British Government's Vision for Revamping Higher Ed

The Conservative government’s plan to revamp higher education in the United Kingdom was formally published in a new white paper on Monday. Among the proposals, the government has called for increasing competition and choice in the sector by making it easier for new higher education institutions to gain degree-awarding powers. The government also proposes linking future tuition increases to university teaching performance as measured by a new Teaching Excellence Framework.

Times Higher Education has published summaries of the proposed changes, as well as reaction from key players in the U.K.’s higher education sphere.

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Chinese Parents Protest Changes in Admission Policies

Thousands of Chinese parents joined demonstrations in the capital cities of Hubei and Jiangsu provinces on Saturday to protest changes in university admission policies that they say will make it more difficult for their children to gain spots in local universities, the South China Morning Post reported.

They were protesting a plan, announced earlier this month by the Ministry of Education and the National Development and Reform Commission, requiring universities in 14 developed provinces, including Hubei and Jiangsu, as well as major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, to admit 210,000 students from poorer inland provinces. The plan calls on universities in Hubei and Jiangsu to set aside nearly 80,000 slots for nonlocal students.

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Alleged Sex-Trafficking Scheme Involved Foreign Students

A Florida man accused of recruiting international students to the U.S. on false pretenses to further a prostitution business has been indicted on charges of sex trafficking and attempted sex trafficking by fraud, wire fraud, importation of aliens for prostitution or immoral purposes, and use of a facility of interstate commerce to operate a prostitution enterprise.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of Jeffrey Jason Cooper, of Miami Beach, on Wednesday. The indictment alleges that Cooper recruited students from Kazakhstan through the U.S. Department of State’s Summer Work Travel Program with false promises of clerical jobs in a fictitious yoga studio. The foreign students learned after their arrival in the U.S. that no yoga studio existed and that they were expected to perform erotic massages and sex acts in exchange for money.

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U of Cambridge plans one of world's most expensive degrees

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U of Cambridge introduces business program that is one of the most expensive degrees in the world.

Robot Prepared for China's University Entrance Exam

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.

China's strict new law regulating foreign NGO raises questions for universities

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The country's strict new law regulating the activities of foreign nongovernmental organizations raises many unanswered questions for universities operating there.

Americans Say World Thinks Well of U.S. Higher Ed

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.

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Israel Bars Founder of Boycott Movement From Traveling Abroad

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.

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SUNY Oswego sees success in diversifying its study abroad population

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SUNY Oswego has seen success expanding the diversity of its students who study abroad.

Repression of academics and others in Egypt (essay)

Three months ago, Inside Higher Ed reported 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 Times pointed 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 Politico once 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.

And while it is unfortunate and unjust that the torture of a single foreign student must be the synecdoche for uncounted thousands of people now in Egyptian prisons or graves, we should make the most of it. One place to start would be letters to the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt with copies to the U.S. Department of State. The website Egypt Solidarity is a good source of information on recent developments, and for anyone especially concerned with threats to Egyptian artists, writers, professors and students, the Association for Free Thought and Expression is indispensable.

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