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Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 1; January 11, 2012

1. THE PLAYING FIELD

In the U.S., ‘public Ivies’ struggle their way into the New Year.

2. ABROAD PERSPECTIVES

Nuclear education and partnership: France and China.

3. OVER THE COUNTER

Libyan students in U.S. face uncertain future.

4. GLOBE TIPPING

Finding hidden deals.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – In the U.S., ‘public Ivies’ struggle their way into the New Year.

Across the U.S., there is a growing concern over the future of the group of universities known as the “public Ivies”. These top public universities – which include Berkeley, UCLA, and the universities of Michigan, North Carolina, and Virginia – educate many more students than their private Ivy League counterparts … yet a historic collapse in state funding for higher education is now threatening their statuses as premier public institutions.

At the University of Virginia, for example, state support has dwindled over the past two decades from 26% of the operating budget to a mere 7%, while at the University of Michigan, it has declined from 48% to 17%. And not even the nation’s most prominent public university is immune. At the University of California at Berkeley – birthplace of the free-speech movement and home to nine living Nobel laureates – the state’s share of the operating budget has slipped from 47% in 1991 to only 11% this year … while class size and tuition fees are pressured to rise each year. Tuition has doubled in the past six years, and the university has been forced to admit more and more students from out of state who are willing to pay a premium for a Berkeley degree.

While Berkeley leaders boldly announced an unprecedented new ‘Middle Class Access Plan’ last month (offering to cap family’s parent contribution to 15% of household earnings for any families earning up to $140,000), the university is nonetheless struggling to keep up its programs…and appearances to the public.

“The issue that’s being addressed at Berkeley, fundamentally, is the future of the high-quality public university in America,” explains Robert Reich, former labor secretary and now a public policy professor at Berkeley. And with states spending one-fifth less per public university student in 2010 than in 2000 (as reported by the Washington Post), it does indeed seem unclear what the future will hold.

Supporters of public higher education fear that, should the cuts continue, Berkeley – along with other top ‘public Ivies’ – will lose some of its ability to compete with elite private universities.

Source: “UC-Berkeley and other ‘public Ivies’ in fiscal peril”. The Washington Post, December 27, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/uc-berkeley-and-other-public-ivies-in-fiscal-peril/2011/12/14/gIQAfu4YJP_story.html?hpid=z2

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Nuclear education and partnership: France and China.

While France has long exported its nuclear power technology, a new addition is being added to the country’s export list – nuclear education.

In five years, about 100 Chinese nuclear engineers will graduate from the Franco-Chinese Institute for Nuclear Energy, located in China’s Guangdong province. Trained by top French professors, these graduates will leave the school fluent in French and with master’s degrees in nuclear engineering.

With safety concerns over nuclear power growing worldwide after last March’s earthquake in Japan led to the devastating Fukushima radiation leak, this new education alliance is a bold move for France. It is also a calculated attempt to ensure that its four-decade-long, €250 billion investment in nuclear energy continues to pay off. Particularly as other countries, including Germany and Switzerland, declare intentions to phase out all nuclear-power production completely (in reaction to the Fukushima accident), China remains a country seemingly determined to carry on. Although it did suspend its nuclear program amid the crisis in Japan, the country has nonetheless continued development (according to the consulting group Capgemini, it is now responsible for building 28 of the 62 reactors currently under construction across the world), and Chinese officials appear ready to restart the country’s full program as soon as possible.

So where does this new degree program come in? For France, which is financing about half the cost of the recently opened university, the hope is that these Chinese scholars will go on to become top nuclear officials – who will, more specifically, practice high safety standards and hand lucrative contracts to French nuclear companies.

“We want to share our teaching methods,” says Marianne Laigneau, head of human resources at French state-owned power company Électricité de France SA, or EDF (which pays roughly 10% of the school’s €4 million or $5.2 million annual budget). “But the aim is also to train future Chinese decision makers who can facilitate partnerships with France.”

Meanwhile, one of the biggest debates surrounding the new institute continues over what extent should France (with its long history of ensuring high safety standards) get involved with and/or aid China’s future nuclear plans – which could eventually include exporting energy to meet demands in regions such as Africa.

“If China’s investment in nuclear [energy] fails either from an industrial or safety point of view, it will impact France’s strategic choices,” explains Bernard Bigot, head of the French Atomic Energy Commission (also known as the agency that masterminded the country’s nuclear expansion). “You only have to look at the impact that Fukushima had on France to understand that if a country invests in nuclear it has to do it in an exemplary manner.”

For now, the institute’s €24 million six-year budget is being provided by a consortium of businesses, including EDF, the French engineering group Areva SA, and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co., while Chinese universities supply the buildings that house the program. A review will determine whether the French and Chinese will support the school beyond 2016.

Source: “France Broadens Nuclear Offerings With China”. WSJ.com, December 29, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204517204577046000531213914.html

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Libyan students in U.S. face uncertain future.

After the past year’s violent revolution, which ended with the overthrow and death of leader Muammar Qaddafi, citizens of Libya now face an uncertain future… including those students studying abroad.

More than two years ago, Faeirouz Elbergwa was among a select group of Libyans sent by her government to train at overseas universities for the nation’s diplomatic corps. Now 27, Elbergwa is preparing for the final stage of her studies at Michigan State University – but, along with 18 other colleagues, Elbergwa now finds herself in an odd state of limbo. With their much-changed homeland, the students wonder whether they will be seen as would-be Qaddafi government officials when they return home – even if, like Elbergwa, they supported the revolution from its start.

“Maybe some of them will say I’m loyal to this family,” she says, before adding that, “I think I don’t care. It’s what’s in my heart that counts.”

Meanwhile, the students continue to puzzle out their future, with the help of relatives back home and authorities in the United States. So far, the State Department has approved the necessary visas for the students to stay in the U.S., and intends to continue their program, which resumes this month on the American University campus in Washington, D.C. If the students appear to be in danger when it’s time to return to Libya later next year, the U.S. could consider granting them asylum.

“The perception is just because these folks received the scholarship from the Qaddafi family they are somehow aligned … with the Qaddafi family,” explains Eugenia Zacks-Carney, an immigration attorney who has been working with the Libyans at Michigan State. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Launched in 2010, the Michigan State program is based on a contract with Libya’s National Economic Development Board, and provides training in English, political science and international relations for future foreign service officials. As Elbergwa explains, for those interested in public service in Libya, there was no alternative to dealing with the Qaddafi regime – whether they supported it or not.

“Everything in the country was controlled by their family,” she explains. “We lived by it. Somehow we accepted it for a long time.”

After the uprising began in February, about 20 students from the program, including those loyal to the Qaddafi regime, decided to return to Libya, while others, like Elbergwa, stayed on, even joining in anti-Qaddafi protests on campus. Now, these students are unsure of how they will be viewed back home – a home still full of Qaddafi loyalists as well as militias now reluctant to submit to central authority.

“I know there are still people killing in his name,” Elbergwa says, adding that the overthrow of Qaddafi has left the country with “nothing” – no infrastructure, education, health care or political culture. With a huge rebuilding process ahead, she says she just hopes her nation will accept her.

Source: “Libyan Students in U.S. Worry About Returning Home”. Fox News, December 18, 2011. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/12/18/libyan-students-in-us-worry-about-returning-home/

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Finding hidden deals.

Especially when you’re a regular business traveler, hidden deals can really help make your travel a lot more enjoyable – as well as affordable. Check out these tips to find more great options in future:

1. Sign up for e-mail notifications. Although sometimes considered ‘spam’, e-mail notifications from travel-related companies can be a great way to snag the best airfares and hotel sales – many of which go otherwise unannounced (as companies often target specific subsets of travelers – loyalty program members, certain credit card holders, etc – to alert via e-mail, these sales notifications are often tailored to best suit you). To protect your regular inbox from being bombarded, you might consider getting a dedicated e-mail address for such alerts, and then only check it for updates when you’re actually ready to start planning your next trip. If you’re known to make quick purchase decisions or last-minute bookings, consider signing up for alerts from flash-sale sites as well, such as Jetsetter (http://www.jetsetter.com/login) or Tablet Hotels (http://www.tablethotels.com).

2. Carry credit cards that earn you elite status. By carrying airline-branded and/or hotel-branded cards, you can help yourself attain (and maintain) elite status for future travels. Just make sure that at least one of these cards charges no foreign-purchase fee (preferably a Visa or MasterCard, as those are the most widely accepted overseas).

3. Use Etravelbid.com to find business-class bargains. This site negotiates unpublished, discounted business-class fares with no advance-purchase requirements – helping you to snag last-minute business class flights for incredibly low rates.

4. Find mileage-award seats on routes that connect through airline alliance hubs. By considering the different hub-to-hub routes flown by carriers in your airline’s alliance (stopping in the hubs themselves rather than flying through different, perhaps more direct cities), you have more options to earn award seats and miles. Take the Star Alliance (which includes Air Canada, United, US Airways, and many more airlines as partners) for example. If you want to fly ‘Star Alliance’ all the way, consider choosing flights going through Star Alliance ‘hubs’ – such as Frankfurt, Vienna, Munich, Copenhagen, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. – whenever possible.

Source: “Wendy Perrin’s Golden Rules of Travel”. Conde Nast Traveler.
http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/2011/11/wendy-perrins-golden-rules-of-travel

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