International Higher Education Roundup: 29 March 2012

International Higher Education Roundup: 29 March 2012

International Higher Education Roundup

The guide to higher education news from around the world.

Universities in OECD countries may become more expensive

A study published by Canadian consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates has found that higher education is likely to become less affordable for students in the 40 OECD countries which play host to 90% of the world’s students. Affordability, as the reports defines it, measures the cost of tuition against how much student aid is available.

With tuition fees generally going up, and cuts in public funding leading to less generous financial aid packages, university widely became less affordable in 2011. Students in the US were among the hardest hit, with fees going up and aid going down. Particularly heavy cuts in higher education spending occurred in Brazil, Italy, Pakistan and Ukraine, while tuition fees in Italy, Israel, the Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK were raised without an equivalent rise in aid.

It’s not all bad news all round though – students in France, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia all enjoyed increases in aid without raised fees, and in Colombia increased aid outweighed slightly higher fees. However, even if funding levels have stayed the same, the report states, we are still seeing a shift towards greater levels of private rather than public investment.

Fees, it is concluded, are likely to continue to rise as a result of increased demand for higher education.

US universities ahead of the pack when it comes to patents

A new report released by the UN World Intellectual Property Organization earlier this month has ranked the world’s most prolific universities when it comes to filing patents, a way of registering a new invention or piece of intellectual property. The US proves it is still at the forefront of innovation, with 30 of the world’s top 50 patent-filing universities. The University of California – which is ranked 52nd if all patent-filing organizations are taken into account – leads the pack, with 277 patents filed in 2011. It is joined in the top 10 by MIT (83 overall), the University of Texas System (119), John Hopkins (140), the University of Michigan (174), Harvard (193), and Cornell (193). .

The only other countries represented in the top 10 are South Korea and Japan. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) ranks 159 overall, Seoul National University is at 168 and the University of Tokyo is three places behind at 171. They are also the most represented countries in the top 50 aside from the US, with seven universities apiece. Israel is third with two; Australia, China, Denmark and Singapore follow with one each.

58% of all patents filed in 2011 came from either the US, Japan, or Germany. China, with an increase of 33.4%, was the nation which saw the fastest growth.

Russian Ministry of Education proposes unified state undergraduate examination

The Russian Ministry of Education, headed by the outgoing Andrei Fursenko, has proposed a compulsory nationwide exam which students studying at Russian universities have to pass before being awarded an undergraduate degree. It will cover six subjects which feature as part of all Russian bachelor’s degrees, and will be trialled at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics before being fully rolled out in 2018.

The exam has been announced shortly after a statement by returning president, Vladimir Putin, bemoaned the low standards in many of the country’s universities, reflecting a lack of teaching staff and scientific equipment, as well as the opening of non-core departments. It has already drawn criticism from some quarters though, as observers fear that students will focus exclusively on the core modules, at the expense of others.

The exam may be delivered in conjunction with independent experts and employers – something which already occurs at Russian universities which train specialists to work in certain industries.

EU to help Malaysia become an international higher education hub

The European Union has announced it will be working with Malaysia to help the Southeast Asian nation become an international and regional hub of higher education. The statement was made during the MyEULink 2012 conference by Vincent Piket, an EU ambassador, who pointed to shared challenges in the area of transnational higher education facing the EU and Malaysia as the driving force behind the collaboration.

The competition provided by a Malaysia which had achieved its lofty ambitions, Piket continued, would result in higher quality throughout the sector as well as helping employers fill positions. It is estimated that by 2020, 35% of all new jobs will require advanced skills.

Indian 2012-13 budget for higher education “discouraging”

The recently announced Indian budget for the 2012-3 financial year has been met with disapproval by those committed to the country’s often quoted goal of increasing participation in higher education to 30% by 2025.

An 18% rise in the total education budget will mostly focus on primary and secondary education, with the higher education budget rising marginally from US$2.9 billion to US$3.08 billion. This compares to a 24% increase in the total education budget last time around, which saw the higher education budget going up by just over a third.

The budget was watched carefully for signs of the future, as it was the first announced during the Indian Planning Commission’s five-year plan for 2012-17. Many observers were disappointed, pointing out that in order to increase participation, India will need to invest heavily in higher education. This is accentuated by the fact there is no provision for new universities (30% participation will require a fourfold increase in institutions).

K Balaveera Reddy, the former vice-chancellor of Visvesvaraya Technological University in Belgaum, for one, called the budget “discouraging” and other vice-chancellors felt their input had not been listened to. The lack of incentives to draw private investment was also criticized.

The management of funds has also been highlighted as an area for improvement. Many of the 51 new institutions approved during the last five-year plan are yet to open their doors as a consequence of various setbacks. Large sums of money budgeted for higher education, it has also been noted, have also remained unspent.