U.S. Seeks to Expand Educational Ties With Cuba

The White House made a series of announcements on Monday related to expanding U.S.-Cuba educational exchanges timed with President Obama's visit to the island. These include a new $1 million commitment from "the Cuban American community" to the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, a public-private partnership that seeks to expand student exchange throughout the Western Hemisphere. Cuba has also been added to the list of participating countries for two U.S. Department of State-funded exchange programs: the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program, which brings midcareer professionals to the U.S. for nondegree study and professional experiences, and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program, which funds study abroad for American undergraduates with financial need.

Monday’s announcements -- a full list of which can be found here -- are the latest in a series of steps the Obama administration has taken since 2011 to open up and promote educational travel to Cuba.

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Bus Carrying Exchange Students Crashes in Spain, Killing 13

A bus carrying international exchange students crashed Sunday in Spain, killing at least 13 passengers and injuring 34, the Associated Press reported. Most of the passengers were studying at two Barcelona universities through the Erasmus exchange program. Passengers from around 20 countries were on board the bus, which was en route to Barcelona from Valencia, where the students had attended a fireworks festival.

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Trinity College Dublin's letters about rankings raise eyebrows

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Trinity College Dublin sent letters seeking favorable reviews. QS, a major player in rankings, says the university's actions are "in breach" and could warrant suspension from the process.

New Report Looks at Study Abroad vs. On-Campus Mortality Rates

American college students are less likely to die on study abroad programs than on their home campuses, according to a new analysis of insurance claims published by the Forum on Education Abroad. The analysis compares data from two major insurance providers, which together insured nearly half of all students studying abroad in 2014, with findings from a 2013 study on mortality at 157 college campuses.

The comparison found that students on U.S. campuses were more than twice as likely to die as students studying abroad. The two study abroad insurance providers reported a combined four deaths out of a total 146,898 insured students in 2014. Two of these deaths were accidental and two were related to pre-existing medical conditions.

“While year-to-year variations may alter the results to some extent, the sensitivity analysis performed above should provide some measure of comfort in concluding that, at the very least, study abroad does not carry a greater risk of death than does study on U.S. university campuses,” the forum’s report concludes.

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Three Scholars Jailed, One Deported in Turkey

Three Turkish academics who held a press conference affirming their support for a January petition opposing a military campaign against Kurdish separatists have been jailed for allegedly “making terrorist propaganda.” A British computer scientist who came to the police station in a show of support for the three scholars has also been detained and deported after 25 years living in Turkey, according to reports from Nature News and the Associated Press.

The three Turkish academics being held in jail are Kivanc Ersoy, a mathematician at Mimar Sinan University, Muzaffer Kaya, a political scientist from Nisantasi University, and Esra Mungan, a psychologist at Bogazici University. The British national who was deported after being found to have invitations to Kurdish New Year celebrations in his bag is Chris Stephenson, a computer science lecturer at Istanbul's Bilgi University.

The jailings and deportation are the latest actions taken against the more than 1,000 Turkish professors who signed the Academics for Peace petition. Scholars who signed were accused by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of “treason” and have faced a range of repercussions, including criminal investigations and university-level disciplinary proceedings. Some of the signatories have been dismissed or suspended from their academic positions.

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Foreign academics report difficulties working at leading South Korean university

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Western scholars recruited to a top university report feeling their careers are limited, and they leave after a few years.

An 'Internal Boycott' in Israel?

The leader of the Israeli Sociological Society said he is implementing a 2011 decision by the group’s general assembly to refrain from academic cooperation with Ariel University, which is located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

“It’s a matter of making the declaration of a moral principle and drawing the line between Israel and the occupied territories, reminding people that there is such a line and while we surely accept the state of Israel as fully legitimate we do not accept as such the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and the denial of basic rights from Palestinians for 50 years or so cannot go on unnoticed by the sociological association,” said Uri Ram, the association's new president.

Ram emphasized that this action is not part of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that targets Israeli universities broadly. “Israeli academia is part of a legitimate system. Not so the so-called academia beyond the Green Line,” he said.

Ram said the association’s board will discuss the issue at its meeting next month. He said there is a need for renewed discussion now that he has brought the issue to the consciousness of members again but that any change to the 2011 policy would need to be put to a vote.

The news of the sociological association’s stance comes at a time when many scholars in Israel are worried about the momentum BDS has gained in international academe. Israel's minister of education, Naftali Bennett, is quoted in a Jerusalem Post article expressing concern about an “internal boycott” by sociologists.

“It is absurd that the fighters for academic freedom are taking the right to discriminate between institutions into their own hands,” Bennett said.

“The Israeli taxpayers fund higher education with some NIS 10 billion [new Israeli shekels, about $2.6 billion] a year and we have no intention of allowing boycotts.”

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Laval U Will Review Poster Resembling Nazi Images

Laval University, in Quebec, has promised to review one of its posters after many complained that it looks like a Nazi poster and resembles the Nazi German pavilion from the 1937 World's Fair, CBC News reported. The poster features a soaring bird that looks like a Nazi eagle symbol, on top of stripes of red and orange (image is available through the link).

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Stephen Hawking Warns Against Brexit

Stephen Hawking, the Emeritus Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and more than 150 other Royal Society fellows are warning that Britain’s exit from the European Union would be a “disaster” for science in the United Kingdom. In a letter published in The Times of London, Hawking, of black hole fame, and fellow scientists argue that the so-called Brexit would hurt science because the union has led to increased research funding, especially in the United Kingdom.

“We now recruit many of our best researchers from continental Europe, including younger ones who have obtained [European Union] grants and have chosen to move with them here,” they added. “Being able to attract and fund the most talented Europeans assures the future of British science and also encourages the best scientists elsewhere to come here.”

Tim Worstall, fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, wrote in Forbes, meanwhile, that Hawking and others “get it wrong.” The problem with their argument, he wrote, “is that they’ve entirely missed the economic point about science itself: that it’s a public good. That means that it doesn’t actually matter who does the science, where it’s done, only that it is done. That’s the economic implication of it being a public good: and it’s also the economic reasoning behind why there’s public subsidy to it.”

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U.S. Young Adults Lag Behind International Peers

The National Center for Education Statistics released its assessment of young adults' skills yesterday and found American adults lag behind their international peers in numeracy and problem solving.

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) exam revealed that the average numeracy score for U.S. adults was lower than average scores for 16 other countries, not statistically different for three countries and higher than three other countries. The assessment also found that when it comes to digital problem-solving skills, the U.S. average score was lower than every other participating country except one.

"In today's global labor market, companies can choose their workers from among dozens of countries. In this highly competitive environment, American workers are at an enormous disadvantage," said Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in a news release. "First, a smaller portion of our students graduate high school. Second, even those who do graduate perform poorly relative to their competitors in other countries on the OECD PISA survey of high school students. It should not surprise us that the skills of our graduating high school students predict the skills of our adult workers."

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