Overseas briefing

April 1, 2010

United States

Student-loans revamp

The student-loan reforms seen as a cornerstone of Barack Obama's education agenda have been passed alongside healthcare legislation. While the healthcare reform bill took most of the attention, there was another element of the budget reconciliation measure - a revamp of federal student-loan programmes that eliminates the fees paid to private banks to act as intermediaries. Instead, the government will expand a direct-lending programme, expected to save $61 billion (£40.8 billion) a year, and use the savings to increase Pell grants for students from low-income backgrounds. The bill sets automatic annual increases in the maximum grant, scheduled to rise to $5,975 by 2017 from $5,350 this year, The New York Times reported. George Miller, a Democratic congressman, told the House of Representatives that the budget reconciliation measure "addresses two of America's greatest troubles: the crushing costs and high obstacles of obtaining quality healthcare and a college education".

Canada

Unsafe platform for right-winger

A row over free speech has broken out at the University of Ottawa after a lecture by a right-wing American columnist was cancelled amid fears of violence. Ann Coulter was advised not to appear by organisers after about 2,000 "threatening" students crowded the entrance to Marion Hall, where the lecture was due to take place. "It would be physically dangerous for Ms Coulter to proceed with this event," conservative political activist Ezra Levant is quoted as saying by Associated Press. Francois Houle, the university's academic vice-president, had sent Ms Coulter a written warning before the event. "I hereby encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here," he writes.

China

President predicts private cull

Some private universities in China will shut down amid fierce competition for students, a university president has predicted. Gu Hailiang, president of Wuhan University and a National People's Congress deputy, said: "With the decline of China's population base ... some private-run universities will face fierce competition on recruitment and are likely to shut down in the next 10 years." He quoted statistics showing that the numbers of students taking the 2010 National College Entrance Examination dropped by 20 per cent on the previous year in Beijing, the China Daily newspaper reported. He added that enthusiasm for traditional university education was waning.

Australia

That threatening ratio

Overcrowding in university classes is causing student resentment and threatens to obstruct the government's education goals, according to Universities Australia. The group, which represents the country's 39 universities, says in a budget submission that the nation's average student-to-staff ratio has risen and is now one of the highest among industrialised countries, with almost 22 students for every tutor. It says: "[The ratio] threatens the productivity and quality of ... domestic students and undermines the global competitiveness of Australian higher education. Other countries are increasingly offering more congenial classroom conditions with more personalised and individualised teaching than Australia can currently afford, given a decline in real government funding per student of almost 30 per cent over the decade to 2007."

India

We'll need a bigger sector

India will need at least 800 more universities in the next decade as part of its drive to widen access, a Cabinet minister has warned. Kapil Sibal, minister for human resource development, spoke at a meeting of education ministers at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization South Asia Cluster. He said: "India has about 480 universities and about 22,000 colleges. If we were to increase the figure of 12 per cent (higher education participation) to 30 per cent, we would need another 800 to 1,000 universities in the next 10 years." He added: "I think that if we recognise the facts, we will realise how important education is for a developing economy."

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