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Conference considers challenges facing higher ed after the Arab Spring

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Are students in Arab higher education held back by attitudes about challenging instructors and fully participating in the classroom?

McGill Fights Quebec Plan to Bar Religious Symbols

Suzanne Fortier, principal and vice chancellor (the equivalent of president) of McGill University, has issued a statement in which the university formally opposes a "charter of values" proposed by Quebec's government that would bar public employees -- including those who work at universities -- from wearing religious head coverings or "overt" religious symbols. While the proposal could affect many religious people, it is widely viewed as a response to the non-Christian immigrant population in the province. "The proposal to prohibit our professors and staff from wearing visible religious symbols runs contrary to our principles. The wearing of such symbols in no way interferes with the religious and political neutrality of McGill as an institution. All the members of the university community with whom I have spoken on this issue are clearly worried about the proposal, and would like to see it withdrawn," said Fortier's statement. The Montreal Gazette reported that other universities are also concerned about the proposal, but that McGill is the first to take so public a stance.

 

Higher Ed for Development May Face Drastic Budget Cuts

Higher Education for Development (HED) faces a possible 80 percent reduction in its operating budget, which could force it to close out its grant programs prematurely. HED, which manages development-oriented partnerships between American universities and institutions abroad as a subcontractor of sorts for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was informed by the agency via an August 7 e-mail that its operating budget for the fiscal year starting October 1 will be just $1 million – a drop from $4.9 million this current year.

“We said at that level we close everything down by the middle of December and it will be utter chaos,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs for the American Council on Education, which oversees HED. “They [U.S.A.I.D.] said that’s not what we had in mind; we need to think about another way to do this.”

For its part U.S.A.I.D. said in a statement that "discussions with ACE/HED regarding programming and budget levels are ongoing at this time, and no final decisions have been made. U.S.A.I.D. is highly committed to increasing our engagement with higher education institutions to harness their intellectual energies, research capabilities, community connections, and capacity building expertise to address the toughest development challenges."

Hartle said that ACE and HED have not received anything in writing about the budget since the August 7 e-mail. He said that in discussions U.S.A.I.D. has been very clear that it does not want to force the end of any partnerships prematurely. "They'd like to have the partnerships run, but they would like to not have to pay the cost of having them monitored and evaluated according to the U.S.A.I.D. standards that they have dictated," he said.

He added that the problem seems to stem from the fact that U.S.A.I.D. wants to move away from the model of having HED and other similar entities function as middlemen in awarding, managing and evaluating government grants. That’s fine, Hartle said: “Government agencies change priorities; they change directions. But what is so surprising is that they would do this so close to the start of a fiscal year without recognizing the serious consequences of taking such a step."

HED currently administers $50 million in grants, managing 41 partnerships in 25 countries involving 93 institutions. Its portfolio of projects, present and past, can be found here

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Colleges fear international students are purchasing inadequate health plans on private market

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College officials raise concerns about the private international student health insurance market, where there are plans that exclude coverage for chemotherapy or only pay up to $3,000 for surgery.

Duke's China Campus Gains Ministry Approval

Duke University’s controversial campus in Kunshan has received approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education, the university announced on Monday. Duke Kunshan University, a joint venture institution with Wuhan University, will accept its first students in 2014. It initially plans to offer master’s programs in global health and management studies; a proposed graduate program in medical physics is pending approval. The campus will also offer a liberal arts-oriented, semesterlong study abroad program for undergraduates. 

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Taking Philosophy Too Seriously

Two men in a grocery store in southern Russia got into an argument about the ideas of Immanuel Kant, and after the discussion got heated, one man took out a gun and shot the other, Reuters reported. The man who was shot was hospitalized but his life is not in danger. Reuters provided this context: "Many Russians love to discuss philosophy and history, often over a drink, but such discussions rarely end in shootings."

 

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British College Reverses Ban on Niqab

Birmingham Metropolitan College has reversed its ban on students wearing the niqab, a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the face save for the eyes, The Telegraph reported. The college, which also prohibits the wearing of caps, hats and hoodies, had banned the full-face veils for safety reasons, saying it was important for individuals to be readily identifiable whenever they’re on campus. However, students protested that they were being discriminated against based on their religion. The college reversed the ban after more than 8,000 people signed a petition within 48 hours and right before a demonstration was planned on campus, saying it would modify its policies “to allow individuals to wear specific items of personal clothing to reflect their cultural values.”
 
"The college will still need to be able to confirm an individual's identity in order to maintain safeguarding and security.”
 
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Report compares governance and management of universities in the Middle East and North Africa

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World Bank project looks at how universities in the region are being managed, but tries not to suggest adoption of any one model.

Proposal to Allow Foreign Campuses in India Advances

India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development announced on Tuesday that it is advancing a proposal to permit foreign universities to open campuses under the Companies Act. The ministry's proposal to allow foreign universities to register as companies appears to represent an attempt to bypass Parliamentary approval of the long-stalled foreign universities bill, which faces stiff political opposition. 

Under the proposed rules, foreign institutions wishing to set up campuses would have to be non-profit, accredited, and listed among the top 400 institutions in one of three major world university rankings. Each institution would have to maintain a corpus fund of at least 250,000,000 rupees, or almost $4 million.

At this point, Kevin Kinser, chair of the educational administration and policy studies department at the State University of New York at Albany, is skeptical that the proposal will become policy. “We’ve been down this road before,” said Kinser, who studies branch campuses. "There are announcements they are going to develop these policies to allow foreign universities to enter, but we haven’t really seen it come to fruition. I’m not going to be out there buying land or negotiating arrangements until something more concrete comes forward.”  

“There are a lot of political interests involved in this,” Kinser added, “and it’s not entirely clear where the actual support comes from for moving in this direction, and whether that support has the political ability to withstand the resistance.”

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Offshore Med Students Rack Up Federal Debt

Students at two Caribbean medical schools operated by DeVry, a for-profit education company, are amassing federal student loan debt -- $310 million in the year ending June 2012 -- despite the fact that the institutions are not accredited by the agency that accredits medical schools in the U.S., according to an article in Bloomberg. The article focuses on medical programs at American University of the Caribbean and Ross University, which enroll hundreds of students rejected by U.S. medical schools and which have higher debt and attrition rates and lower residency placement rates than American medical schools. The article also looks at DVry’s “pay-for-play” system in which it pays U.S. hospitals to provide its students with clinical training in their third and fourth years, with one result being the loss of clinical training spots for students enrolled at U.S. medical schools.

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