Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 20, 2013

Here's a course topic not currently offered by any of the providers of massive open online courses: "The Implications of Coursera’s For-Profit Business Model for Global Public Education." The course was proposed last week by Robert Meister, professor of political and social thought in the department of the history of consciousness at the University of California at Santa Cruz and president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations. He sent a letter with his idea to Daphne Koller, a computer science professor at Stanford University and co-founder of Coursera, and then published his letter on the blog of the American Association of University Professors.

Among the topics Meister proposes covering:

  • Why venture capitalists "are willing to provide an even greater abundance of knowledge in the service of greater economic and social equality than is the State of California, which clearly has the means to spend much more than it has cost your company to reach a worldwide enrollment in the millions."
  • The way "free MOOCs weaken the link between scarcity and quality on which the business model of all higher education, both public and private, unfortunately depends."
  • Teaching students to "think financially about the socio-economic spreads created by our public educational system as a potential source of private profit."
  • "[T]hat the for-profit logic of their online educational empowerment depends on the fact while they are consuming information, they are also producing information that Coursera can correlate with other data to predict what prices students with particular profiles would eventually pay for courses they are presently consuming for free."

The piece ends by asking Koller if she would co-teach the course, saying "I’m sure that together we could reach a very large audience indeed."

Via e-mail in response to an Inside Higher Ed question, Koller indicated that potential students might not find the course listed in the Coursera list of offerings any time soon, and that she does not consider that she was really being invited to co-teach it.

"If you've read the (rather long) letter, you'll have seen that it's not actually an invitation to co-teach a course, but rather a thinly veiled attack on Coursera and the whole MOOC model," she wrote. "When we launched Coursera we introduced a completely new model for providing learners everywhere free access to a great education. It is not surprising that a model this transformative brings out skeptics and critics, and, indeed, some caution is appropriate whenever the world changes this quickly. I am happy to respond to concrete criticism of our actions or words, but Mr. Meister's letter criticizes the model not based on what Coursera has done, nor even on what we have said we would do in future, but rather based on a speculative trajectory of his own construction. Our mission, to enable anyone around the world to have access to education, and to do what's best for students, remains clear today and will not bend in the future."

 

May 20, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Jay Dickson of Brown University explains what the world's saltiest pond has to say about the possibility of life on Mars. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 20, 2013

Zhejiang University has signed an agreement with Imperial College London in which the two will consider creating a new joint campus. The announcement from Imperial was brief on details. But The Telegraph reported that the new facility could include as many as 3,000 scientists, and the Zhejiang officials views it as a way to expand the reach of Chinese research.

 

May 20, 2013

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, is seeking the right to sell buildings on University of Wisconsin campuses, as well as buildings owned by other units of the state, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Some legislators and student groups are opposing the plan. They note that, in the case of some facilities, buildings were paid for by student fees with the understanding that they would be used for students. Further, the governor's plan does not require that proceeds from any sales go to the university, so a campus could lose control of a building and gain no revenue.

 

May 17, 2013

A new preliminary report on the situation facing Syrian refugee students and scholars, based on fieldwork in Jordan, finds that displaced students are deterred from entering Jordanian universities by higher tuition, fees, and living costs that put the country’s universities “out of reach for all but a small elite of Syrian refugee students,” as well as by a lack of official travel documents or academic transcripts. Syrian academics also find few opportunities in Jordan’s universities. Recommendations outlined in the report include the mobilization of international donors in support of a consortium of Jordanian universities committed to educating Syrian students, the development of a program to support Syrian students continuing their studies in other Arab countries, and the creation of short-term research fellowships for scholars in Jordan and the greater region. (This would be in addition to scholarships and visiting academic appointments offered to Syrian students and scholars through organizations like the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund and the IIE Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis. Many American and European universities have committed to provide funding to host Syrian scholars or students since the launch of the consortium last fall.)

“International higher education writ large, needs to begin to imagine regional solutions to the displacement of students and at-risk university professionals,” said Keith David Watenpaugh, a historian of the Modern Middle East and associate professor who directs the University of California, Davis Human Rights Initiative, which joined with the Scholar Rescue Fund to produce the report.  Watenpaugh noted that while there is interest on the part of Jordan’s private universities in accepting Syrian students, capacity is limited: even if each took in 300 to 400 students that would only add up to about 5,000 at most – “and the need is much greater than that.” Whereas there is capacity – and lower living costs – in Egypt, as well as interest on the part of its government: “I think that the Egyptian government is very interested in reaching out to Syrian students as part of Egypt’s desire to assert a regional leadership role," Watenpaugh said.

The report also offers historical context regarding Syria’s higher education system, and an overview of the scale of the destruction since the beginning of the conflict between government and rebel forces in March 2011. The report documents that while universities remain open, safety conditions have deteriorated rapidly: “During our interviews, it became apparent that asking if a university remains open is the wrong question; rather the more important question is: can students come and go safely from the university?” the report states. Large numbers of faculty and students have been internally and externally displaced, and students and faculty are unable to safely pass through security checkpoints in order to get to campus. Estimates are that attendance rates at universities are around 30 percent.

“It's a slowly collapsing system, and it’s collapsing alongside the collapse of other institutions in Syria,” Watenpaugh said.

May 17, 2013

The Middle East Studies Association is charging that San Jose State University has failed to stand up for a professor under political attack. The association on Thursday released a letter it sent to Mohammad Qayoumi, the university's president, asking why he had not spoken up to defend Persis Karim of the university's English and comparative literature department. Karim organized a seminar in April, financed in part by the U.S. Institute of Peace, called "Peacebuilding, Nonviolence, and Approaches to Teaching the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." Some pro-Israel groups have criticized the seminar (and did so before it took place), saying it was anti-Israel.

The letter from the Middle East Studies Association said: "It is our understanding that even before the workshop took place, Professor Karim was subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation by individuals and organizations, mostly based outside San José State, who objected to the workshop's content and participants. This campaign has continued even after the workshop, most recently by means of the circulation of a fabricated statement falsely attributed to Professor Karim and intended to damage her reputation, but also in the form of a request under the California Public Records Act that Professor Karim make available all documents and correspondence related to the workshop and its funding." The letter went on to say: "We urge you to issue a strong and clear public statement expressing the university’s support for academic freedom in general and that of Professor Karim in particular, and its firm condemnation of the smear campaign being waged against her."

A spokeswoman for the university said that San Jose State could not respond to the letter on Thursday.

 

May 17, 2013

Florida State University has canceled a summer study abroad program to Israel due to concerns about "escalating military action between Israel and Syria," the Tallahassee Democrat reported. A university spokesman, Keith Bromery, said the decision only affects this summer's program at this point, and that the university will reevaluate safety conditions for next year.

May 17, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Paul Booth of DePaul University explores the cultural importance of the BBC science fiction series "Doctor Who." Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

May 17, 2013

In the midst of an investigation by city police, several campus officers including the chief have resigned or been fired from Elizabeth City State University. City officials discovered campus police never investigated 126 crime reports since 2007, including 18 sexual assaults, The Virginian-Pilot reported. The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations of obstruction of justice and witness intimidation by campus police. The historically black university has enlisted off-duty patrol officers to help with campus security and solve the backlog of cases. The campus police chief, Sam Beamon, resigned Friday after 10 years on the job in the wake of a reported assault in a campus dorm that culminated in city police arresting a staff member after the university failed to act.

May 16, 2013

LaGuardia Community College's enhanced GED preparation program substantially boosts GED pass rates and the likelihood of college enrollment, according to a newly released study by MDRC, a nonprofit social research firm. Students in the program, which is designed to serve as a pathway to college and careers, were more than twice as likely to pass the high school equivalency exam as were students in traditional GED prep courses. They were also three times as likely to enroll in college.

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