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Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Volume 10, Issue 19; May 18, 2011

The Playing Field

This week, alarming suggestions rock the UK education world.

Abroad Perspectives

Record numbers for Chinese studying overseas… and returning back home.

Over The Counter

Thai Education … On Sale.

Globe Tipping

The times, they are a-changing … Meet the new face of plastic.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – This week, alarming suggestions rock the UK education world.

UK schools systems are up in arms over recent study findings which suggest that the vast majority of British teenagers are unable to cope with the demands of degree courses – a result of being “spoon fed” through their secondary education.

The study conducted by Cambridge University’s exam board, found that nine out of ten first-year university students felt unprepared for the “academic rigour” of higher education. The inability to write essays, carry out independent research, and study on one’s own have all been cited as major obstacles.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of education union ATL Cymru (Wales) says these findings are particularly disturbing.

“We have replicated here the same sort of transition pains that we find in earlier years – the move from primary to secondary, and secondary to tertiary,” he explains. “We obviously need to get the sectors talking to each other more effectively so that they can understand the needs and restraints of each. But there is a more profound debate that now needs to start about the curriculum in our schools which is still over prescriptive and
lacking in freedom and interest.”

According to Dixon, the national curriculum is over-restrictive and “too much of a straitjacket” for both pupils and teachers – making it unsurprising “that the current regime does not produce the skills that university students need.”

Meanwhile, these findings were announced just as British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to attempt damage control after wide-spread allegations suggested wealthy students would soon be able to buy their way into university.

The allegations followed news that the UK Government is considering plans to create extra ‘home student’ places, by allowing institutions to charge some British scholars the same fees as those paid by overseas students. This news was confirmed by Universities Minister David-Willetts, who said that an acceptance of the proposal in question could result in some British students paying full fees, of up to £28,000-a-year up front.

Suggesting that the move could open the way for charities and other organizations to sponsor students who would otherwise not be able to get a place, Cameron attempted to squash the allegations, insisting that in no way would it enable people “to buy their way into university”.

Sources: “Schools fail to get ‘spoon fed’ pupils ready for university”. The Telegraph, May 14, 2011.

& “Schools accused of failing to prepare students for university”. Wales News, May 11, 2011.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Record numbers for Chinese studying overseas… and returning back home.

By the end of 2010, China had the largest number of students – a record-breaking 1.27 million – studying at overseas institutions.

It’s a growing trend that began with the liberalization of Chinese society and the economic reforms in the late 1970s. Since then the government has been funding programs to send students abroad to acquire knowledge and skills. These days even more Chinese families are able to afford to send their children on their own and over 90% of the students overseas are self-funded.

According to Li Jing, an application writer who works for an overseas study agency in Beijing, it’s not just financial ability, but also competition at home that’s driving students abroad.

“Due to more higher-education opportunities available abroad, an increasing number of young Chinese students go overseas to evade the highly competitive national college entrance exam,” says Li.

According to the nation’s Ministry of Education, over 90% of the Chinese scholars chose to study in the following countries: the United States, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Singapore, France, Germany and Russia. Some Western universities have received so many applications that they’ve even had to use quota systems to limit the number of Chinese students.

Not all these countries however, are expecting the current levels of growth to continue.
One official from Australian Education International, Iain Watt, says it is precisely this growing trend – and the growing competition of destinations like the U.S. and Britain – that may result in a major decline of Australia’s own Chinese student numbers.

“We have already noticed that [Chinese] Ministry of Education officials are spending a substantially increased proportion of their time on US visits, trips, delegations and agreements,” the Beijing-based education counselor says.

“This results in less access for us and eventually less influence. It is hard to see the resources Australia allocates to education, science and research in China being increased much beyond what we now have, so we must adjust our expectations of our ability to influence.”

As more Chinese students than ever are travelling abroad to study, they are also more likely to return home post graduation – drawn by the country’s own growing economy. In the past 30 years or so, over 630,000 Western-trained students have returned home to China – with about one-fifth of that number in the last year alone.

Sources: “Chinese overseas students ‘hit record high’”. BBC News, April 18, 2011.

& “1.27 million Chinese students studied abroad last year”. Economic Times, April 18, 2011.

& “Chinese eye other options”. The Australian, April 20, 2011.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Thai Education … On Sale.

In the world of Thai higher education, E-Sarn University has been a hot topic of recent conversation. After an initial investigation by the university found proof that the school’s rector and various executives were indeed involved in the selling of fake professional teacher certificates, it suspended the individuals in question indefinitely.

The scandal, which came to light after seven ‘graduates’ of the school were found applying for teaching licenses with false certificates, has raised a lot of concern over the growing amount of “paid” higher education opportunities available in the country.

For years, it has been common to see adverts alluding to ‘degrees for sale’ in Thailand. One private university, for example, even openly advertised that, “If you pay all tuition fees, you get a degree for sure”. And there are also more subtle forms of the practice – with thesis services widely available to those who can afford them. Even on the net, thesis writers can be found openly advertising their services, charging between 25,000 to 500,000 baht (that’s $825 to $16,500 US) for each project.

According to the Office of Higher Education Commission’s secretary-general, Sumet Yaemnoon, such ‘services’ are depressing enough, “But things are getting worse. Now, the degree sellers have allowed the buyers to get the degrees without any need to [even] sit classes.”

With full degrees available for as little as $1,220 US each – and prices easily found through a simple Google search – ‘students’ can choose from a range of paid accreditation options, including top grades, support documents, which fields they’d like to be able to pursue “post degree”, and even the opportunity to attend the official conferral ceremony in which their degree is awarded. The only thing they can’t always choose seems to be the specific institute they want to be linked to.

As one columnist for “The Nation” newspaper pointed out earlier this month, the growing trend seems to be closely connected to the nation’s changing labour market.

“For decades, Thai employers warmly embraced those with degrees from foreign universities, regardless of their international rankings and the degree holders’ actual knowledge,” wrote Chularat Saengpassa. “Now, as the labour market opens to degrees from local universities, all who can afford the prices do everything to solidify their social status.”

“In Thai society, as long as these values do not change, it is guaranteed that degrees for sale will be here for a long, long time.”

Sources: “Fakes certificates scandal at E-Sarn University”. Bangkok Post, April 27, 2011.

& “Degrees for sale: the cancer in our education system goes beyond”. The Nation, May 2, 2011.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – The times, they are a-changing… Meet the new face of plastic.

For those of us constantly on the road, credit cards can provide an easy way to financially cross borders – without ever having to change or convert currencies. But, next time you find yourself heading to Europe, be warned: these days, a North American-style credit card won’t always work.

By now, much of Europe has started implementing a new chip-and-PIN system, using credit cards that are embedded with a microchip and require a Personal Identification Number (PIN code) only for transactions. Meaning no more magnetic stripes – and also, the very real (and disappointing) possibility that your home credit card will no longer be accepted at some automated payment points, such as ticket machines at train and subway stations, luggage lockers, toll roads, parking garages, and self-serve gas pumps.

So far, this system is most common in the British Isles, Scandinavia, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In fact, by this time next year, most of Western Europe should be converted to chip-and-PIN cards – with Canada following soon after, as its own conversion is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

For American travelers looking to use plastic while in a ‘new card’ region, Travelex currently offers a chip-and-PIN card preloaded with either Euros or British Pounds ( But beware, as it comes with exorbitant exchange rates.

Don’t panic if you find out your card won’t work once overseas, as there’s usually a solution. For example, it’s still easy to withdraw money from European ATMs using your old magnetic-stripe debit cards, and of course there’s always the traditional standby – just carry cash from home. Only that, again, exchange rates can be extraordinarily high, especially when changing money either in tourist havens (eg., airports) or at home before you leave (which will normally cost you more than ATM transaction fees in Europe).

Source: “The Perils of Plastic, the Cachets of Cash”. Rick Steves’ Travel News and Events”.


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