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Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Volume 10, Issue 35; October 12, 2011

The Playing Field

Harvard loses its lead.

Abroad Perspectives

A ‘College’ Solution.

Over The Counter

In China, it’s Hong Kong to the rescue!

Globe Tipping

Stop the Scammers. Part II.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Harvard loses its lead.

For the first time in eight years, Harvard University has lost its top spot in the annual Times Higher Education global university rankings. And not only did it lose the top spot, it also only managed to tie for second place.

Harvard, the world’s richest university, has topped the London-based rankings since they began in 2004. So what happened? According to the editor of the Times Higher rankings, Phil Baty, it all came down to a matter of research funding – something which gave the California Institute of Technology, or ‘Caltech’, all the boost it needed in order to leapfrog the previous leader.

“The difference between Harvard and Caltech last year was minuscule,” Baty says. “What’s happened this year is Caltech has seen a significant increase in its research income. A 16 percent increase, it’s quite significant in tipping the balance over in its favor. Harvard had an increase as well, but it was more in line with sector averages.”

The rankings are based on a survey gauging universities across five different areas: industry income, teaching, citations, research, and international outlook. Although Baty says Harvard is still lead in teaching, once the other indicators are factored in – namely, research impact and universities’ research activities – Caltech pulls slightly ahead. Meanwhile, other American unis proved for a slightly different outcome as well – with publicly funded institutions in particular (ie: Berkeley, San Diego, Santa Barbara, etc) all slipping considerably down the list from last year as well.

“The real issue that’s starting to show,” Baty explains, “is that the great public American universities do seem to be suffering, whereas the private universities in America have managed to maintain or protect their funding levels a bit more.”
Overall, it was still U.S. and U.K. universities who dominated the list, with 75 American schools in the top 200 – including seven in the top 10 alone. Coming in after the States, the U.K. had the second highest number of universities in the top 200, weighing in with 32 – followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Canada.

Source: “Harvard Loses Top World University Ranking for First Time”. San Francisco Chronicle, October 6, 2011. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2011/10/06/bloomberg_articlesLSNEIK0D9L39.DTL

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – A ‘College’ Solution.
From 2012, English universities will be able to charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees – almost three times the current rate. But as ministers defend new determination to drive down the suddenly increased fees (in their attempt to minimize the student loans bill), the UK coalition government is looking for alternative solutions to the issue. As it stands, colleges may be the biggest benefactors.

In a recent higher education ‘White Paper’, the Government proposed a scheme to reward those institutions continuing to offer the cheapest degree courses. Under such new rules, which penalize those institutions charging the most, 20,000 student places will be removed from top-charging universities across England – with up to 2,300 of those possibly being cut from even the most elite or ‘Russell Group’ institutions, according to Labour party-led research. Instead, these spots will be auctioned off to institutions with annual tuition fees of £7,500 or less.

While the majority will be awarded to low-cost universities, it is believed that up to 6,000 of the 20,000 spots could go to smaller degree-granting colleges. If figures from the House of Commons are anything to go by, colleges in areas such as Blackburn, Blackpool, Manchester and New Castle may be some of the biggest ‘winners’ of the bunch.

Many have already expressed concern over this newest twist. Gareth Thomas, the shadow universities minister, for example, says the move comes at a time when colleges themselves are facing huge budget cuts – further undermining the quality of their courses.

“The Government’s plans put at risk thousands of places at universities with international reputations while expecting FE [Further Education] colleges that are facing cuts of 25% themselves to offer far more degree places,” he says. “This is yet another sign that the Government’s plans for universities have not been thought through, and crucially, which put the quality of higher education in this country at risk.”

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, disagrees: “It is wrong to suggest that courses offered at FE colleges are of lower quality than universities. They are still subject to the same quality checks.”

“All our higher education reforms are about putting students at the heart of the system and creating choice.”

The Government controls how many students each university can recruit because of the cost of providing undergraduates with means-tested grants and upfront loans to cover tuition fees and living expenses.

Source: “Thousands of university places to be transferred to colleges”. The Telegraph, October 3, 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/8802286/Thousands-of-university-places-to-be-transferred-to-colleges.html

3) OVER THE COUNTER – In China, it’s Hong Kong to the rescue!

While prestigious overseas universities vie (with mixed to little success) to woo China into forging collaborations in the areas of medical education and research – an area desperately in need of upgrading – it seems the Asian nation has already set its sites much closer to home, in fact, just next door.

With its international medical education standards and world-class health system, the mainland’s neighbour of Hong Kong is proving a favourite choice for Chinese medical schools in search of collaborative partners. Already for example, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) shares expertise by regularly telecasting surgical procedures and select lectures to Chinese institutions, and has just accepted its first group of students from mainland China –specifically originating from Guangdong province’s Shantou University medical school. The Shenzhen University Medical School – located minutes away, just across the Hong Kong/China border – waits eagerly next in line.

Meanwhile, another top medical school, that of Hong Kong University (HKU), is also planning a joint venture across the waters. Along with funding and support from Shenzhen city authorities, HKU is a mere month away from opening a new 2,000-bed public teaching hospital – which, although located in Shenzhen, will train medical professionals from both mainland China and Hong Kong.

These partnerships have been a long time in the making. For years, the generally dilapidated state of China’s hospitals and healthcare system has been a sensitive (and hushed) issue. But in 2009, the country announced a 12-year US$130 billion initiative to revamp and expand access to medical care. Hence its new strides towards improving the nation’s training systems – and it’s eagerness to partner with Hong Kong institutions.

“They would like their best students to get exposure in Hong Kong,” says Tai Fai Fok, dean of CUHK’s medical school. “They believe the Hong Kong [public health] system is on par with the rest of the world, and we use English for teaching.”

As Fok explains, the learning opportunities created by these partnerships are far from one-sided: “The rural part of China has different disease patterns compared to the cities [like Hong Kong]. We go up there to learn, not just to teach because we are not familiar – it is a two-way traffic. We also try to encourage our medical students to spend time there.”

Although smaller medical education collaborations do exist with overseas institutions, HKU’s Pro Vice-chancellor Paul Tam explains that, for the most part, China maintains preference for Hong Kong collaborations – based on a number of reasons, including cultural and political ones.

“Some foreign universities can be very patronizing,” he says. “If China decides to introduce the Hong Kong system as a model to train doctors it does not seem to them like importing foreign ideas. Hong Kong is seen as part of the [Chinese] family.”

The main struggle now is how Hong Kong universities are going to adapt (or not) to the growing number of partnership and exchange requests.

“We have been approached by a number of medical universities in China, requesting us to send teachers up there or asking to send their students to us,” says CUHK’s Fok. At the most we can only accommodate a small number for a short time. We would love to take more, but we don’t have the capacity.”

With a shortage of doctors already affecting Hong Kong, many fear that the bottomless demand in China for medical training skills will deprive Hong Kong of experienced teachers.

Source: ‘CHINA: Hong Kong helps to upgrade medical training”. University World News, October 2, 2011. http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20110930190700399

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

No matter how smart you are at home, tourists are often considered easy marks for small-time con artists. 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 – continued from last week’s issue.

The Big Switch – If buying a specialty item – oriental rug, special jewellery, artwork – do your homework first and find out what the item should cost, as well as how to determine whether it’s the ‘real thing’ or not. The most commonly reported shopping scams involve fake gem stones (South East Asia), antiques (The Middle East, particularly Egypt), and bogus designer products such as jackets, sunglasses, or handbags (anywhere).

Shipping Scams – If you’re buying heavy or fragile items, you may want to ship them home – a good idea, except that sometimes the item sent to you isn’t the one you paid for. To avoid losing out, pay for all the goods being shipped using a credit card, and hang onto your receipts so that you can file a claim with your card issuer if your purchases don’t show up. For extra protection, take a photo of the purchased items along with the receipt – for further use during any claims process, as well as to deter the shop owner from packing something else. Particularly be wary in the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia.

Counterfeit Cops – If a police offers stops you on the street (or gets into your car) and asks to check your wallet for counterfeit bills or “drug money”, don’t just hand it over (at which point, bills have been known to go missing). Instead, ask them to take you to the station, where you’ll be happy to let them examine the contents.

Altered ATMs – Carefully inspect any ATM machine before you inspect your card. Specifically, look to see if there’s a thin piece of plastic hanging out of the slot that a thief could use to extract your card after the machine eats it. Try to use ATMs only in banks, established stores, hotels, and other ‘harder to tamper with’ places.

Sacred Scams – At some temples and/or sacred spots, please may offer to perform a ritual for you and then demand a sizeable donation afterward. Although small donations are often expected, be prepared to ask “how much?” before agreeing to any ‘extra’ blessings. Particularly common in India, where tourists visiting cremation sites are often pressured to give money for poor families to buy wood to cremate their loved ones. Give what you’re comfortable with, but don’t be bullied.

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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