World in brief - 18/25 December 2014

December 18, 2014

United States
Obama on the pain of squeezed middle

Frustration with higher education costs in the US is rising among the country’s middle classes, President Barack Obama has told US sector leaders. Addressing hundreds of college and university heads at the second White House summit on higher education, Mr Obama told them that “when it comes to the cost of college, there’s a frustration in a middle class” because they believe that “folks at the top can afford it, folks at the bottom get help [and] there’s nobody who’s looking out for folks in the middle”.

Political suspension?

The second-in-command of an increasingly popular left-wing Spanish political party founded by university lecturers has been suspended from his research post. Íñigo Errejón, political secretary for Podemos, was hired by the University of Málaga to research housing in Andalusia. But the university has suspended him, “as a precautionary measure”, for working on the project from Madrid when his contract stated that he should work from Málaga’s campus, El País reported. Mr Errejón called the investigation “a defamation campaign against some of the more visible faces from Podemos”.

Free enquiry is a Confucian principle, China says

China has defended its government-funded Confucius Institutes after criticisms in the US about their impact on academic freedom. Last week, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on whether China’s influence on US universities threatened free scholarly enquiry. Particular attention was devoted to the Confucius Institutes, which promote Chinese language and culture. According to Reuters, Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said that all the institutes had been set up with universities that had volunteered to host them, and that China has “never interfered with academic freedom”.

Fee-free future lies ahead

Higher education will be free in Chile from March 2016. Rodrigo Peñailillo, the minister of the interior, said that the policy will be funded by a tax reform passed in September by the Socialist government, which is forecast to generate some £5.3 billion for education and social programmes. “Issues of education, which address inequality, are at the core of the people’s concerns, and we are working on it with the government,” Mr Peñailillo said in a radio interview. In August, students protested against the slow progress of reforms that would bring private universities under state control.

Student protesters charged

Scores of students from a Cairo university have been charged with making illegal protests and joining the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s prosecutor general said that 71 students from Al-Azhar University faced trial after having been arrested in separate clashes with security forces since the academic year began in October. Many continue to call for the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president whom the military ousted in July last year. Separately, the president of Cairo university told Al-Ahram newspaper that 35 members of staff had been suspended for allegedly taking part in demonstrations on campus.

Government launches a PR push

The Australian government has launched an advertising campaign to try to persuade the public and politicians to back its controversial higher education reforms. The measures – which include the uncapping of tuition fees – were defeated in the Australian Senate earlier this month but were reintroduced by the government into the lower house the following day. Several senators who voted against the reforms have dismissed the television campaign and cried foul over the use of public funds to pay for it.

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