World in brief - 16 October 2014

October 16, 2014

United States
Academic perk for coffee chain staff

Arizona State University has accepted 1,000 Starbucks employees from across the US for online study after the coffee shop giant announced in June that it would partly cover tuition fees for staff wishing to begin, or return to, an undergraduate degree programme. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan subsidises tuition at the publicly funded institution for the first two years of study, while fees for the third and fourth years are covered completely.

Sector’s autonomy is shrinking, EUA report warns

University autonomy in the Republic of Ireland has declined over the past two years in the wake of cuts to higher education budgets, a study says. State-enforced freezes to pay, recruitment and promotion, as well as government-ordered headcount reductions, mean that Irish universities’ control over staffing matters has been markedly reduced since 2012, according to the European University Association, which published a revised “autonomy scorecard” for Ireland last month. “There is legitimate concern that the sector will emerge from the crisis fundamentally changed, with radically different student-staff ratios and funding base,” the EUA report concludes.

Rouhani argues for a freer academy

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for increased academic freedom in the country’s higher education sector, warning that innovation will suffer if debate is stifled. “Irrelevant restrictions will lead to lack of tolerance, the departure of honest, competent individuals and the promotion of ingratiating people,” the reformist leader and former academic was reported to have said in a speech at the University of Tehran last week. The president expressed his support for the admission of more foreign students and lecturers to Iran’s universities, and dismissed fears that the move would facilitate espionage. He also said that a university teaching in English should be set up in the country.

Presidential opponents see eye to eye on science funding

Uruguay’s presidential candidates, including Luis Lacalle Pou of the opposition National Party, have signed a joint agreement calling for an increase in the science and technology budget ahead of elections later this month. The National Agreement for Research and Innovation in Science and Technology outlines measures designed to encourage researchers working abroad to return home, including five-year scholarships for university scientists, PhD funding and boosting scientific infrastructure. The plan, created by the National Academy of Sciences of Uruguay, also advocates a restructuring of the National Agency for Research and Innovation.

West Africa
Ebola prevention Mooc notches up 10,000 graduates

Alison, a massive open online course provider based in the Republic of Ireland, is using its platform to deliver health advice about containing Ebola in West Africa. At the time of writing, 10,000 people have completed a free online course, Understanding the Ebola Virus and How You Can Avoid It, the BBC reported. Alison is one of Africa’s largest online educators, with nearly 1 million students across the continent and some 250,000 in West Africa alone.

There’s nothing new about A$100,000 degrees, Senate told

Public universities in Australia have been charging A$100,000 (£55,000) for degree courses for some time, a Senate hearing on the government’s proposed higher education reforms has heard. Vicki Thomson, executive director of the Australian Technology Network of universities, referred to “emotions about the so-called $100,000 degrees” in her submission. But she noted that under the current system, a six-year degree to become a registered psychologist costs A$107,000 and the price tag for a medical degree is A$188,000, The Australian reported. Australia’s universities are “highly unlikely to price themselves out of the market”, Ms Thomson added.

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