Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 3:00am

Another sign of the competition among MOOCs (massive online open courses) for the global student population: The all-British MOOC provider on Monday announced an expansion and British Prime Minister David Cameron promoted the offerings during a trip to India. Cameron said that the expansion of Futurelearn (as the MOOC provider is called) "will mean that Indian students can access some of the best teaching and learning online from their home in Mumbai or Delhi." And a statement from Simon Nelson, CEO of Futurelearn, noted the international competition. "Until now, this market has been dominated by companies based in the U.S., but with 18 U.K. partners, we are determined to provide the smartest and most engaging online learning experiences and revolutionize conventional models of education."

The new members of Futurelearn are the British Library, Queen's University Belfast and the Universities of Bath, Leicester, Nottingham and Reading.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 3:00am

Catawba College has announced that some applicants no longer have to submit SAT or ACT scores. The option will be available to those with a high school grade-point average of at least 3.25. Those who opt not to submit SAT or ACT scores will need to submit additional materials, including an "extracurricular and leadership résumé," as well as a personal statement.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 3:00am

Critics of Emory University President James Wagner don't appear to be satisfied by his apology for a letter in the alumni magazine in which he suggested the Constitution's three-fifths compromise was a model for how opposing parties can work together. While Wagner issued an apology for his wording and for the hurt it caused, students and faculty members report considerable discussion taking place (much of it online) about anger over the original statement. The Black Students Alliance and the NAACP chapter at the university are planning a rally Wednesday. They also will draw attention to other issues of concern, such as a student-run television show that in December referenced the Supreme Court case on affirmative action in college admissions and urged viewers to help identify students who "shouldn’t be here and are only at the school because of affirmative action." Methods suggested for finding such students included lynching, tarring and feathering, and cross-burning. (The university and the students who produced the show have apologized.)

Some of Wagner's critics used social media Monday to express their views, with a fake Twitter account in the president's name and with a new blog called "At Emory: We Are Sorry." The latter features images and words: a photo of the president with only three-fifths of the image visible, text from James Baldwin about the way the United States limited the rights of black people, a photo of an Emory student holding a sign saying "Sorry, everybody. I wasn't expecting someone to praise the 3/5 compromise in the year 2013 either." The site was created as "a way for us to signal to everyone else that the messages being sent out from Emory do not necessarily express the views of the students and faculty whose work is the actual backbone of the school."

On Emory's Facebook page, comments are mixed. Some of those posting are angry with Wagner. But other posts say that critics are trying to embarrass the president because of recent budget cuts with which they disagree. One comment along these lines: "Stop the faux outrage. You live privileged academic lives at one of the best institutions in America. In a time where every institution is tightening, you all have the gall to intentionally distort this man's words. Character assassination isn't going to help restructure the university's budget."

i have call/e-mail out to emory to see whether any further steps are planned by wagner -sj


Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 3:00am

The University of Oxford announced Monday that it is temporarily blocking access to Google Docs, citing a series of "phishing" attacks in which people have used Google Docs to collect e-mail addresses linked to the university's network. A statement from Oxford said: "We appreciate and apologize for the disruption this caused for our users. Nevertheless, we must always think in terms of the overall risk to the university as a whole, and we certainly cannot rule out taking such action again in future, although our thresholds for doing so may be somewhat higher. We are meanwhile investigating several possible technical measures for reducing the risks to the university with less impact on legitimate network usage, and will be reviewing our emergency communications procedures. We will also be pressuring Google that they need to be far more responsive, if not proactive, regarding abuse of their services for criminal activities."


Monday, February 18, 2013 - 4:26am

A new paper based on survey data from scientists in 16 countries compares the relative strengths of the United States and other countries in attracting top Ph.D. talent. For obtaining a Ph.D. and selecting a postdoc, American universities continue to be highly regarded and benefit from the prestige of their academic programs and a perception that an American Ph.D. will help the careers of non-American scientist, the study found. But the survey found that Australia, Germany and Switzerland have made gains in recent years, relative to the U.S., in attracting Ph.D. students.

In selecting postdoc locations, non-Americans are discouraged from positions at universities in the U.S. by concerns over working conditions and fringe benefits, relative to opportunities elsewhere. "This finding will hardly come as a surprise to postdocs in the United States who lack paid health insurance coverage -especially for their families- and a formal family leave policy and have few if any specified holidays or vacation days," says the report, released today by the National Bureau of Economic Research. (Abstract available here.)

As a result, countries gaining against the U.S. in competition for top postdocs are Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland.

The authors of the paper are Paula Stephan of Georgia State University, Chiara Franzoni of Politecnico di Milano and Giuseppe Scellato of Politecnico di Torino.



Monday, February 18, 2013 - 3:00am

Like many colleges, Brandon University, in Manitoba, has a contest at home basketball games: A student is picked at random and may either shoot from half-court or pick someone else to do so -- with a semester's tuition going to the student if he or she either makes the shot or picks someone who can. On Friday, Mason Kaluzniak was the student who had the chance to shoot or draft someone else present. Kaluzniak picked Gil Cheung, the men's basketball coach, who promptly won Kaluzniak a semester's free tuition.



Monday, February 18, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University reveal what North America’s largest predators were eating just before they died out. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, February 18, 2013 - 4:28am

Unions at several Michigan colleges and universities are exploring the possibility of agreeing now to extend contracts so that they can avoid for a few years some of the impact of the state's new "right to work" law, which bars anyone from being forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment, The Battle Creek Enquirer reported. Many in the unions fear their position will be weakened by the law, which takes effect March 27.


Monday, February 18, 2013 - 3:00am

We can't say we're sure why this is taking off at Boston University or whether it will spread, but the hot Facebook page for BU students is Banana University, featuring photographs of and commentary about students eating bananas. And, of course, Banana University also has a Tumblr and a Twitter feed.


Monday, February 18, 2013 - 3:00am

The Cooper Union, which has traditionally awarded full scholarships to all students but which last year started charging tuition to graduate students, is again considering tuition for undergraduates, The New York Times reported. The move to start charging graduate students was designed to keep undergraduate education free, but officials at Cooper Union said that financial challenges may make it impossible to remain tuition-free. Many student and alumni critics, however, say that an important tradition is at risk, and some question spending priorities by administrators.



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