international

Chinese Students Plead Guilty to TOEFL Fraud

Three Chinese students have agreed to plead guilty to cheating on the Test of English as a Foreign Language and will likely be deported, Reuters reported.

Xiaomeng Cheng pleaded guilty of conspiring to defraud the U.S. in a Boston federal court Wednesday, and plea hearings are set for two additional students, Shikun Zhang and Yue Wang. Prosecutors say that Wang, a student at Hult International Business School, was paid to take the TOEFL for Cheng, who used the fraudulent test score to gain admission to Arizona State University, and Zhang, who used the fraudulent score to gain admission to Northeastern University. The students then obtained visas from the U.S. State Department based on their admission offers.

The three students faced up to five years in prison, but prosecutors recommended they be sentenced for time served if they agreed to be deported. A fourth student accused of involvement in the fraud, Leyi Huang, reportedly declined to enter into a similar plea deal.

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Ontario Proposes a French-Language University

The government of Ontario is proposing to create the province’s first French-language university and will introduce legislation to this effect in the coming months. According to the government’s announcement, Ontario is home to 611,500 Francophones, the largest Francophone population in Canada outside Quebec. 

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Chinese Universities Seek Tighter Control of Faculty

Chinese universities are tightening their ideological control of faculty members’ views, with seven top-tier universities having established “teachers’ affairs departments” to oversee the ideological and political views of professors, the South China Morning Post reported. The establishment of the departments comes amid a broader push by the Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping to strengthen the party’s ideological hold on university campuses.

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U.S. to Restrict Visas in Four Countries

The Trump administration will impose visa sanctions on four countries that refuse to take back their citizens when the U.S. seeks to deport them, CNN reported. Citizens of the four countries -- Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone – will be subject to restrictions on visas. 

The Department of State will determine the scope of the visa restrictions in the four countries. The U.S. has imposed visa sanctions for countries it deems "recalcitrant" in taking back their citizens just twice before: for Guyana, in 2001, and Gambia, in 2016. In both cases visas were restricted for certain government and diplomatic employees.

None of the four countries send sizable numbers of students or scholars to the U.S. According to data from the Institute of International Education, the four countries collectively sent fewer than 1,000 students to the U.S. in 2015-16.

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Lecturer in Australia Criticized for Teaching on Taiwan, Hong Kong

A lecturer at the University of Newcastle, in Australia, has come under criticism in the media after Chinese students complained about the use of teaching materials that referred to Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries, The Australian reported. A Chinese-language newspaper, Sydney Today, posted a reported exchange between the lecturer, who was not named, and a student.

“You have to consider all the students’ feelings … Chinese students are one-third of this classroom, you make us feel uncomfortable … you have to show your respect,” the student is heard saying on the recording.

The lecturer is heard saying, “If you feel offended about it, that is your opinion.”

The university said in a statement that the lecturer was using material from a Transparency International report “which used the term ‘countries’ to describe both countries and territories.” Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that will eventually be reunited with the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong is a special administrative region within China.

“The lecturer agreed to discuss the students’ concerns after the lecture and unfortunately this discussion was covertly recorded and then released to the media,” Newcastle’s statement said. “The university is disappointed that there was not an opportunity for the issues raised to be resolved through our normal process in a fair and respectful manner.”

The Australian noted that the dispute over the teaching materials came days after a University of Sydney information technology lecturer apologized for displaying a map that showed certain Chinese-claimed territory as being part of India.

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A look inside the world of fraternities in Germany

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Image problems, outdated traditions (required sword fights) and scandals make it tough to recruit students these days.

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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