international

LexisNexis Pulls 2 Products Out of China

LexisNexis said it withdrew an academic research database and a business information service from the Chinese market in March after being asked to remove content, Reuters reported. The statement from LexisNexis came amid a controversy over Cambridge University Press’s decision to block access to more than 300 articles in the journal The China Quarterly at the request of government censors in order to avoid having all of its content blocked in China -- a decision that Cambridge subsequently reversed.

"Earlier this year LexisNexis Business Insight Solutions in China was asked to remove some content from its database," LexisNexis said in a statement quoted by Reuters. "In March 2017, the company withdrew two products (Nexis and LexisNexis Academic) from the Chinese market."

LexisNexis did not respond to inquiries from Inside Higher Ed seeking further information.

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U.S. Reduces Visa Processing in Russia

The U.S. Embassy in Russia is suspending all nonimmigrant visa operations beginning Wednesday, Aug. 23, “as a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the U.S. mission,” the embassy said. Beginning Sept. 1 visa interviews will resume, but only in Moscow. Nonimmigrant-visa interviews at U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok are suspended indefinitely.

Students and scholars are among those who come to the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas. The embassy said it plans to offer a block of visa appointments to students who need to get to their universities in the U.S. in early September.

The U.S. Embassy said it will “operate at reduced capacity for as long as our staffing levels are reduced.”

The Russian government recently said the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia would have to reduce its staff by 755 people. The move was in response to new sanctions against Russia imposed by the U.S. over Kremlin interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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Pending Crackdown on "Degree Inflation" in the U.K.?

United Kingdom Universities Minister Jo Johnson said “tackling degree inflation will be a priority” for the Office of Students, the new regulator of universities, raising the possibility that quotas limiting the number of "first-level" degrees could be put in place, the Independent reported. A rapid increase in the number of university students earning the top level, or “first-class” degrees, has led to concern that universities are dropping standards in order to recruit for undergraduate students. The number of first-class degrees awarded has grown by 59 percent since government-capped tuition fees rose from 3,000 pounds (about $3,846) to £9,000 (about $11,539) in 2011. A third of universities now award first-class degrees to a quarter of their students, four times the number that did five years ago.

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Thailand Files Charges Against Conference Attendees

Human Rights Watch is calling on Thailand’s military government to drop charges against a professor and four participants in an academic conference who are accused of violating a ban on public assembly. The charges stem from the International Conference on Thai Studies, which was held in July at Chiang Mai University.

Human Rights Watch said that Chayan Vaddhanaphuti -- who according to The Bangkok Post directs a center on social science and sustainable development at Chiang Mai and was an organizer of the conference -- faces up to a year in prison if convicted. In addition, Human Rights Watch said that four conference attendees -- Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam -- were charged for holding a sign that said “An academic forum is not a military barrack” to protest the military’s alleged surveillance of conference participants.

“Government censorship and military surveillance have no place at an academic conference,” Brad Adams, the Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “By prosecuting a conference organizer and participants, the Thai junta is showing the world its utter contempt for academic freedom and other liberties.”

A spokesman at the Thai embassy in Washington did not respond to requests from Inside Higher Ed for comment.

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Kidnapping Scam Reportedly Targets Chinese Students

A fake-kidnapping scam appears to be targeting Chinese students in and around Vancouver, B.C., Richmond News reported. Perpetrators of the reported fraud contact students in Canada and their families in China and impersonate Chinese officials, telling families that students have been kidnapped and demanding a ransom. The Royal Canadian Mountain Police said investigations are ongoing.

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Prison for Hong Kong Student Protest Leaders

Three leaders of Hong Kong’s 2014 student-led pro-democracy protests have been sentenced to prison after an appeals court overturned previous sentences for being too lax, The New York Times reported. Joshua Wong, the most visible of the student protest leaders, was sentenced to six months in prison, and fellow protest leaders Nathan Law and Alex Chow were sentenced to eight- and seven-month terms, respectively. All three reportedly plan to appeal their sentences, which by law render them ineligible to run for elected office for five years.

Wong and Chow were found guilty last year of unlawful assembly, while Law was convicted of inciting people to participate in the assembly. The Hong Kong Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday that the three activists "were convicted not because they exercised their civil liberties, but because their conduct during the protest contravened the law."

In a series of tweets, Wong said the fight for democracy would continue.

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Eastern Michigan and other universities tell international students '#YouAreWelcomeHere'

Eastern Michigan University displays banners of 108 of its international students on campus as part of a national campaign to convey “You Are Welcome Here.”

American ban on travel to North Korea could kill Western-style university there

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U.S. ban on travel to the country could kill the institution.

England’s ‘Access Agreements’ as Model for U.S.

The U.S. should “seriously consider” adopting the English practice of entering into mandatory “access agreements” in order to expand access to higher education, argues a new working paper, “English and American Higher Education Access and Completion Policy Regimes: Similarities, Differences and Possible Lessons.” The report also argues that the U.S. should expand its use of income-contingent loans and follow England’s lead in providing prospective students with nationally comparative data about student experience, satisfaction and income returns at the level of individual programs.

The working paper by Kevin J. Dougherty, of Columbia University, and Claire Callender, of University College London, explains that most English universities are required to submit access agreements in which they outline specific plans for widening participation and set performance targets. The agreements, which specify tuition fees and levels of scholarship support and describe planned retention and outreach activities and how much will be spent on them, are publicly available, and are reviewed by a public, nongovernmental agency.

The paper says that it’s difficult to determine just how much of a role the access agreements have played in expanding higher education access in England. But the authors argue that they could be a useful tool in the U.S., where they have no counterpart.

"The U.S. push for greater access to higher education institutions across the spectrum of selectivity could be aided by adoption of something like England’s policy of access agreements," they write. "This is not because access agreements have markedly democratized access to higher education in England so far. However, as we have seen above, the advent of access agreements has encouraged English institutions to become more thoughtful and persistent in their adoption of practices that might result in widening access to higher education."

“It would therefore seem useful for the United States to consider using access agreements at a time when there is rising concern about the large degree of racial/ethnic and class inequality in access to higher education generally and to selective institutions particularly … The requirement to have access agreements has the promise of pushing institutions to become more transparent, thoughtful and determined in their pursuit of wider access. Moreover, in committing to certain practices and outcomes, institutions could be more easily evaluated on their success and their use of practices that are rooted in sound evidence.”

As for lessons that England can take from the U.S., the paper recommends a need for more attention to England’s equivalent of community colleges, the further education colleges, which the authors argue have historically received relatively little policy attention, and greater skepticism about the expansion of the for-profit sector. The authors also recommend an increased emphasis on grants in financial aid, caution in adopting performance-funding structures, greater support for guidance counseling in elementary and high schools, and an expanded role for “contextualized admissions,” in which universities take socioeconomic information into account.

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Does bill against Israel boycott pose threat to academic freedom?

Civil rights groups argue “anti-Israel boycott” bill would violate First Amendment rights, while supporters say the bill is narrowly tailored and represents a minor amendment to current law.

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