World in brief – 25 May 2017

Higher education news from around the globe

May 25, 2017
Venezuela protest
Source: Alamy


Stand up for the Constitution, says president

President Nicolás Maduro has called on Venezuela’s university sector to engage actively in consolidating the country’s “Bolívarian” Constitution. Speaking at a graduation ceremony for teachers at the presidential palace, he urged “teachers, workers, students” to set up a “constituent assembly of education” and to contribute to the national debates designed to prop up the Constitution. Venezuela has one of the world’s most ambitious and wide-ranging constitutions, which established a number of core rights including free education and healthcare and the protection of minorities and their cultures. But the government is facing fierce protests amid nationwide food shortages.


Rise to give women pay equity

A Canadian university has announced that it will raise salaries for female professors to eliminate a gender pay gap. Wilfrid Laurier University will increase pay for 33 full professors by 3.9 per cent and for 119 associate professors by 3 per cent. The adjustments, to be applied retroactively from 1 July 2016, will alter only the salaries of female academics employed by the university from 1 July 2014. Deborah MacLatchy, president-designate of the university, said that gender equity with respect to wages and employment terms was “an important principle that Laurier must actively support to achieve its goal of enhancing and sustaining diversity within our community”.


Smaller prizes, but more of them

The size of European research grants should be cut so that more researchers can be funded, argues an analysis from a group that advises the European Commission. The recommendation comes as debate intensifies over the shape of the next European Union research framework programme, which will succeed Horizon 2020 in 2021. Low success rates mean that it is “nearly impossible to discriminate meaningful differences in quality” in grant applications, leading to “random outcomes” in selection, says a report from the RISE group of experts. It suggests shrinking grants so that all applications that meet “evaluation criteria” get at least some funding, even if it is not the full amount sought.


EU helps seed Sesame

European Union funding has supported the opening of the Sesame synchrotron in Jordan, billed as the first major international research infrastructure project in the Middle East. Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for research, science and innovation, attended an inauguration event alongside Jordan’s King Abdullah II and 300 policymakers and scientists from across the region. Mr Moedas said: “Sesame is the best evidence that science diplomacy is a driver of scientific and technological excellence and a powerful tool for improving relations across countries, regions and cultures promoting peace and stability in the region.”


Sharing scholar’s comments lands lawyer in court

A human rights lawyer is facing up to 150 years in prison for violating Thailand’s strict royal defamation law by sharing Facebook posts written by an exiled dissident academic. Prawet Prapanukul was arrested last month and charged by a Bangkok court with 10 counts of insulting a monarch or other ruler for sharing posts about the disappearance of a pro-democracy plaque that were written by Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a Paris-based Thai historian, Al Jazeera reported. Thai authorities had previously banned people from all online interaction with Dr Jeamteerasakul, saying that they should not share, like or follow him on any social media platform. The scholar was fired from Thammasat University in February 2015, allegedly for his political stance, and moved to France.

United States

Diverse opinions

A row over diversity training in Duke University’s Divinity School has emerged, spotlighting a clash of values within some Christian departments and institutions. The dispute broke out after an associate professor urged colleagues via email to attend a two-day diversity training event as a step towards ensuring that the school “is both equitable and anti-racist in its practices and culture”. In an exchange published by The American Conservative, Paul J. Griffiths, Warren chair of Catholic theology, sent a reply-all email that called the event a “waste” and said that its “illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show”. The school’s dean responded by warning against attempts to “humiliate” colleagues, and Professor Griffiths has since faced disciplinary action.


Technical advances

Technical higher education will be a driving force in Ghana’s “industrial revolution”, according to the nation’s president. In a speech to students at Ho Technical University, Nana Akufo-Addo said: “If the ambitions we have for this country are going to come into fruition, a great deal of it depends on what is going to happen in places like this.” During a visit to Ghana’s Volta Region, Mr Akufo-Addo said that his government was prioritising education to improve the economy, the government of Ghana’s website reported.


Private attractions

Students in Australia are increasingly choosing private providers, according to a report from the government’s quality assurance watchdog. A report by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency shows that undergraduate student numbers at for-profit colleges rose by almost 20 per cent between 2013 and 2015. In the same period, postgraduate numbers more than doubled. These figures contrasted with those of Australia’s universities, where “a drop in the number of new domestic postgraduates” triggered “a 1 per cent decline in commencing student load in 2015”, The Australian reported.

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