International Higher Education Roundup: 2 March 2012

International Higher Education Roundup: 2 March 2012

International Higher Education Roundup

The guide to higher education news from around the world.

Research ministers call for bigger role for social sciences in Horizon 2020

Research ministers from across Europe have called for a greater role for social sciences and humanities disciplines in Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research framework covering the years 2014-2020. Such disciplines would, delegates argued at a February conference in Brussels, play a key part in achieving the goals of Europe 2020 – the EU’s growth strategy.

The Danish presidency of the EU has committed itself to tackling this issue, and European Commissioner for Research Máire Geoghegan-Quinn promised that the social sciences and humanities would be “embedded” in all research activities (an evaluation method to ensure such integration was occurring was also touted). The real challenge, she added, would be getting finance ministers on board.

Shortly before the meeting, the recently formed European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities addressed an open letter to Geoghegan-Quinn, calling for a large-scale social sciences and humanities program which would aim at solving “grand societal challenges”.

Horizon 2020 has a total budget of €80 billion, which makes it the largest publically funded research program in the world.

Full story: University World News

Massive rise in number of Indian students sitting Graduate Record Examination

Some 13% more people sat the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in 2011 than in 2010, recently released figures have revealed, taking the total number of test-takers to more than 800,000. The rise was particularly pronounced in India, where the number of GRE candidates rose by 43%, putting it ahead of China in terms of test-takers. The latter did, however, see a 28% increase in the number of takers.

The test, a prerequisite for many graduate courses in the US, can be taken as an indication of the popularity of the US at graduate level. 2011 saw the introduction of a new format for the test, which observers have suggested was partially behind the increase in popularity. The growing number of US business schools accepting GRE scores was also cited as a possible cause.

Full story: Times of India

Increase in use of differential fees at US universities

A study by the Cornell Higher Education Institute has found that students at US institutions are increasingly paying different fees within the same university, depending on their discipline and/or how far they’ve got through their degree. This was found to be the case at 29% of undergraduate institutions, 11% of master’s institutions and 41% of doctoral institutions. A slight majority of flagship public universities were also found to charge differing rates of tuition.

Though common practice in some countries, this is a relatively new phenomenon in the US, but falling levels of public funding have left many institutions needing to make up the extra costs associated with certain disciplines. Business, engineering and nursing are the disciplines most commonly associated with increased costs. At undergraduate level, however, costs are more likely to differ according to how far a student is through their degree, with higher fees for juniors and seniors than for freshmen and sophomores.No year since 1980, the study notes, has seen a decrease in the number of universities charging differing fees.

Full story: Inside Higher Ed

Australia-China higher education forum announced

Marking the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, educational leaders from China and Australia will meet later this year in order to strengthen ties between Chinese and Australian universities. The forum was announced following a meeting between Australia’s Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Chris Evans and Yuan Guiren, China’s Minister for Education. Collaborative research was identified as a key goal of the forum.

Universities in the Australian territory of Victoria have also entered into seven memorandums of understanding with universities in India. Each of the pairings will focus on a specific research area. 

Full Stories: Invest in Australia and Premier of Victoria

UK National Union of Students plans walkout

The UK’s National Union of Students (NUS) is planning a mass student walkout on 14 March as part of its ‘Come Clean’ week of action in opposition to UK government’s higher education policy. The student organization, currently led by Liam Burns, is urging students across the UK to boycott lectures, and instead take part in “on campus activities to demonstrate their opposition to the [current UK] government’s plans to destroy our system of higher education”. Protests will also take place throughout the rest of the week, which will culminate in the lobbying of parliament on 18 March.

The most widely publicized of the changes being brought in by the current UK government is the raising of annual tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 (around US$14,350). There are also fears that the traditionally public UK university sector might be steered towards privatization, as exemplified by a recently sidelined bill which would have eased restrictions on the setting up of private universities (talks have also recently begun to allow public institutions to move towards privatization).

The Scottish branch of the NUS has pledged support but will not be calling for a walkout – though students at Scottish universities may still take part. Scottish students do not pay tuition fees if they study in Scotland, but Scottish universities do charge fees to students from outside Scotland.

Full story: NUS