Higher Education Quick Takes
The University of Wollongong, in Australia, is being criticized for accepting a Ph.D. dissertation -- in its humanities division -- that criticizes the country's vaccination policy as a conspiracy between the pharmaceutical industry and the World Health Organization, The Australian reported. Many scientists say the paper is contradicted by a scientific consensus about vaccines and their value. A spokesperson for the university defended the thesis, saying that the institution "supports researchers’ academic freedom of thought and expression."
The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom is urging Egypt’s newly convened parliament to strike down two executive orders issued in 2014 that it says impinge on university autonomy and student freedoms. One of these two orders grants the country’s president the power to appoint administrators at Egypt’s public universities, while the second gives university presidents the right to expel students “who practice acts of vandalism” -- a term that the committee writes is prone to abuse because “vandalism” is loosely defined to include “obstruction” of classes and other university activities.
“There is a troubling history in Egypt of peaceful student demonstrations and other exercises of free speech rights being classified by the authorities as ‘obstruction,’” the committee wrote in a letter to Egyptian government authorities in which it urged repeal of the two orders as “a prerequisite for restoring the full range of freedoms that Egyptian faculty and students deserve.”
Online education provider Udacity is promising graduates of its new Nanodegree Plus program that it will find them jobs within six months -- or their money back. The guarantee will initially apply to U.S.-based learners in four of Udacity's microcredential programs: Machine Learning Engineer, Android Developer, iOS Developer and Senior Web Developer. Udacity introduced nanodegrees, nine-month programs in career-focused subjects such as app development, machine learning and programming, in 2014. The start-up already refunds 50 percent of the $199 enrollment fee upon completion, but will launch Nanodegree Plus as a premium tier priced at $299. The programs are also available for free.
Building 7 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the site of many pranks and hacks. On Tuesday, anonymous students decorated its lobby to honor the late David Bowie with numerous images and a statue.
MIT posted these photographs to the university's Facebook page.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a case on whether people declaring bankruptcy should have an easier time erasing student loan debt in the process, The Wall Street Journal reported. The case was brought by a Wisconsin man with more than $260,000 in student loan debt from business and law school. He twice failed the bar exam. The man argues that lower courts should have allowed him to discharge his debt through bankruptcy. Generally, federal courts have made it difficult to do so, although a few courts have been more lenient.
In an about-face, George Washington University announced Monday that it would rescind the honorary degree it awarded Bill Cosby in 1997, joining more than a score of other institutions that have done the same over the last year.
As recently as October, the university affirmed that Cosby would retain the degree because “honorary degrees are conferred at a moment in time, based on what the university knows about the honoree at that time” and “it has never been the university’s practice to rescind an honorary degree.”
However, in a letter sent to the student body Monday, President Steven Knapp said, “Since then, however, I have continued to discuss this issue with students as well as colleagues. What has particularly moved and impressed me has been the argument that, whatever may ultimately be determined about the guilt or innocence of Mr. Cosby in a court of law, the controversy itself has become a cause of renewed distress for our students and alumni who are survivors of sexual assault. That makes this case different, in my considered judgment, from other cases in which the assessment of a degree candidate might be altered by subsequent information or events. I have therefore decided that the university will rescind Mr. Cosby’s honorary degree.”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced a series of college affordability proposals for the state on Monday.
The proposals include legislation that would eliminate caps on tax deductions for student loan interest, a move the governor's office claims would save borrowers in the state $5.2 million annually. Other measures include $500,000 annually toward grants for technical college students over the next two years as well as establishing $450,000 in emergency grants for technical and community college students who find themselves with unexpected financial need.
Other proposed legislation includes two bills that would create more internships in state departments and a bill that would require public colleges and universities to provide financial literacy training for students in their first trimester.
The proposals come after Wisconsin last year adopted a biennial budget that cut higher education funding $250 million. They also come during the fourth consecutive year of a mandatory tuition freeze, which Walker's office says has saved Wisconsin students $6,311 on average.
Hobsons, a student-success-oriented company, will buy the Predictive Analytics Reporting (PAR) Framework, a nonprofit learning-analytics project that last year was spun off from the Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education. The commission began the project in 2011 as a collaboration between six online institutions, which shared data about student learning. Since then it broadened to include on-ground and competency-based institutions. The PAR currently has more than two dozen member institutions, according to Hobsons. The company also recently bought Starfish Retention Services, which uses software to try to boost student retention.
The Schwarzman Scholars program, which provides full funding for students to pursue a master’s degree at China's Tsinghua University, has named its inaugural class of students. The 111 students were selected from more than 3,000 applicants and come from 32 countries and 75 universities. Nearly half (44 percent) come from the U.S., 21 percent come from China and 35 percent come from the rest of the world.
A list of the award winners, who will study public policy, economics and business, and international studies at the residential Schwarzman College on Tsinghua’s campus, is available here.