World in brief - 29 May 2014

May 29, 2014

United States
Grants back plan to regain world leadership in tertiary achievement

The US government has unveiled a $75 million (£45 million) programme to fund projects designed to increase the proportion of Americans obtaining higher education qualifications. The “First in the World” grants will be awarded to universities to help develop “innovative approaches and strategies that will improve postsecondary educational access and outcomes”, says a statement from the US Department of Education. US president Barack Obama has said that by 2020 the US should once again lead the world in the proportion of its citizens holding university degrees or other postsecondary credentials.

We miss the Swiss, say Leru leaders

Switzerland’s exit from the European Research Area is damaging research projects across the EU, the heads of several leading universities have said. In a letter signed by 21 university leaders associated with the League of European Research Universities, the rectors claim that the decision to ban Swiss-based researchers from accessing EU research cash had negatively affected not only Swiss research but also studies in surrounding EU states that have enjoyed excellent research links to the country. The country was denied associate membership of Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ in February after citizens voted in a referendum to restrict immigration from the EU.

United Arab Emirates
Reported labour abuses at satellite campus ‘troubling’, says NYU

New York University says it will investigate allegations of mistreatment of construction workers building its new campus in Abu Dhabi after a US newspaper reported that they were required to pay recruitment fees, live 15 to a room and surrender their passports, while those who went on strike suffered police beatings. The New York Times found evidence of working conditions that it said violated the university’s 2009 “statement of labor values” that guaranteed fair treatment for workers.

Incendiary approach to debt management

An activist has set fire to documents he says were legal papers certifying details of student debts amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds at Chile’s bankrupt private Universidad del Mar. Artist and activist Francisco Tapia, known as “Papas Fritas”, posted a video online saying he had liberated students from their debt obligations. Although Chilean authorities are in the process of shutting down the Viña del Mar institution, the university is still collecting student loan payments. Mr Tapia is reported to have destroyed the loan papers during a “toma”, or student takeover of the campus.

Global parity for academy in BJP’s sights

India’s new Bharatiya Janata Party government has promised to put the nation’s universities “at par” with the world’s best. The Hindu nationalist party, which won a landslide victory in the country’s 16 May election, says in its manifesto that it will “raise the standard of education and research, so that Indian universities become at par with the top global universities and find their place in the global league”. It adds that the University Grants Committee “will be restructured and it will be transformed into a Higher Education Commission rather than just being a grant distribution agency”.

New Zealand
Sector body fears windfall will not stem decline

New Zealand’s eight universities have welcomed the announcement in last week’s budget of nearly NZ$200 million (£102 million) in additional higher education funding over the next four years. Of that, nearly NZ$84 million will be spent on tuition fee subsidies in certain subjects. The repayment threshold for student loans will be frozen at NZ$19,084 for a further two years, to 2017. The umbrella body Universities New Zealand welcomed the extra funding, but expressed concern that many subjects saw no funding increases.

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