CUNY Ph.D. Students Postpone Vote on Israel Boycott

The Doctoral Students' Council of the City University of New York Graduate Center on Friday postponed a vote on a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli universities and for CUNY to cut ties to Israeli businesses and other entities. The proposal was controversial both because of its substance and because the meeting on which the measure was to be discussed and voted on was on a Friday evening, when observant Jews would be unable to attend because of the Sabbath. The council said that the vote would be rescheduled for a time when observant Jews would be able to attend.


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U. of Sydney Withdraws Invitation to Sri Lankan Activists

The University of Sydney has agreed to the demands of authorities from Sri Lanka that the university withdraw invitation to two human rights activists from Sri Lanka to a conference on human rights in Asia that the university is organizing in Bangkok, The Guardian reported. The conference is being organized with the University of Colombo and Sri Lankan officials will attend and speak. Human rights groups are criticizing the decision, but University of Sydney officials say that they remain supportive of academic freedom.


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Essay on the impact an independent Scotland would have on its universities

On Friday, 6 million people who went to sleep the night previous in the United Kingdom could wake up in a completely different country. After years of mounting pressure, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has finally gotten its way: a referendum on Scottish independence. A “no” vote will maintain the status quo – Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom. A “yes” vote will kick off two years of tense negotiations between the Scottish government and the UK government to finalize the terms of Scottish independence.

While previously seen by many as a quixotic enterprise, Scottish independence has gained traction and for the first time is leading in the polls. A vote for independence will lead to dramatic changes for Scottish universities. In the worst-case scenarios, independence could bring a dramatic loss in research funding, an exodus of faculty from Scotland’s top institutions, and either an imposition of tuition or fewer opportunities for students.

As part of the UK, Scotland punches above its weight with regard to research funding. Even with new taxation powers independence would bring, there is no guarantee that an independent Scottish government could maintain current funding levels to make up the deficit.  According to a British government analysis, Scottish higher education institutions receive around 13.1 percent, or £257 million ($418 million), of UK Research Council funding. When one considers that Scotland constitutes only 8.4 percent of the total UK population and 9 percent of total tax contributions, the university system clearly benefits from being part of the UK. Even when removing the University of Edinburgh, the institution that receives the most UK Research Council funding in Scotland, at 30 percent of the Scottish total, Scotland still receives funding in excess of its proportion of GDP and the UK population. 

Scottish universities receive 82 percent of their funding from public sources, but only 30 percent of Scottish research funding is uniquely Scottish in its origin, from the Scottish-government-backed Scottish Funding Council. Scottish taxes account for part, but not all, of university funding, which also includes European research grants, United Kingdom Research Council, and other public sources of funding.

If, as pro-independence leaders suggest, Scotland would be able to remain in the European Union, European funding would likely remain at similar levels. Automatic EU membership, however, is far from assured. In fact, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has suggested that Scotland would have to apply for membership. Membership through application is unlikely to happen, as member nations with large separatist movements within their borders – countries such as Spain and Belgium – are likely to veto Scottish membership. Without EU membership, the 15 percent of the Scottish research budget made up by European grants would be in doubt.

A loss of funding could result in broad negative effects on the Scottish higher education system, but one of the most detrimental could be the loss of top-tier faculty and researchers. Scottish researchers are extraordinarily efficient. They produce more publications per researcher than faculty in the rest of the UK, Ireland, Belgium, and the Nordic countries. Their per-researcher publication rate is almost three times the rate in the United States. Independence-driven funding decreases might cause a decline in those rates as top researchers leave for greener pastures. Reduced funding would make it harder to complete complex research projects, and faculty may look to nations with larger research budgets as better places to produce impactful research.

Even if research funding were to remain the same, Scottish faculty may still move south of the border for fear of losing their pensions. There is currently no plan setting out the way Scottish pensions and benefits would be paid with independence. This uncertainty over pensions and benefits could also impact recruitment efforts, as it could be hard to convince newly minted Ph.D.s to start research agendas in Scotland if they have opportunities in more stable circumstances.

As Scottish faculty leave, English students might arrive due to possible changes in the tuition structure. If the Yes campaign is correct about Scotland’s ability to remain in the European Union, current tuition policies for non-Scottish students will likely be challenged in European courts. Currently, all Scottish students can attend universities within the country free of charge. Students from the rest of Britain, however, must pay up to £9,000 ($14,600) in tuition to attend Scottish universities. The SNP suggests that the status quo will remain should Scotland gain independence. If Scotland does not maintain its membership in the European Union, this is certainly correct. In a scenario in which Scotland finds a way into the European Union, legal experts disagree with the SNP and suggest the new nation’s universities likely would not be able to charge tuition to UK students any longer.

Since the Maastricht Treaty established the European Union in 1992, member states have subscribed to a doctrine of nondiscrimination in higher education. Member states may adopt their own rules, admission processes, and fees, but may not discriminate against nationals from other member states. European judges have chosen to uphold this policy in the past, preventing universities in Belgium and Austria from establishing differential tuition rates and admission policies for French and Austrian students, respectively.

Scotland is currently able to charge tuition fees to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The policy is perceived as a domestic policy. If Scotland were to vote for independence, the domestic policy would become foreign policy. To pass legal muster, Scottish universities would either have to charge all students or provide a Scottish university education free of charge to students from the rest of the UK and EU.

Losing the ability to charge tuition from students in the rest of the United Kingdom may not negatively impact the most prestigious institutions like the University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, or St. Andrews University. Tuition payments from the rest of the UK make up less than 5 percent of net assets at each of those institutions and their academic quality would likely make them continue to be desirable for many students. For the less-selective institutions, however, the potential loss of tuition revenue could have drastic consequences. At Abertay University, for example, tuition payments from the rest of Britain make up nearly a fifth of the university budget.

In short, Scottish universities in an independent EU-member Scotland can’t offer different rates to British and other EU students. The alternative is charging a new tuition rate for all students, regardless of citizenship status. In either scenario, Scottish students are the losers – either for fewer available spots at the new nation’s universities or having to pay tuition for an education that was previously free.

While no outcome is guaranteed, a vote for independence could result in less research funding, faculty leaving their posts for better opportunities in the rest of the UK and elsewhere, and negative outcomes for students.  While potential benefits of Scottish independence might exist in other arenas, the Scottish higher education system will experience the status quo at best and diffuse negative effects at worst.

With such negative potential consequences related to independence, Scots who have any relationship with their nation’s universities should overwhelmingly oppose the ballot measure. Doing so is the only way to guarantee stable research funding, maintenance of an extraordinarily productive faculty, and a future free of tuition payments for Scottish students. Yet, academics have split into three camps – those who support the movement, those who believe the nation is better as part of the union, and those who have yet to weigh in on the subject. While students voted down independence in mock referendums at two Glasgow universities, students at the city’s University of Strathclyde supported the measure in a similar exercise. The universities themselves refuse to take a stance, either out of a misplaced desire to remain neutral or for fear of retribution from SNP ministers. Why such mixed messages from the higher education community when the prospect of independence so adversely affects Scottish universities?

The future of higher education in the country where scientists dreamed up Dolly the sheep and the Higgs-Boson particle is simply not swaying the minds of voters – even those related to the universities themselves. Perhaps voters take the strength of Scottish universities for granted, or perhaps anxieties about Scotland’s economic prospects, distaste for the future of a Tory-led UK, and a romantic sense of patriotism have all outweighed any concerns about higher education. Neither situation is good for universities, and both have broad implications for universities everywhere.

Scotland is only one of several regions in European countries seeking independence. Independence movements aren’t some fleeting trend – they are here to stay, and universities in those countries must be ready to act if those movements gain traction. 

Even in nations where no real threat of secession exists, like the United States, voters often fail to assess the policy implications of the ballots they cast when it comes to their public universities. In an era where public institution budget cuts persist despite the waning of austerity measures, the Scottish independence referendum should provide a warning to universities everywhere – engage in the national debate, or risk being an afterthought on Election Day.


Christopher R. Marsicano is a Ph.D. student in leadership and policy studies with a focus in higher education policy at Vanderbilt University.

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U. of Edinburgh

Agents expand reach into domestic higher education in Australia

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Australian colleges have long used recruiters to woo international students. Now they're turning to companies to help them recruit students within the country, too.

Students at Chinese University Told to Clean Dorms

Students at China’s Nanchang University are protesting a new policy requiring students to clean their own dormitories, including the bathrooms, the South China Morning Post reported. The university president said the policy is intended to build students’ character, but the students say they are at the university to study, not to clean. Photos of piles of trash in the dormitories have been posted online. 

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OECD ‘Education at a Glance’ Report Published

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has released its annual Education at a Glance report, an almanac of indicators on such topics as educational attainment, employment rates by level of education, funding for educational systems, and student mobility across the 34 OECD member nations as well as for 10 additional countries. The dataset encompasses many wealthy nations that predominantly make up the OECD’s membership, in addition to countries with rapidly emerging economies, including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. 

Highlights from the data for the United States include the finding that while a large proportion of American adults have attained university-level education (at 43 percent, the firth-highest rate among countries in the analysis), the postsecondary educational attainment rate is increasing much faster in many other countries. In regards to upward mobility, a relatively small proportion of U.S. adults (30 percent) attain a higher level of education than did their parents. Since the height of the economic crisis, the rate of unemployment has dropped for American adults with all levels of education.

The U.S. continues to host more international students than any other country but its share of the population of globally mobile students continues to fall. In 2012, the U.S. attracted 16 percent of all international students, compared to 23 percent in 2000.

The total number of students enrolled in a higher education program outside their home country has more than doubled since 2000, climbing to a new high of 4.5 million students in 2012. About half (53 percent) of these students are from Asia.


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Anthropology Group Creates Task Force on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The American Anthropological Association has created a task force to aid the organization’s executive board in considering ways in which the AAA might address issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The task force, which has been asked to provide a written report by October of 2015, has been charged with the following responsibilities:

• "Enumerate the issues embedded in the conflict between Israel and Palestine that directly affect the Association."
• "Develop principles to be used to assess whether the AAA has an interest in taking a stand on these issues. This may include providing a comprehensive and neutral overview of arguments for and against a range of specific possible stands (including no action)."
• "Apply these principles in completing an assessment of the nature and extent of AAA’s interest in taking a specific stand on these issues."
• "Assess whether the AAA has an interest in taking a specific stand on any broader but relevant issues that are raised in the context."
• "Recommend a course of action (this may include no action) for the Association.”

The seven-member task force was appointed by AAA President Monica Heller. In a press release, the association said that one criterion for membership was having no publicly identified positions on the issue. Another criterion was having relevant subject matter expertise. 

The AAA’s actions come in the wake of several other academic associations, most notably the American Studies Association, endorsing a boycott of Israeli universities.

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Guns vs. (Higher Ed) Butter in Israel

Leaders of Israel's universities are asking the government not to move ahead with across-the-board 2 percent cuts to their budgets (along with all other government spending) to pay for the recent military action in Gaza, The Jerusalem Post reported. The academic leaders note that the period of 2000-2009 is called "the lost decade" for higher education in the country, as budget cuts led to brain drain, and that current budgets were intended to deal with the damage that was done previously. “This decision will lead to the end of the higher education era in the State of Israel,” said a letter signed by university leaders.


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Changes to Chinese College Entrance Exam Announced

China has released its plans for changing its national college entrance exam, the Gaokao, the South China Morning Post reported. Among other things, the changes would stagger some of the testing over the course of students’ high school careers rather than having all the tests be administered at once. 

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Controversy in Switzerland over university job ad seeking only female applicants

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Swiss university advertises a faculty opening and invites only women to apply. Is such a move legal? Justified?


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