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Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Volume 10, Issue 42; November 30, 2011

The Playing Field

Libyan funds trickle back to overseas scholars.

Abroad Perspectives

Opening up, Russia welcomes foreign degrees.

Over The Counter

China employment solution: Eliminate degrees.

Globe Tipping

The Guide to Guidebooks.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Libyan funds trickle back to overseas scholars.

As Libyan embassies around the world begin to receive funds in support of students studying in the various countries, it is believed that the thousands of Libyan scholarship students enrolled in overseas universities are likely to be given access to their full monthly stipends, starting again from next January.

Since 2007 until earlier this year, the Libyan Committee for Higher Education, under leadership of the late Colonel Muamar Gaddafi, regularly provided a series of scholarships for more than 7,000 students, enabling them to undertake both graduate and postgraduate studies overseas. But this summer, media houses around the world reported that Libyan students enrolled in colleges from Australia to Britain, Egypt, South Africa, the US and Canada all faced suspension of their stipends, following the outbreak of civil war across their homeland. As funds to the scholarship program dried up or were frozen, several governments promised to ensure the students would be able to complete their courses.

In Australia, for example, where approximately 1,150 Libyan students are enrolled in universities, colleges, and English language programs, the government committed a $1.5 million loan to the Libyan People’s Bureau to ensure the students and their families were “not placed in a position of continued anxiety” over their studies amid uncertainties back home. Some individual universities also showed their support, providing loans to cover living arrangements and deferring tuition payments.

But the Council for International Students Australia (CISA) says the students were still subjected to unnecessary stress, stating that the government had been to slow to step in. It urges that a more coordinated response needs to be developed, in order to ensure against any repeats in future.

“[The intervention] could have been delayed a lot longer, but it also could have been done a lot more quickly,” says CISA president, Arfa Noor.“ A couple of students got kicked out of their homes because they couldn’t pay rent for that month. Some had kids and wives here with them, and didn’t have enough money for food.”

“I think we need to start looking at putting procedures and policies in place so that if something like this happens again, we have a framework that ensures we get quicker response – not just from government but institutions as well.”

While Ms. Noor conceded that war in a home country was an unusual situation, she says protests and uprisings, as well as natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis are all constant possibilities, and could each leave foreign students in similar predicaments.

“Things like that will come up where students will be cut off from their financial source,” she says. “We need to make sure there’s no such gap – that there’s some sort of financial help from either the institutions or the government that keeps them afloat until they sort out what’s going to happen.”

Sources: “LIBYA: Overseas students to be paid stipend”. University World News, November 23, 2011.
& “Libyan scholarships flow again”. The Australian, November 24, 2011.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Opening up, Russia welcomes foreign degrees.

In an effort to attract more overseas talent, Russia is easing the way for foreign students to attend graduate programs at Russian universities.

Currently, it takes more than six months to verify any overseas degree – the necessary procedure for any student hoping to pursue graduate studies in Russia. But starting in 2012, this complex verification process will no longer be mandatory for all students. So long as applicants have their diplomas translated, and hold a degree from a government-approved institution, their verification will be automatic.

Wondering what qualifies as a Russian-approved institution? The country’s education ministry is currently drawing up a list of some 300 universities – including only those located within the G8 countries, and who made the top 300 in either the Academic Ranking of the World Universities or the QS World University rankings.

Besides attracting more students to enroll in Russian MA and PhD programs, the upcoming reforms will also ease the way for highly qualified foreign specialists, including lecturers and researchers. These foreign experts, it is believed, will help bring new ideas and teaching approaches to Russian institutions.

“People holding foreign degrees previously could not be employed in public service, join the government, the ministries; they could not participate in decision-making,” explains Aleskey Sitnikov, of the Skolkovo research hub’s International Development Department. “Now these opportunities are created, and hopefully, these people will come.”

These reforms follow changes made earlier this year, in which expat lecturers were for the first time allowed to teach in Russian universities without special permission. Before March 2011, if an expat came into the country with a business or tourist visa, he or she had to leave the country before applying for a work permit.

Source: “Russia to recognize foreign university degrees”. RT, November 23, 2011.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – China employment solution: Eliminate degrees.

As is the case in a number of countries around the world, China is facing a new, growing problem – too few jobs for too many grads. The country’s solution to the problem? To phase out those majors producing the most unemployable grads.

According to last week’s announcement by the Chinese Ministry of Education, the government will soon begin evaluating college majors by their employment rates. Any programs from which 60% of graduates spend at least two consecutive post-degree years looking for jobs will be downsized or cut out completely.

The plan is meant to solve the problems caused by the country’s recent surge in college grads – a number which jumped nearly 150% since 2000, according the national 2010 census. While this growth is a great accomplishment for the country, it has resulted in a growing number of workers who don’t quite fit into the country’s export-led, manufacturing-based economy.

Yet this new decision is meeting its fair share of resistance – especially among university professors, who fear it will shrink the talent pool needed for various subjects, including biology (ie: subjects currently lacking demand, but which are critical if the country is to succeed in its vision to become a leader in science and technology). On a related note, a recent op-ed in the Beijing News also criticized the approach, saying that it will only encourage schools to falsify employment rates in order to hang on to their more diverse programs (and autonomy).

Although it has not yet been announced which majors will be cut, some universities are already taking steps toward decreasing the size of their programs which result in fewer paid positions. Enrollment in a Russian program at China’s Shenyang Normal University, for example, was reportedly cut to just 25 students this year, down from 50 last year.

As restrictions continue to be tightened and education becomes an increasingly heated topic in China, more and more students are choosing to flee overseas for their higher studies. According to a 2010 report from the Institute of International Education, last year, around 128,000 Chinese students attended universities in the US alone.

Source: “China to Cancel College Majors That Don’t Pay”. China Real Time Report – Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2011.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – The Guide to Guidebooks.

Guidebooks can be $25 tools for priceless experiences. Especially if you’re travelling somewhere for the first time, buying yourself an up-to-date guidebook with good maps can truly make your experience. For those of you considering buying or borrowing an older copy from a friend – think again ! The money you save on this versus buying a newer copy can mean a wasted first day of the trip, full of searching for hotels or restaurants long since closed (or touting raised prices). Although you can’t believe every word you read (you can’t imagine how many travel writers rely on hearsay, travel brochures, and/or a quick in-and-out trip), and you need to check how old the information is (the year the guide is compiled [not printed] should be the first thing you check) – a good guide book is a good investment for any trip.

Consider the different types. There are as many different types of guidebooks as there are types of travelers. But for the most part, guidebooks differ in how the cover destinations. For example, you’ll find guides that specialize in cities, provinces or regions within a country, individual nations, a group of neighboring nations (like Spain and Portugal), or multi-country regions (like East Africa). In order to limit your weight, buy only the destinations you’ll need (ie: if you’re only visiting London and Paris, then buy smaller books on each of the two cities, rather than one on Western Europe), or consider ripping out the section you need and leaving the rest at home. Alternatively – buy individual ‘electronic chapters’, to download onto your e-reader, smartphone, or laptop. If you’re someone who likes photos, then a “visual guide” may be your best bet, and if you’re someone who needs directions or will be walking a lot (versus taking a taxi or metro), then consider a book with pull-out maps (the sturdier or more waterproof the better). Whatever your needs are, there’s bound to be a good option out there for you – so take your time and study the different options before you buy.

A breakdown of some of the favourites:

Lonely Planet. The worldwide standard for a solid guidebook, Lonely Planet guides cover most countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas in a range of different styles (from individual cities guides to hefty, brick-like regional anthologies). They’re particularly good at offering no-nonsense facts – names, locations, prices, and helpful tips for a range of budgets (low, mid, and top end). As they’re about as comprehensive as guides come, they’re good if you want to spend a long time in one country – just realize that they’re not updated annually, so be sure to check when the newest edition is out.

Rough Guides. A British series that covers a range of countries, often written by people who live there versus ‘travelers’ (especially in the case of European destinations). While Rough Guides’ hotel listings tend to be a bit limited, they generally offer more historical and sightseeing information than their close competitor, Lonely Planet. Again, Rough Guides is not published annually, so when choosing between the two options, travelers often pick whichever option is most recent.

Let’s Go. Designed for young travelers on tight budgets, Let’s Go books are written and updated by Harvard students – making them refreshingly youthful and opinionated. Through the years, this series has maintained its super-low-budget approach and is often the best resource for shoestring travelers, hostel-seekers, and hip student experiences.

Frommer’s Guides. Full of reliable and handy listings of hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing tips originally compiled by the ‘father of independent travel’, Arthur Frommer. These are especially well-read by older travelers, and are good at pointing out important sites – including which are must-sees and which can be skipped if time is short.

Michelin Green Guides. The famous tall, green books. Printed on glossy paper and packed with full-colour maps and photos, these guides offer more content than most other “visual guides” (such as Eyewitness). Each book includes chapters on history, lifestyles, art, culture, customs, and economy for offering interesting ‘tidbits’ along the way, and recent editions also include some information on hotels and restaurants. These maps are filled with great city maps designed for drivers (ideally on “Michelin tires”). Meanwhile, the Michelin Red Guides are the hotel and restaurant connoisseur’s bibles – just be prepared for their more pricey options.

Blue Guides: A more scholarly series, ideal if you want to learn as much about history, art, architecture, and culture as you possibly can. Their publisher, Somerset, also produces two other series – the more visually-oriented Visible Cities, and the self-explanatory art/shop/eat series.

Cadogan Guides: Readable and thought-provoking, these guides give the curious traveler a cultural insight into many regions – making for great pre-trip reading. Similar to Blue Guides, but more accessible to the typical traveler.

Time Out: This popular monthly entertainment guide can be found in cities around the world – offering sights, current events, entertainment, eating, and sleeping options from a true insider’s point of view. Perfect for new expats or those looking for the ‘trendy scene’. Their “Shortlist” series is pocket-sized and suitable for quick city jaunts.

Source: “Comparing Guidebooks”. Rick Steves’ Europe.


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