supreme Court wants the Government to hand over committee reports on which it based its decision. The status quo will be maintained until the court reaches a decision.

New Zealand

Portfolio passes on

Dealing with New Zealand's universities has proved too much for a Cabinet minister, who has been relieved of her higher education duties. Anne Tolley held sole responsibility for education in the Cabinet, but now John Key, the Prime Minister, has passed the higher education portfolio to Steven Joyce. Ms Tolley said she had "worked herself to a standstill". The New Zealand Union of Students' Associations said the move showed that the Government was prioritising higher education, the TVNZ website reported.

United States

For the people

The provost of Harvard University has called on Barack Obama to force federal departments to make the results of the research they fund publicly available within six months. Responding to a debate on whether all publicly funded research should be made open access, Steven Hyman told the President that public access gives authors a "much larger audience and much greater impact". Harvard was the first US university to mandate open access. Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health must make their papers publicly available, but this requirement does not extend to research funded by government departments.

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