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Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Volume 10, Issue 41; November 23, 2011

The Playing Field

Online high schools. Rising cred, and eyebrows.

Abroad Perspectives

Hillary Clinton says “Sam” wants you to go! (and study abroad)

Over The Coutner

World Class or Bust? Does status blind a developing country’s education plans?

Globe Tipping

How to cope when you lose it all…

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Online high schools. Rising cred, and eyebrows.

This June, about 30 students will graduate from a little-known online high school, currently called the Education Program for Gifted Youth. But their diplomas will bear a different name, borrowing from the reputation of an elite American research university. They will read, ‘Stanford Online High School’.

Five years since the opening of this experimental program, education experts still spout mixed feelings over Stanford’s milestone decision to attach its name to the online education effort. Particularly as more institutions join in on the movement, concerns regarding expertise and motives continue to grow.

“From my perspective, colleges, concentrate on what you’re good at,” says Ronald Crutcher, president of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, who adds that he recently declined an offer from a for-profit education company to join other small liberal arts institutions in forming an online high school in their image. “Be consultants,” he says, “but don’t contribute to a trend that I think has some real problems.”

About 275,000 students across the U.S. are enrolled full time in online schools, says Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a nonprofit advocacy group. The typical online student, Patrick explains, lives in a remote area, was previously home-schooled, or is involved in an extracurricular activity that is incompatible with traditional schooling. Though the majority of such institutions are free public charter schools, an increasing number of colleges – both private and public – are also jumping on board the trend. Both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Missouri, for example, have been awarding diplomas to students for the past few years, and the George Washington University Online High School opened in January.

Capitalizing on its reputation in foreign language instruction, Vermont-based Middlebury College also worked last year with for-profit company ‘K12’ to develop online high school language courses. Now serving 50,000 students nationwide, these courses cost $749 per student per year, and Middlebury shares in on the profits. Middlebury president, Ronald Liebowitz, admits it was this opportunity to raise revenue that carried the college’s decision.

“The risk is great, and I’d be silly if I said otherwise,” he says of lending Middlebury’s name to the program. But, he explains, “we could have millions of dollars coming into the operating budget, which eases the burden of other revenue streams — mainly tuition and other fees.”

As the line between virtual and classroom learning continues to blur, some see this new development as a sign that soon, the division between secondary and higher education may follow suit.

Source: “Top universities lend names, expertise to online high schools”. , November 20, 2011.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Hillary Clinton says “Sam” wants you to go ! (and study abroad).

As the number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities hit a record high this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging more American students to take their lead. In a new YouTube video, released for International Education Week, she encourages more students to study abroad – both for their own sake, and for their country’s.

“To remain the leader in this ever-changing world,” she states, “we have to push ourselves not just to think globally, but to get out there and study globally as well.”

Currently, only 1% – that’s 270,604 – of American students are enrolled in overseas college programs. That’s compared to almost 723,000 international students who now study at higher education institutions located in the U.S.

These students, who hail from countries around the world, contribute nearly $20 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the Commerce Department. The biggest percentage of these students are from China (which sent almost 158,000 students in 2010), followed by India (with 104,000 students) and South Korea (with approximately 73,000). Some of their top study picks include the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the University of Illinois, and New York University.

Meanwhile, just 4% of Americans aged 18 to 24 even own a passport (U.S. State Department), and of the 1% of American students who do choose to study abroad, most still opt for one of the more ‘traditional’ destinations, such as the U.K., Italy, Spain, France, or China.

“That 1% is not enough,” says Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Exchanges, Meghann Curtis. “For our geopolitical reality we need to be thinking about studying abroad all over the world, not just in Western Europe.”

“It’s not just about being worldly, it’s about being competitive. I don’t think we can continue to be competitive if we’re not getting out there.”

Although the U.S. does have some of the world’s best schools, and the cost of studying abroad can sometimes be higher, Curtis urges students to look out for financial aid and other cost-friendly options. Michigan State University, she points out as an example, has around 270 study-abroad programs – many of which cost the same as courses at the university itself.

Source: “Hillary Clinton to students: “Get out” (and study abroad)”. Blogs, November 16, 2011.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – World Class or Bust? Does status blind a developing country’s education plans?

Spurred on by a proliferation of international ranking tables and their exaggerated significance, reaching ‘world class’ status is becoming a goal for countries and universities around the world. In some cases, it seems nearly an obsession.

In 2009, a report produced by the World Bank, called Challenge of Establishing World Class Universities, warned countries of “chasing a myth” in their journey towards receiving that elusive “World Class” gold-star. Stating that ‘world class’ status can take years to achieve, cost a large amount of money, and still fall short of the social and economic rewards commonly associated with top-name institutions, report-author Jamil Salmi encouraged countries to instead focus on developing their current national universities, upgrading where possible or merging institutions to create ‘centres of excellence’. Throwing money at such things as shiny, beautiful new campuses in the hopes of creating ‘world class institutions’, he said, might not be the best policy, adding that “the real challenge is to create excellence from day one”. Most countries, he added, will at best ever be able to support just one or two such institutions… if any. Which leads us to a new warning, issued just last week.

Addressing the QS-Asia-Pacific Professional Leaders in Education conference in Manila, the Asian Development Bank’s senior education specialist, Norman LaRocque, warned of the negative impacts that building ‘world-class’ universities can have on the rest of a country’s higher education system – especially if equity and other issues are not taken into account. With the significant costs involved in developing institutions capable of attracting top students and academics, he warned there may not be enough money left for second and third-tier institutions.

“It is a trade-off that governments need to look at and consider: is this a zero sum game?” he explains. “If the benefits you get from upgrading institutions to world class level will have an effect on the others that are greater than the benefits of upgrading, then you have to consider how you hold everything constant so that the rest don’t go downhill.”

Significant sums are currently being spent on upgrading universities by countries such as China (which wants to create as many as 50 world-class institutions), South Korea (with its “BrainKorea21” ambitions), Taiwan (through its “Excellence Initiative”), Japan (the “Global 30 Scheme”), and Vietnam (which has developed a “New Model Universities” strategy). Similar initiatives are also taking place in France, Germany, Spain, and Russia.

Besides being costly, LaRocque warns that the process of selecting world-class universities can politicize higher education, pitching public institutions against private, or even religious against secular. It can also, he explains, unleash “politics of envy”.

“Can you withstand protests from the ‘unloved’ institutions?” he asked the Asian university leaders.

Urging governments to carefully assess the return of any ‘world-class’ investments (ie: specifically paying attention to growth in patent rates, peer review rates, etc), Larocque also warned of possible implications for equity in higher education within countries.

“You have to be careful if you put more money into these elite institutions,” he said. “You have to make the effort to work with high schools to get an equitable intake of students – you may need more money for scholarships.”

To date, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have both funded the upgrading of institutions, notably in Vietnam and Laos. These investments, said Larocque, “help a country shift gears when they move from lower levels of economic development to more industrialized and innovative economies – these institutions will help provide knowledge and innovation that help a country step up.”

Sources: “GLOBAL: ‘World-class’ universities can harm others”. University World News, November 17, 2011.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – How to cope when you lose it all…

Although it’s “unlikely to happen to you”, having your things stolen while travelling is a horrible experience – as anyone will quickly find out the day they set their bag down in a busy train station, look the other direction for two seconds, and suddenly find themselves bag-less in a foreign country. But the good (or at least, semi-good) news is that, when it comes to theft, a little bit of advance preparation can make this worst-case scenario a lot less stressful.

What to do, even if you lose it “all” – bags, money, ID, everything.

1. Don’t panic. Panic clouds judgment. Take a deep breath instead, and take heart -
this could happen to anyone. Seriously.

2. Ask for help. Especially if you’re in a country where you speak little of the language, enlist the help of a local English-speaker to assist you in making phone calls or explaining what happened to local officials.

3. File a police report. Having a police report will help you with replacing your passport or credit cards, and is a must if you need to file an insurance claim for stolen items. Try to file it as soon as possible after the incident, as some insurance companies can be picky about this. The police may also be able to help direct you to a local travelers’ aid office (if one exists), or if you’re extremely lucky your bag might even get turned in (likely stripped of all valuables, but possibly still containing clothes and/or personal items).

4. Get online. Use the Internet at your hotel (if they don’t have a public internet terminal, explain the situation and ask nicely if you might be able to use their office computer). Alternatively, look for free net at a tourist office or library. Use this time to find contact details for your nearest embassy, retrieve any information or document copies you’ve saved online, and/or solicit help from people back home (arrange a money transfer, etc).

5. Replace your passport. This is top priority, as without a passport you can’t leave the country – and you may also find it difficult to check into a new hotel or receive any wired funds. To replace your passport, you’ll have to go in-person to the closest embassy (usually in a capital city) or consulate (in major towns or smaller capitals). If your country does not actually have any “official” representation, find out if there is an “honorary consulate” (an appointed individual) you can call on, or whether you have any access to another country’s embassy (for example, Canadians can be aided through the British embassy if they have no representation of their own – find out if your country has any such arrangement with another). If you have no such ‘alternative option’, then phone your nearest regional embassy and ask them how to proceed. Note: In order to aid in such situations, always travel with a photo copy of your passport and IDs in a separate bag, leave a copy with a friend/family member back home, and/or scan it and save it in a password protected account online. That way you can prove who you are without too much extra hassle. Realize that you will also be charged for your new passport. If no one can wire you money from back home, the embassy may be in a position to offer you a “repatriation loan”, depending on your country’s policies (ie: lending just enough to cover the passport and get you back home)… though this may or may not be an option.

6. Cancel all lost debit and credit cards. Do this within two days of the theft (which limits your liability to $50), and order replacements. Most major banks or companies have 24-hour help lines, reachable by collect call from anywhere in the world – but you’ll need to be able to tell them the name of the bank that issued the card, the type of card (classic, premium, etc), the full number, exact cardholder name, whether you are the primary or secondary cardholder, the billing address, circumstances in which you lost your card, etc. Again, it might be worth considering storing some of this information in a secure, online account if you can’t memorize it – or leaving a photocopy of the card with a trusted friend or loved one back home who can be reached in an emergency. In some locations (ie: Europe, North America), banks can deliver a new card to you within a couple days, and in some cases they may even be able to wire cash to keep you going or pay for your hotel room directly. Be sure to enquire about these extra service options.

7. Rearrange travel plans. If you need to rearrange your travel plans, call to do so as soon as possible. Emailing yourself a copy of all travel details, and/or using an itinerary-storage website such as TripIt can help you access all this information in one place. This is also the time when having booked with a reliable travel agent can be extremely beneficial – having access to all your information already, they can often work wonders in such a situation.

8. Replace travel gear and/or other necessary items. Besides the basics, this is the time you want to consider things like filling any medicinal prescriptions. In some countries you’ll need a copy of the prescription to do so (again, something to consider storing online or with a friend – otherwise you’ll need to contact your doctor back home), while in others (like most places in Asia or Africa) you can just walk into a pharmacy and ask for what you need. You may have to find out the medicine’s generic name (rather than the specific brand you’re used to), but most prescriptions are luckily pretty standard the world over.

9. Make the best of the situation. Getting everything sorted can take awhile, so try to be as flexible and patient as you can. Though it may not help at the time, remember that your loss will undoubtedly make for a good story when you get back home!

Source: “Losing It All… and Bouncing Back”. Rick Steves’ Europe.


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