A Chinese company has announced plans to have a robot take the country's university entrance exams next year, China Daily reported. The plan is for the robot to win admission to some universities in 2017 and to be prepared to win admission to the country's very top universities by 2020. The challenge for the robot is expected to be the liberal arts portion of the exam, officials said. A robot in Japan is already earning passing marks on that country's university entrance exam but is still pushing for high enough marks to get into Tokyo University.
Asked whether American institutions are seen as very positive by those around the world, Americans believe -- by far -- that higher education is the most respected institution, according to a new poll by Gallup. The poll found that 35 percent of Americans believe that those in the rest of the world have a very positive view of American higher education. Tied for second place (at 9 percent each) were the U.S. president and U.S. businesses/economy.
Israel has barred a prominent founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement from traveling internationally. According to accounts in a variety of Israeli media outlets, including Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s Interior Ministry has refused to renew Omar Barghouti’s travel documents and has said that his permanent resident status is under review. The Interior Ministry said there is evidence that Barghouti's "center of life" is in the West Bank, not Israel, an allegation that Barghouti denies. He said he has lived legally in Israel since 1994 and has not previously had a problem renewing his travel permit, which he does every two years.
Barghouti, who was born in Qatar and is married to an Arab citizen of Israel, regularly travels to promote the movement to boycott Israel, including Israeli universities. He has spoken at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association.
Three months ago,Inside Higher Edreported that the body of Giulio Regeni -- a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge and a visiting scholar at the American University in Cairo who disappeared on Jan. 25 -- had been found on a roadside in Egypt with cigarette burns and knife wounds indicative of torture. “His research was on trade unions and labor rights,” the item noted, “a sensitive subject in Egypt.”
The date of Regeni's disappearance bears noting: it was the fifth anniversary of the antigovernment protests that launched what is known in Egypt as the January 25 Revolution. The country’s short-lived democratic opening gave way to the military dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In March, the Financial Timespointed out that human rights groups “have documented a sharp rise in restrictions on basic freedoms” over the past two years, with “an increase in torture and deaths in custody, which some analysts say is a sign that the security establishment feels empowered under Mr. Sisi.”
Developments in the case over the past month have not reduced suspicion that the Italian student’s death came at the hands of said Egyptian security establishment. Egyptian security forces have explained his murder as the work of a criminal gang, all members of which died in a shoot-out a few weeks later.
Another very different scenario emerges from an investigation by the Reuters news service. According to a half dozen sources in the Egyptian police and intelligence services, the student was arrested as part of a security sweep meant to quell the anniversary-day protests. After being briefly detained by police, he was placed in the custody of Egyptian homeland security. Citing a senior forensic official, Reuters reported in late April that Regeni suffered “seven broken ribs, signs of electrocution on his penis, traumatic injuries all over his body and a brain hemorrhage.” The news agency had previously quoted a source in the public prosecutor’s office as saying that “the wounds on the body occurred over different intervals of between 10-14 hours” over a course of up to seven days.
Italy -- which is Egypt’s biggest trading partner in Europe and its third largest in the world -- withdrew its ambassador from Cairo in early April. Egyptian officials have denied all charges, suggesting that one or more foreign intelligence agencies are exploiting Regeni’s death or that the student himself was a covert operative. Meanwhile, they have launched a new investigation -- of Reuters.
All the attention and protest must flummox the Sisi regime’s security establishment, which has of late had every reason to feel not just empowered but invulnerable.
The military coup in July 2013 unleashed what Amnesty International called “state violence on an unprecedented scale” -- much of it initially directed against the Muslim Brotherhood, although it became evident soon enough that charges of membership or sympathy were often a matter of convenience. Labor unions, student groups and secular protest organizations have been targeted. Last year, an Egyptian court handed down a death sentence for Emad Shahin, a professor of public policy at the American University in Cairo, on the grounds of support for the Brotherhood. The accusation elicited a memorable response from Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University:“I would sooner believe that Vice President Biden is a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army than I would give credence to the charges against Emad.”
No regime at war with its own population is likely to treat the visiting foreigner as an innocent bystander. A report issued last month by the Cairo-based Association for Free Thought and Expression suggests that extreme suspicion of foreign researchers is a matter of routine for Egypt’s security apparatus, with surveillance and harassment as predictable consequences. But if Giulio Regeni’s murder proves to be a severe case of xenophobic paranoia at work, in other respects, it looks like just another data point in the regime’s ghastly statistics.
In January alone, according to El Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence in Cairo, there were “195 deaths, 42 cases of torture, including eight people who were tortured to death, 60 cases of medical neglect, 20 cases of group violence by the police, 66 forced disappearances, while 32 people were reported to have reappeared in various places of detention, in some cases months after they vanished.” Egyptian authorities closed El Nadeem Centre in February -- a move that one Amnesty International official called “a barefaced attempt to shut down an organization which has been a bastion for human rights and a thorn in the side of the authorities for more than 20 years.”
Relations between Washington and Cairo cooled following the initial post-coup crackdown, if only for a brief period. About a third of the $1.3 billion package in U.S. military aid was restored by June 2014, and the alliance was decidedly on the mend by last fall, when Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo. “Some analysts say the U.S. is prioritizing security and stability,” the BBC noted, “without taking democracy and human rights totally off the table.” Presumably that was a case of ironic British understatement.
The Truth for Giulio Regeni campaign launched by Amnesty International’s Italian organization in February has spread to the U.K., where Regeni’s friends and colleagues at Cambridge recently held a protest expressing frustration at the government’s failure to press Egypt for details on the student’s death.
Here in the United States, “Truth for Giulio Regeni” probably won't have as much resonance, but any support for the campaign is likely to have a disproportionate impact. “Egypt's Newest Dictator Was Made in the USA,” as the consummately inside-the-Beltway journal Politicoonce put it -- a nod to the strong ties between the Egyptian and American military elites established during the era of Anwar Sadat. The potential for embarrassment on both sides of this alliance is perhaps the one advantage ordinary people possess.
China passed a law on Thursday subjecting foreign nongovernmental organizations to increased regulation and police supervision, according to Chinese and international media reports. The law, which requires foreign NGOs to register their activities with police and public security agencies, has attracted widespread concerns that it will further constrain the activities of civil society organizations in China and inhibit international cooperation in any number of areas, including science and academe.
The impact of the new law on foreign educational institutions remains unclear. An earlier draft of the law defined foreign NGOs broadly, leading many to worry that university exchanges of all kinds could potentially be affected. The Chinese state media outlet Xinhua reported Thursday that the new and final draft of the law specifies that “exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and overseas colleges, hospitals, and science and engineering research institutes will follow existing regulations” -- rather than the new NGO law -- but experts said that greater clarity is needed before the impact of the law is known. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2017.
Mark Sidel, the Doyle-Bascom Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a consultant with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, said via email that "the new law indicates that certain academic exchanges and cooperation will be regulated by existing rules, not by this new law. But that raises as many questions as it answers: What academic exchanges and cooperation would come under other existing rules, and what academic, scholarly and research programs in China would come within this new law? None of that is at all clear, and must await clarification from Chinese authorities."
"Until -- and likely after -- that clarification occurs, the road ahead for academic and research exchanges and cooperation with Chinese institutions remains anxious and clouded because of this new law, despite the general attempt to indicate that certain activities will be governed by other existing rules," Sidel said.
A Chinese company has offered $12.6 million to purchase a University of Connecticut satellite campus with the aim of converting it into a private high school for international students, but the university “is hardly a disinterested seller,” The Boston Globereported. The Globe reported that UConn’s Neag School of Education is in discussions to develop a teacher training program in cooperation with the company, Weiming Education Group, which last month spent $46,000 to bring seven university officials to China. UConn’s spokeswoman said that the sale of the property is separate from the Neag School’s negotiations.
The Globe reported that the proposed sale of the campus in West Hartford to Weiming is attracting growing concern in the community, as local officials have learned that a similar program the company runs in Michigan is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for its handling of student visas.
Can a language requirement be discriminatory? A dyslexic student has filed a complaint in the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario after he was denied admission to a University of Ottawa master of political science program because he couldn’t meet a requirement to take one French-language course, the CBC reported. The student, citing the barriers he faces to learning languages due to his severe dyslexia, has requested to take the course in English or with the aid of a translator. A spokesperson for the University of Ottawa said the institution “does not see this as an accommodation issue” and the student “was not admitted … because he did not meet the essential admission requirements for the program.” The program website stipulates that students must have an “active knowledge of French” at the time of admission.