Overseas briefing

February 25, 2010

United States

Bottom line is the bottom line

The American public increasingly view colleges as being more concerned with their finances than giving students a good education, according to a survey. The US-wide poll, conducted by the National Centre for Public Policy and Higher Education, found that 60 per cent of respondents believe colleges are "like most businesses and mainly care about the bottom line". Just 32 per cent say universities are most interested in "making sure students have a good educational experience", The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. In 2007, 52 per cent of people polled said colleges were most concerned about profit, with 43 per cent saying education was institutions' biggest concern. Patrick M. Callan, president of the centre, said the results were the latest indicator that public confidence in higher education is experiencing a long-term decline.

Zimbabwe

Departments bereft as staff flee

Academics are fleeing Zimbabwe in the wake of its political and economic woes, leaving the country's state universities without staff in some disciplines. A report to the country's Parliamentary Education Committee shows that science departments have been hardest hit, the New Zimbabwe web portal reported. The report says that at the University of Zimbabwe, the departments of animal science, community medicine, metallurgy and clinical pharmacology require 20, 18, 13 and 11 lecturers, respectively, but have no one in line for the posts. The committee heard that the shortages mirror the precarious situation in all state-run higher education institutions. "Academics are in short supply," it said.

Australia

Elite worry about watchdog's bite

Universities must not lose the power to set academic standards to a new government super-regulator, leading Australian institutions have warned. The Group of Eight, which represents the country's top research-intensive universities, said the regulator should only oversee minimum qualification standards, The Australian reported. "The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Teqsa) should not try to assess performance above those standards across the range of academic fields," the group said. The warning follows the Government's announcement in December that Teqsa would play an influential role in the performance-funding regime for universities. It has proposed that the watchdog will have the power to assess whether institutions have met their targets, and its advice is expected to inform the allocation of A$138 million (£79 million) in teaching funding in 2012.

Haiti

Broken classes, shattered dreams

The higher education system in Haiti has been "obliterated" by the devastating earthquake that hit the country last month. "Haiti's best universities are in wreckage, their campuses now jumbles of collapsed concrete, mangled desks and chairs, and buried coursework," The New York Times said. Louis Herns Marcelin, a University of Miami sociologist who runs a research institute in Haiti, said that "besides breaking buildings and killing much of the population", the earthquake had "wiped out many of those who were the future leaders of the country". Christina Julme, a student at the State University of Haiti, described to the newspaper the moment the earthquake hit: "You're in class, your professor is talking, you're writing notes and then you're buried alive," she said. She was rescued from her collapsed classroom after two days buried in the rubble.

United States

Protests disrupt Israeli's speech

Eleven students were arrested at a University of California campus for disrupting a speech by Israel's Ambassador to the US. Students protested during an address by Michael Oren at UC Irvine, the Los Angeles Times reported. In the first of ten interruptions to the speech, one student shouted: "Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech." After the fourth disruption, Mr Oren took a 20-minute break, and by the end of the speech, 11 UC Irvine and Riverside students had been arrested. Both Michael Drake, UC Irvine's chancellor, and Mark Petracca, chair of its political science department, criticised the protesters, calling the disruptions "embarrassing".

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