Britain's home office has suspended the administration of English language tests run by the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service after the BBC news program, "Panorama," uncovered “systematic fraud” at British test centers. As summarized in this BBC article, Panorama recorded instances of Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) examinees being replaced by “fake-sitters” who completed the test for them, and of a proctor reading the correct answers aloud to test takers. The news program followed a network of agents who help bogus students from outside the European Union pass the TOEIC, a government-approved English test for immigration purposes, and otherwise obtain student visa extensions fraudulently.
Thomas A. Ewing, an ETS spokesman, told Inside Higher Ed via email that the issues seem to involve two TOEIC testing centers and that the government’s suspension of TOEIC and Test of English as a Foreign Language exams within the U.K. will not affect test-takers elsewhere in the world. “When testing on a global basis, no test provider can claim 100 percent prevention or detection of fraudulent activity, but ETS does everything it can to detect and prevent rare instances of dishonest test administrators or test takers,” an ETS statement read, in part.
Xia Yeliang, whose firing by Peking University set off an international uproar, is starting today at the Cato Institute, a think tank, and he has cautions for American universities about their ties with Chinese universities, The New York Times reported. “They use the reputations of Western universities to cover their own scandals,” he told the Times. "Perhaps Western universities do not realize that Chinese universities do not have the basic value of academic freedom, and try to use Western universities to cover their bad side."
The rector of the University of Pristina, Kosovo's state university, has resigned amid student protests over reports of academic fraud by professors, Reuters reported. Students started protesting after local press reports that professors had been publishing work in fake academic journals to advance their careers.
In yet another illustration of the outrage stirred by the American Studies Association’s largely symbolic boycott of Israeli universities, U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) on Thursday announced the introduction of a bill that would amend the Higher Education Act to block federal funding for universities that boycott Israeli institutions or scholars. Student financial aid funds would be unaffected.
“This bipartisan legislation seeks to preserve academic freedom and combat bigotry by shielding Israel from unjust boycotts. It is ludicrous for critics to go after our democratic friend and ally Israel when they should be focusing on the evils perpetrated by repressive, authoritarian regimes like Iran and North Korea,” Rep. Roskam, the Chief Deputy Whip and co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, said in a statement.
Anti-boycott legislation has also been introduced in the Maryland and New York State legislatures, in the latter case passing the New York Senate before stalling in the Assembly. The American Association of University Professors has argued that legislative attempts to squash boycotts pose a greater danger to academic freedom than boycotts themselves (which the AAUP also opposes).
A bill pending in the New York Assembly that would prohibit the use of state aid to fund or pay membership dues to academic organizations that endorse the academic boycott of Israel was withdrawn from consideration by that body’s Higher Education Committee on Monday, The Albany Times Unionreported. A spokesman for the bill’s sponsor, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, told the newspaper, “We are addressing some concerns with the bill." The spokesman did not elaborate further.
The move comes days after a similar bill passed the New York Senate by a wide margin. Similar legislation has also been filed in Maryland, prompting a renewed statement of protest from the American Association of University Professors on Tuesday.
“While it is the position of the AAUP that academic boycotts contravene the principles of academic freedom, the Association has nevertheless asserted that it is 'the right of individual faculty members or groups of academics not to cooperate with other individual faculty members or academic institutions with whom or with which they disagree,' the association said in the statement. “Legislative interference in academic decision-making and with the freedom of scholars to associate and exchange views with their peers is even more dangerous than the academic boycotts this legislation is intended to oppose. That is because this legislation undermines constitutionally protected academic speech and debate in order to promote a particular viewpoint.”
The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom has weighed in on the case of Emad Shahin, a prominent political scientist whose indictment on charges of espionage and subversion last month made international headlines. As The New York Timeshas reported, Shahin, who has taught at the American University of Cairo, Harvard University and the University of Notre Dame, was charged along with former President Mohamed Morsi and several other senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders with conspiring with foreign organizations to undermine Egypt’s national security. He was the second scholar to be targeted in what The Times described as a crackdown on critics of last summer’s military take-over.
Shahin, the editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics, called the charges “baseless,” politically motivated,” and “beyond preposterous” and said he had never been a member or supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Dr. Shahin is well known in both Egypt and the United States as a critic of the authoritarian policies and practices of the Egyptian state. He has been a consistent voice for democracy, pluralism and the rule of law throughout the political tumult in Egypt since January 2011,” the Committee on Academic Freedom wrote in a letter to Egypt's Minister of Justice. “We agree, therefore, with Dr. Shahin when he surmises that his 'true offense' is that he has been vocal in his criticism of 'the course of political events in Egypt since last summer.' We are deeply concerned that his indictment signals a decision on the part of the Egyptian state to hound all of its political opponents—regardless of partisan or ideological affiliation — and thereby suppress political dissent.”
George Washington University has opted not to move ahead with building a campus in China. Under the leadership of the university’s former business school dean and vice president for China operations, Doug Guthrie, the university had explored the possibility of seeking approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education to develop a campus in partnership with the University of International Business and Economics, in Beijing. (Only five Western universities, including Duke, Kean and New York Universities, in the U.S., have such approval.). Guthrie was fired from his administrative posts in August for budget overages.
“The university did not have a formal plan to build a campus in China,” the university’s provost, Steven Lerman, said in a statement. “We had been looking at a variety of options, and with the help of a faculty advisory group, we decided instead to enhance existing partnerships such as our new Confucius Institute and study abroad programs."
In an interview, Guthrie said he believed the administration’s decision to be a result of pushback from the Faculty Senate. “It’s fully within the right of the administration and the faculty to decide what direction they want to go, but my hope is that universities will go as deep into relationships with China as they can,” said Guthrie, who’s now a professor of international business and management at George Washington. “That was always my vision.”
A consortium of small colleges and universities in developing nations around the world is collaborating on a multidisciplinary course that delivers many of the merits of MOOCs but also provides experiential education directed at pressing local needs. The desired result of this pilot is a powerful blend of multidisciplinary scholarly perspectives, global insights from direct interactions with academics around the world, and applied experience such as comes from helping host communities confront barriers to their sustainable development.
Massive open online courses are invaluable sources of knowledge delivered to every corner of every continent. One can hardly overstate the revolutionary and potentially empowering contribution of MOOCs toward human development as they stream information across recently bridged digital divides. However, what’s missing from this Internet-delivered treasure trove is the focused insight and skill that comes from analyzing, understanding, and working on issues of local importance.
MOOCs from major universities in the United States or Britain are necessarily sweeping in scope – and often laced with informative case studies – but they rarely if ever speak to the specific conditions and challenges that a given student experiences every day. In this respect, MOOCs are geographically generic, lacking the capacity to drill down to the granular details and nuanced elements of a regional issue. So while institutions of higher learning will do well to tap MOOCs for their powerhouse instructors and insightfully articulated content, they should also look to the development needs of their host communities for learning opportunities that provide direct experience, not to mention the rewards that come from confronting, analyzing, understanding, and surmounting a local challenge.
American University of Nigeria (AUN) is trying to reconcile the efficiency of MOOCs in knowledge-sharing with the skill-building experience that comes from community service that is directly tied to local needs. In the pilot course described here, we are introducing a third element, which has an intimate connection with local issues in other parts of the world, not just in reading or videos, but through the receipt of tailored content from and interaction with participating faculty from around the globe.
The subject matter for the pilot course is water; the venues are Africa, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Lebanon, and the United States. The course, entitled Global Explorations of Water, is multidisciplinary, exquisitely relevant, and locally originated, albeit from multiple communities. Water is of course supremely important in all the venues, but in different ways that call for a breadth of understanding and versatility of analysis.
The course grew out of the work of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA), a Great Lakes Colleges Association-based initiative dedicated to supporting liberal arts in higher education and fostering global connections among faculty members in both teaching and research. For several years, GLAA has hosted workshops that convene professors from many disciplines and countries for training and facilitated interactions. Last summer’s three-day workshop at the College of Wooster focused on water in the fullest spirit of the liberal arts tradition, with a rich potpourri of lectures, exhibitions, performances and field trips in art, faith, science, policy, technology, and management. The attendees from the countries listed above spoke to their region’s most pressing issues surrounding water. For instance AUN’s representative described desertification and flooding that arises from deforestation; Forman Christian College’s (Pakistan) attendees discussed agriculture and biofuels.
The faculty member from Earlham College addressed environmental justice in the Great Lakes region. Other colleges brought forth similarly diverse and pertinent issues and perspectives.
The course’s design and delivery is straightforward, requiring no special software. Faculty members select, develop and post their content in one of a number of places on the web, sometimes videotaping classroom lectures and other times simply speaking into their computers and referencing accompanying presentation slides. The online materials are available to students and faculty members at any of the participating institutions. Several faculty members have taken themselves or their classes into the field, videotaping hilltop mini-lectures, discussions, and interviews with stakeholders on local water issues.
The switchboard for the course is a website that provides basic information and points to the pertinent content on the web, be it faculty-posted materials, TED Talks, or literary readings.
Videoconferencing is another, powerful element of the course. The interactions between African students and faculty from abroad add a dimension that reading or videos never could. For instance, we at AUN have had students briefly describe their assignments to faculty from widely varying disciplines and geographies to receive feedback and perspective that a single local instructor could scarcely offer.
As mentioned above, this fall’s pilot offering is driven by AUN, whose faculty and students post the lion’s share of content. Faculty from other countries and disciplines who participated in the GLAA workshop are also posting content on regional water issues that speaks to their expertise, addresses their local challenges, and tailors itself to the overall themes of the course.
Although AUN students are the only ones participating in this pilot course, the content and lessons learned will be available next spring to the faculty in Pakistan, Lebanon, Bulgaria, and the U.S., as well as a possible sequel at AUN. It will be the instructors’ prerogative to select among the already available web-posted content, to develop and post their own, and to assign their students the appropriate community-based learning experience. To access this content, the instructor may choose to develop his or her own switchboard website. The instructors will also have the chance to arrange video conferences with their colleagues from afar. Looking forward, Global Explorations of Water will likely become a “cumulative course,” updated each semester with new content while drawing retrospectively on content from earlier offerings. The richer and more diverse this content – and the greater the selection available to a given instructor – the more the course will assume the merits of a MOOC, although never at the expense of local relevance and experiential learning.
Charles C Reith is interim provost and director of sustainability at American University of Nigeria.