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Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Volume 10, Issue 28; August 10, 2011

The Playing Field

Chinese higher education: new developments and old battles.

Wanted. Engineers and Scientists in Brazil.

Abroad Perspectives

Over The Counter

Female Academics for Africa.

Globe Tipping

The new ‘it’ place to eat… The International Airport.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Chinese higher education: new developments and old battles.

For some time, China has proven itself a strong believer in “import / export” education – continuing to exchange thousands of international students with other countries around the world each year. Besides using this type of education exchange to benefit students and help forge ties with other countries of interest, it is also a key way for the Asian superpower to gain global influence and understanding abroad.

Yet there is a new, growing ‘export’ trend that has the country’s top universities slightly worried.

Each summer, the Chinese public wait with baited breath for the results of the famously difficult annual National College Entrance Examinations. It is these results that Chinese reporters use to publish in a roll call of the highest scoring high school graduates from each province, and for years, these lists of the nation’s top 100 and 200 students have determined which of the country’s premiere universities – Peking or Tsinghua – have landed the “most of the best”.

Now, with more and more Chinese students choosing to study abroad each fall (today, over 100,000 Chinese graduates attend college in the U.S. alone), it is only natural that a percentage of these “top students” should choose to do the same – and this year, at least 17 of the top 100 mainland students chose to go to the University of Hong Kong.

It is this exodus of the “nation’s brightest” in particular that is bringing up renewed concern over the state of the country’s own universities – and in particular, over the international competitiveness (and overall standard) of higher education available in China.

While for many Chinese, education is still considered the way to a stable job (or “survival in the government-devised system”, as reads a recent article in TIME magazine), others are beginning to view education as more than just a ‘diploma job requirement’, and are consequently prepared to study abroad to receive a higher standard. It is this, according to a number of experts, that finally has the Chinese government thinking more seriously about higher education reform. – which has been loosely ‘discussed’ for years.

“Without reform, there will be no improving in the quality of education to begin with, because all universities are essentially the same institutions under the same guidelines,” says Xiong Bingqi, vice president of the nongovernmental 21st Century Education Research Institute. “We are seeing more students voting with their feet now, and the government is definitely feeling the pressure.”

“First Israel studies program in China to start this fall”. JPost, August 5, 2011. http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=232577
“Why Are China’s Universities Losing Their Star Students?” TIME, August 2, 2011. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2086449,00.html

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Wanted. Engineers and Scientists in Brazil.

The Brazilian government has just announced plans to invest approximately $2 billion US into awarding up to 75,000 science and technology scholarships by the end of 2014. In addition, it has challenged the country’s private sector to contribute a further 25,000 scholarships to the cause.

The initiative – part of the government’s Science Without Borders program – comes as particularly welcome news to the nation’s scientific community, which was still reeling after the government cut the nation’s science budget by more than half a billion USD just this February.

Although Brazil boasts one of the world’s 10 largest economies, and ranks 13th in overall scientific production (according to the Institute for Scientific Information in New York), its demand for chemists, physicists, computer scientists and engineers is quickly growing.

The problem is that there simply aren’t enough students studying science and engineering to fill the demand. As Aloizio Mercadante, Brazil’s Minister of Science and Technology explained, the number of engineering graduates grew by just 1% between 2001 and 2009 – compared to a 66% growth in the number of arts graduates.

It is just such shortages that the new program aims to address – specifically focusing on students interested in the areas of engineering, health sciences, life sciences and technology. According to Mercadante, the idea is for recipients to attend top universities – most of which are located in the US or UK, and were selected based on Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankings – in order to pursue each of the following areas: doctorate programs, postdoctoral research positions, six-month internships and training for international companies, and undergraduate one-year study abroad programs. The government also hopes to attract foreign scientists to Brazil, by offering 390 three-year grants to visiting researchers.

Sources: “Brazil promises 75,000 in science and technology”. Nature News, August 4, 2011. http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110804/full/news.2011.458.html
& “Brazil announces scholarship program”. UPI.com, August 4, 2011.
http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2011/08/04/Brazil-announces-scholarship-program/UPI-26751312508757/

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Female Academics for Africa.

HERS-SA is a non-profit organization based in South Africa and dedicated to the advancement of women in higher education. At one of its recent “training academies”, attended by senior women from universities across the continent, concerns over attracting female science lecturers was a major topic of discussion – with a shortage of role models being considered the root of the problem.

At the University of Botswana, for example, director of public affairs Mhitshane Reetsang explains that, although the country is “doing well in educating women in institutions of higher learning, not many are opting for sciences” – a trend she believes is further hindered by the small number of female lecturers in such areas as engineering, a department that currently only employs two female teachers.

“It’s clear there are no role models,” Reetsang laments. “If more young women … can take up posts like these, it will be a strong message to other women that it can be done.”

According to Professor Rommela Mohee, an award-winning scientist and dean of engineering at the University of Mauritius (UoM), the fact that women scientists are so outnumbered by men “creates and perpetuates a perception that females perform less or are intellectually inferior to boys”. Which, she adds, is simply “not the case”.

Yet this ‘false perception’, she says continues to play a role in the hiring process – with many women being offered positions only after all the qualified men have been hired. The cause, Mohee believes, comes from “a question of confidence”, with those interviewing candidates for hard science jobs constantly wondering; “Can women perform [in these fields]?” And even at African institutions now seeking to hire more women (a growing trend), there remains the question of pay. According to Mohee, many females are not happy with the salary levels they are being offered, and consequently choose to work in the private sector.

Dr Aiwerasia Ngowi, a lecturer at the Arusha-based Muhimbili University of Health and Applied Sciences, agrees that the situation is similar in Tanzania. Although she feels opportunities in scientific fields are now being extended in equal numbers to women and men, male lecturers continue to outnumber females.

“There are few women who take slots in sciences,” she explains, as “[t]he market does not give them enough respect in terms of remuneration.”

But it’s not just Africa where the world of science continues on unbalanced. The American Association of University Women also released a report in March, highlighting the progress of women in the academic areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Titled “Why So Few?”, the study found that although women in America have made significant gains in general society, there are still considerable environmental and social barriers – including stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities – which continue to block their participation in these key fields.

Source: “Tanzania: Women Academic Numbers Need to Grow”. allAfrica.com, August 2, 2011. http://allafrica.com/stories/201108021547.html

4) GLOBE TIPPING – The new ‘it’ place to eat… The International Airport.

Flying is not usually considered synonymous with ‘five star dining’. In fact, in these days of budget flights and ‘travel for all’, airports are generally more crowded and less luxurious than ever – with even the typically delight-less in-flight dining now involving exorbitant charges ‘by the item’.

But luckily for those looking for something a little bit more substantial (and, uh, enjoyable), the travel times are a-changing! Over the last few years, some of the world’s top chefs have opened up restaurants at airports – with even more slated to follow. Here we list a few of the more notable new additions:

Both LAX and New York’s La Guardia have recently made the move to offering fancier (and more varied) dining options, while the relax-worthy JetBlue terminal at New York’s JFK now houses the delights of AeroNuova – where you can enjoy a menu designed by Del Posto’s Mark Ladner, while at the same time viewing vintage Italian films on the screen overhead. Meanwhile, Chef Gordon Ramsey has opened up Plane Food (www.gordonramsay.com/planefood/menus/alacarte) at London’s Heathrow, and Rick Bayless is taking over Chicago’s O’Hare (http://www.gadling.com/2011/01/19/chef-rick-bayless-opens-airport-restaurant-at-chicago-ohare/).

Far across the seas are Beijing Airport’s Langham Place – boasting various restaurants and chefs – and Geneva Airport’s Altitude restaurant in Switzerland (http://www.altitude-geneva.ch/index.php?lang=en), where two chefs have received Michelin stars for their city-based establishments. Or, for an actual Michelin-starred restaurant – that’s right, in an airport – drop by Top Air at Stuttgart (http://www.restaurant-top-air.de/).

The chefs of Melbourne, Australia are also jumping on the trend – offering a handful of delightful new airport eateries including Café Vue (http://www.melbourneairport.com.au/Shopping-Eating/cafes-juice-bars/Cafe-Vue), where you can sip sparkling wine while munching down on a four course ‘lunchbox’ of your choice, and the aptly-named wine bar, Plonk (http://www.melbourneairport.com.au/Shopping-Eating/restaurants-bars/Plonk-Bar).

Source: “Flying through the Michelin stars: airport dining takes off”. Lonely Planet blog, July 13, 2011. http://inside-digital.blog.lonelyplanet.com/2011/07/13/flying-through-the-michelin-stars-airport-dining-takes-off/?affil=lpemail

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