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Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Volume 10, Issue 34; October 5, 2011

The Playing Field

India: a higher education destination sneaking up from behind.

Abroad Perspectives

Heated accusations against new Scottish government plan.

Over The Counter

New student visa regulations down under.

Globe Tipping

Stop the Scammers. Part I.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – India: a higher education destination sneaking up from behind.

While India has long been a top market for international students departing to other countries, there is a new, opposite trend that is starting to gain momentum. With each passing year, more and more students from other countries are heading to India for higher studies – and it seems the universities are doing everything they can to keep up the growth.

The start of the major growth can be traced back to the early 90s, when a 1993-94 peak saw the country attract over 13,000 foreign students, according to data collected by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU). For much of the following decades, however, Indian institutions took a back-seat to other competitors: “[P]robably due to the fact that while many developed countries, especially the United Kingdom and Australia, were aggressively marketing their educational ware, India was inactive in this regard,” states one research paper by AIU member, Veena Bhalla.

Today, the numbers are rising again – thanks, at least in part, to the fact that many Indian institutions are investing considerably in attracting these international scholars. According to a report by a wing of the Union HRD ministry, initiatives undertaken by institutions include the establishment of exclusive departments specially for international students, as well as the re-vamping of accommodations to meet ‘western’ dormitory standards – ie: including full air conditioning, hot plates, dryers, etc to make students more comfortable on campus.

The University of Mysore (UoM) is just one of the institutions upping their game. Now drawing students from 47 different countries, Mysore’s foreign enrolment for undergraduate courses alone jumped from just 263 students in 2001-02 to 1,413 in 2010-11. The three countries contributing the most students, in order, are Iran (with 388 students), China (with 195), and Tanzania (with 165). Meanwhile, other students hail from as far-flung locales as USA, Russia, Canada, Maldives, Japan, Thailand, Kenya, and Cambodia.

“The main reason for students choosing this university is that fees are affordable and ambience is ideal,” explains director of UoM’s International Centre, M Chandra Kumar. “Cost of living is the other factor, as compared to [larger metro areas]. The university has even set up an International Centre to guide foreigners on academic matters.”

And with large numbers of foreign universities currently vying to set up campuses in India in the near future, it may be soon that the tide shifts even further – with even more international students heading in, and fewer local students flowing out.

In any case, India is proving itself a country to watch.

Sources: “Foreign students prefer UoM to other colleges”. Times of India, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-08-30/mysore/29944667_1_foreign-students-pune-university-enrolment
& “Indian Universities rope in more foreign students”. Silicon India, August 13, 2008. http://www.siliconindia.com/shownews/Indian_Universities_rope_in_more_foreign_students-nid-45439-cid-Others.html

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Heated accusations against new Scottish government plan.

A Scottish government plan to charge the majority of UK students full tuition, while providing free education to Scottish and EU-based students only, is prompting accusations of inequality and discrimination.

While England and Scotland have long been at loggerheads over a number of government provision issues in such areas as healthcare (for example, Scotland provides free prescriptions and at-home provisions for the elderly), it is these new university tuition discrepancies that have once again brought their differences to the foreground.

Starting next year, UK universities (including those in Scotland) will be able to charge as much as £9,000 (roughly $14,000) for home-student tuition. Under its devolution powers, however, Scotland is resisting the change – instead choosing to continue offering free education to Scotland residents who have lived in-country for three or more years, as well as to students from the European Union, while charging English, Welsh, and Northern Irish students the full cost.

The Scottish government says their decision is largely a defensive strategy, to prevent huge increases of English students from crossing the border to enjoy cheaper courses subsidized by the Scottish government, now that education elsewhere in the UK will become so costly. Already, nearly 23,000 English students attend Scottish universities each year.

“Scotland has and always will welcome students from all over the world to our universities,” says Education Secretary Michael Russell. “However, the decisions being taken in England could threaten the quality and competitiveness of our universities. We cannot allow Scotland to no longer be the best option and instead be known as the cheap option. We also must protect places for Scottish students.”

Reacting to the decision, some English university students, who view the situation as unfair, have asked lawyers whether there are grounds for legal action. One such student, Jennifer Watts, has launched a campaign called Make Uni Fees Equal – calling on English students in Scotland to contact the law firm, Public Interest Lawyers, and join a class action law suit against Scottish government ministers and possibly the universities themselves. Though only two such students have so far come forward, Public Interest Lawyers attorney Jim Duffy hopes more will join as the issue gains publicity. Their argument, he explains, will be based on the Equality Act and Scotland Act, which he says prevents discrimination and incompatibilities within the UK, such as holding Scotland-based students and English students to different tuition standards. Additionally, he believes the English students can use EU legislation that prevents discrimination against EU citizens in their argument.

“This is not about the relationship between states, it’s about citizens of those states, and we think the Scottish government’s stance is discriminatory,” he says.

Meanwhile, Scottish government spokesman Barry McPherson remains confident the policy is legal, as he says Scotland (similar to England) is technically only a region within the EU, not a state, so EU legislation covering nations does not apply.

Iain McLean, a professor of politics at England’s Nuffield College, Oxford, on the other hand, believes students will still have a strong case against the policy: “The Scotland Act requires the Scottish government to be human rights compliant, and if it went to court I think they’d lose in this case, because they are treating one group of students differently to another,” he explains, adding that “Most fair-minded Scots will know that it is unfair for a Lithuanian or Italian not to pay and a student from England, Wales, or Northern Ireland having to pay.”

Source: “Scotland university fee plan riles the English”. CSMonitor.com, Septmeber 27, 2011. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2011/0927/Scotland-university-fee-plan-riles-the-English

3) OVER THE COUNTER – New student visa regulations down under.

In a bid to return to growing international student numbers, the Australian government has recently announced brand new visa regulation plans, which will make it easier for international students to both obtain visas and work in the country post-graduation.

Under the new regulations, international students who graduate with a bachelor or coursework-based masters degree, and who have studied for at least two years in Australia, will be eligible to remain and work in the country for an additional two years after completing their course. Meanwhile, research-based masters graduates will be eligible to work for three years post-study, and PhD graduates for four years.

Additionally, any international student accepted into an Australian university for bachelor level courses or higher will now qualify for the lowest visa risk category, meaning far laxer financial requirements and faster processing times – particularly great news for any students coming from countries generally regarded as high risk for visas (China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc).

But not everyone is completely happy with the new regulations. The country’s organization of Technical and Further Education (or TAFE) colleges, for example, is one of the groups expressing their disappointment.

Describing the review of the visa system by former government minister Michael Knight as “disappointingly one-sided” in favour of universities, TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) say the new regulations send mixed signals to students interested in studying in Australia. Specifically, highlighting universities as the ‘only option’, even though the organization says TAFE institutes would meet eight of the nine factors Mr Knight used to justify giving universities special treatment in the new regulations.

“On the one hand, the Knight Report recognised the high quality of Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) system, and yet the recommendations clearly discriminate against international students wishing to study in this area,” it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the regulations – which have nonetheless been warmly welcomed by much of the country’s higher education sector – continue to be under review (with TDA officials to be represented in the review panel), before being finalized and fully introduced in 2012.

Sources: “International student visa changes ‘biased’ towards unis: TAFE”. The Australian, September 23, 2011. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/international-student-visa-changes-biased-towards-unis-tafe/story-e6frgcjx-1226144429513
& “Australia woos international students with new visa regime”. Times of India, September 22, 2011. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-09-22/education/30188633_1_student-visas-new-visa-regime-australian-universities

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Stop the scammers. Part I.

No matter how smart you are at home, tourists are often considered easy marks for small-time travelers. So to help you protect yourself (and your valuables!), here are a few of the most common tourist rip-offs currently out on the streets.

Masters of Distraction – Pickpockets work the same way magicians do – by diverting your attention. Therefore, be wary whenever you’re bumped or jostled in a crowd, if someone helpfully points out that you have some strange substance on your back, if someone ‘accidentally’ steps on your foot and/or grabs your arm to steady themselves, or whenever two people approach you with a flower, a map, or a baby. By distracting you with the object or gesture, pickpockets gain easy access to your bags or pockets. If you’re in a crowd, keep both hands on your pockets or purse, carry bags with full zippers/closures (that you can see – ie: if you’ve got a backpack, turn it around and carry it in front of you), and make it clear that you’ll notice if anyone tries to lift your cash.

Taxi Scam 1: Mind the Meter – A few simple rules to avoid being overcharged: Check the meter when you first get in, to make sure it’s at zero. Make sure the driver turns it on when you head off, then watch to see the total is corresponding with the posted per-kilometer or per-minute rate. If you notice the meter is “broken”, speak up rate away, and either agree on a fare right away, or get out and grab another cab.

Taxi Scam 2: A Likely Story – Especially in Southeast Asia and India, many tourists encounter taxi drivers who insist that wherever you want to go is either closed (for some reason or another), overpriced, booked up or filthy. But that, no worries, he can take you to a better option. Chances are good that wherever he takes you will not be ‘better’ (at least for you), but that instead, it’s owned by one of his friends, and he’ll get a special commission for bringing you there. Sometimes this can lead you to a neat, new location – but most of the time, the prices you’ll be offered are over-inflated tourist rates. If a driver tells you he wants to stop somewhere to call and confirm your hotel booking for you, tell him you just called and its all confirmed.

Hard to Digest – Don’t assume that everyone placed on your table – bottled water, celery sticks, bread – is free. Eat it if you want, but don’t be surprised if you’re billed for it later. Also beware any chef who offers to cook a special menu / meal “just for you” – unless he also offers a “special price” (and mentions the amount), its usually best for your pocket to politely decline. And of course, check the bill carefully – especially for any unordered (or doubled) items, incorrect taxes, or miscalculations. In some restaurants, gratuities will be included in the bill, in others not. Restaurant scams can happen anywhere – both at home and abroad – so be sure to keep your eye out.

Interested in more anti-scam tips? Check out our issue next week for part II!

Source: “Sketchy Schemes Tourists Should Avoid”. Travel News from Fodor’s Travel Guides, July 20, 2011. http://www.fodors.com/news/story_2010.html

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