World in brief - 22 January 2015

January 22, 2015

United States
Silicon Valley plugs into ed tech

Education technology businesses received investment totalling $1.87 billion (£1.2 billion) from venture capital firms last year, up 55 per cent on 2013. According to a report by CB Insights, a venture capital database, Pluralsight ($135 million for the firm providing online training to technology professionals) and The Minerva Project ($70 million for the for-profit start-up providing degrees online) received the biggest investments. The New York Times argued that this was a sign that Silicon Valley is waking up to the potential of ed tech firms.

PM changes law on withdrawing PhDs after plagiarism row

Romanian scientists have responded with an angry open letter after Victor Ponta, the prime minister, changed the law to allow holders of PhDs to relinquish their doctorate without an investigation, shortly after he made a request to relinquish his own. Mr Ponta’s PhD, awarded by the University of Bucharest in 2003, has long been dogged by claims of plagiarism, which he has strongly denied. Previous legislation permitted doctoral degrees to be withdrawn only by the Ministry of Education because of documented ethical and professional misconduct. The scientists called on the ministry to “follow the University of Bucharest’s ethics committee’s recommendation and withdraw Mr Ponta’s doctoral degree title”.

Fast forward to semester system

India’s 400 universities have been told to take “quick action” to move to semesters and switch from numerical marking to grading. The move, initiated by the University Grants Commission, followed a meeting between state education ministers and Smriti Irani, the human resource development minister. Under the “choice-based credit system”, students must choose core subjects every semester but will be free to pick electives unrelated to their principal degree subject. The changes are aimed at giving students more options and allowing them mobility between institutions.

French bid adieu to reduced fees

Tuition fees paid by French students at universities in Quebec, Canada, are set to treble under reforms to a long-standing bilateral agreement. Under a 1978 deal agreed by the French-speaking province and France, French students in Quebec pay annual fees of C$2,200 (£1,210) – the same as Quebec residents – compared with fees of between $12,000 and $30,000 paid by other overseas students. But their special status is set to change because the number of French students has risen by 90 per cent since 2006 to nearly 8,000 over the past eight years. Fees are set to rise by $4,400 a year under the new arrangement, which will see French students pay the same as Canadians from other provinces.

South Africa
Pricing out the poor

Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, has expressed concern about the rising cost of university education in the country. Several institutions have increased tuition fees by as much as 12 per cent this year on the back of big rises in previous years. “This escalating cost has become another source of exclusion for the poor and vulnerable South African child,” Mr Zuma told an African National Congress rally. “While we appreciate the autonomy of universities, we must caution universities against excluding students on the basis of price and race.”

Spring hopes for boomerang bill

The Australian government’s second attempt to pass its controversial higher education bill looks set to drag on until well into the spring. The bill, which would uncap fees, was rejected by the country’s Senate last month. The government immediately reintroduced it and hopes to see it pass in the coming parliamentary session. However, opposition parties say that they will again refer the bill to a Senate committee inquiry. Likely to take about two months, this will scrutinise, among other things, the government’s A$8.5 million (£4.6 million) advertising campaign to promote the bill.

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