World in brief – 21 May 2015

May 21, 2015

Source: Getty

United States
Mr President, you’ve got mail

Actor Tom Hanks has put his weight behind President Barack Obama’s plans to give US students two years of community college education without tuition fees. In a speech in South Dakota on 8 May, Mr Obama said it was “in everybody’s interest” for students who are “willing to work” to have free tuition. Mr Hanks, star of Forrest Gump, said in a White House email that his own community college experience had “filled my head with expanded dreams” and that “more kids (and adults, for that matter) should have this chance”.

Title bout

Some institutions are “cashing in on the Netherlands’ hard-won name” and “asking students to waste their time and money” on “worthless” qualifications, according to Jet Bussemaker, the nation’s minister of education, culture and science. A new bill aims to restrict the titles “universiteit” or “hogeschool” (university of applied sciences) to officially recognised institutions. Dutch branches of such institutions from the European Economic Area would be required to clarify exactly who is awarding their degrees, while non-EEA institutions would be able to use the titles only if they are ranked among the world elite.

Giants stand shoulder to shoulder

A new association to promote links between Russian and Indian universities will provide a “unique forum” for international cooperation, its organisers claim. The Russian-Indian Association of Institutions of Higher Education will facilitate research collaboration plus academic and student exchange between the countries’ leading universities. A memorandum of understanding to create the non-profit organisation was signed by senior university leaders from India and Russia in the presence of Pranab Mukherjee, India’s president, during a state visit to Moscow this month.

Better off on the bins

Minimum wage increases in Venezuela have left low-ranking academics earning less than unqualified workers. Public sector academic pay is set out in collective agreements that expired four years ago and are yet to be renewed despite inflation. On 1 May, President Nicolás Maduro announced that the national minimum wage will rise to 7,421 bolivars (£740) a month, but this does not apply to university staff. The Association of Teachers of the Central University of Venezuela said that new teaching staff earn just 6,200 bolivars. Academics called a 24-hour strike in protest.

South Africa
‘Sign of redress’ for apartheid sins

Bursaries are being offered to descendants of people who were forcibly removed from an area close to a South African university. In the 1960s, thousands of black residents and businesses were expelled from Die Vlakte in central Stellenbosch by the government. Stellenbosch University did not oppose the evictions and the institution received property as a result of the clearance. Wim de Villiers, the new rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch, said a bursary fund of an initial R350,000 (£18,800) was a “sign of redress” on the part of the university.

Papua New Guinea
Leader defends university vision

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has defended his plans to establish a university in the region where he is MP. Peter O’Neill’s vision for the $4.4 million (£2.8 million) Western Pacific University in Southern Highlands has come under fire from critics who say existing universities are under-resourced. David Kavanamur, acting secretary of higher education, research, science and technology, warned of a chronic shortage of space in Papua New Guinea’s six existing universities, the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reported. Mr O’Neill said that Southern Highlands’ large and fast-growing population justified the project.

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