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Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 11; March 21, 2012


Keeping an eye on the rankings in Asia.


UK reputation ‘damaged by student riots’.


Cut costs? Longstanding U.S. program encourages travel and study abroad.


Picking the right online travel tools.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Keeping an eye on the rankings in Asia.

It’s that time again when Britain releases one of the world’s most highly regarded university rankings lists, produced by the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine. As usual, all eyes in “rankings-obsessed” Asia are on the results.

From Jakarta to Japan, news publishers are highlighting the success and failures of their region’s institutions. “Singapore Universities Rise Through the Ranks,” proclaims one headline, while another online site (this one based in the Philippines) bemoans the status of their nation, as “Top local universities out of world’s elite list”. Some are even skewing the results, and/or running different rankings below an article about the Times Higher Education release, without clearly labeling that the numbers are not, in fact, official THE numbers (as in the case of an article re-run by the Jakarta Globe).

Although critics often question the methodology used by university league tables, and even THE rankings editor, Phil Baty, admits that his magazine’s annual survey is based purely on subjective opinion, their influence is undeniable. Particularly when considering the growing number of globally mobile students, researchers and academics – and particularly in Asia, where rankings have long been considered king. The Canadian University Application Centre’s director, Mel Broitman, explains.

“It’s astounding how unsophisticated the entire process is, and how unsophisticated the use of rankings is to determine destination decisions,” says Mr. Broitman. “As if when you talk about 500 excellent global universities, that one which is number 368 should be discounted from consideration from number 75 is absurd. Rankings, their compilation and use, is a perfect example for how the commercialization of education marketing have turned people into fools.”

Not surprisingly, the most well known and well publicized American institutions continue to rate the most highly regarded in the world – earning the majority of this year’s top 100 THE spots – an interesting new shift is occurring, in which Asian institutions are (actually) beginning to push their way up the ranks. “[S]ignalling”, according to THE rankings editor Phil Baty, what may be “the start of a power shift from West to East”.

These institutions include the University of Tokyo (which ranked 30th), the University of Hong Kong (34th), the National University of Singapore (40), Peking University (49), Kyoto University (52), and a handful of other Asian counterparts which ranked among the top 200 universities in THE’s 2011-2012 survey.

Sources: The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2011-2012.
& “Singapore Universities Rise Through the Ranks”. The Jakarta Globe, March 16, 2012.
& “Top local universities out of world’s elite list”. MALAYA Business Insight News Online, March 16, 2012.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – UK reputation ‘damaged by student riots’.

Following this month’s release of the annual Times Higher Education world rankings list, British universities are facing some uneasy realities. With just 10 UK universities now listed among the top 100 (down two from 2011), and only Oxford and Cambridge remaining in the top 10, it seems the country’s institutions are losing ground. Part of the reason, it is believed, are the recent large-scale protests held in Westminster – something which has damaged the country’s reputation overseas.

Phil Baty, the magazine’s rankings editor, says the British institutions are being increasingly “perceived as a fading power”.

“The messages we are sending to the world about our commitment to funding our universities, fuelled by the images of students protesting in Westminster, on top of our clampdown on overseas students, are not playing well globally,” he says. “There is a clear risk that our universities, other than the elite ‘super-brands’ of Oxford and Cambridge, will be relegated from the premier league of institutions in the eyes of the world, with tangible and sustained damage.”

These 2012 “world reputation rankings” are based on a survey of 17,554 academics from 137 countries, who were asked to rate universities in the areas of research and teaching. And with many of the British schools having slipped down from their ranks in 2011 (including Sheffield University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, both of which dropped out of the top 100 altogether), critics of recent changes to the country’s higher education sector have been quick to speak out.

“The government should sit up and take note of the relative decline of UK institutions compared to those in Europe, the Far East and Australia,” says Shabana Mahmood, the Labour party’s Shadow Higher Education Minister. “This is symptomatic of the chaos and confusion being created by the government as a result of their rapid changes to higher education.”

Meanwhile, the eight other institutions (besides Oxford and Cambridge) that clung on to their top 100 rankings this year include Imperial College, University College London, the London School of Economics, Edinburgh, Manchester, King’s College London, Leeds and Bristol.

Source: “Reputation of British universities ‘damaged by student riots’”. Telgraph, March 15, 2012.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Longstanding U.S. program encourages travel and study abroad.

Since 1961, over 200,000 American youth have traveled overseas, serving as Peace Corps volunteers in 139 different countries. While the original purpose of the program – to promote better understanding between Americans and other cultures around the world – remains, recent years have seen a growing number of youth taking part in the organization’s lesser-known higher education programs.

This month, the University of Florida joined the ranks of more than 80 different colleges and universities across the U.S. who partner with the Peace Corps to host special Master’s International Programs. Through these programs, graduate students are able to earn their master’s degrees while volunteering abroad. After beginning their studies on campus, students in this program serve overseas for two years, working with a Peace Corps project related to their area of study, before returning to school to finish their final graduate work.

Meanwhile, another of the organization’s initiatives, called the Fellows/USA Program, also aims to help returned Peace Corps Volunteers by providing them with scholarships, academic credit, and stipends, to be used toward earning an advanced degree once they complete their 27-month service overseas.

With recent attention being brought to the low number of American students going abroad, and tuition rates skyrocketing at home, it makes sense that programs like this could gain considerable popularity in future. According to a blog, just 1% of American students enrolled in higher education at home currently make the choice to study abroad, and by State Department statistics, only 4% of Americans aged 18 to 24 even own a passport. But youth are being urged to change this reality – and the Peace Corps is eager to point out the benefits of its programs, for both the students and greater society.

“Every year, hundreds of Peace Corps volunteers pair meaningful service with graduate studies through Peace Corps’ Master’s International and Fellows/USA programs,” says Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams. “After completing Peace Corps service, volunteers return to the United States as global citizens, with leadership, cross-cultural understanding, language, and technical skills that position them well for all future endeavors.”

During the 2010/11 academic calendar, the schools with the most graduate students taking part in the Master’s International program included Michigan Technological University (with 32 students enrolled and serving overseas at the time), Tulane University (28 students), and the University of Washington (26). As for the Fellows/USA program, the top participating institutions were the University of Arizona (with 58), the University of Denver (57), Johns Hopkins University (41), and Columbia University’s Teachers College (33).

Sources: “ Director of Peace Corps to visit University of Florida to discuss new grad program.”
& “Peace Corps Announces 2011 Rankings of Master’s International and Fellows/USA Graduate Schools”. Peace Corps News Releases & Statements, April 6, 2011.
& “Hillary Clinton to students: “Get out” (and study abroad)”. Blogs, November 16, 2011.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Picking the right online travel tools.

With online travel planning constantly evolving, it’s hard to keep up with some of the best sites to use. So here is an update highlighting some of the best – straight from the best travel minds at Conde Nast Traveler. – For those who like options, this site provides what is arguably one of the most comprehensive and straightforward fare and route lists available. Use it to learn which airlines offer the most suitable itinerary, then go to the carrier’s own website to book. Or, if your dates are flexible, check out the ‘Calendar of Lowest Fares’, where you can punch in an estimation of when you’d like to travel, and the search engine will tell you the cheapest time to fly!

For airfare alerts, sign up to and/or Both sites offer options for you to specify departure and arrival cities, and send out regular notifications that can help you save hundreds of dollars.

For seat alerts, check out – a site which, for $5 a month, will send you an e-mail alert if a specific seat for a flight you’re on opens up (an aisle seat, for example, or an emergency row), saving you the annoyance of having to repeatedly check back with the airline’s site and risk missing the option. And, to figure out what the best seats are to begin with, be sure to compare the options using and/or Handy charts even map out the comfiest seats and best in-flight entertainment options.

Besides being a great way to look up other travelers’ reviews, TripAdvisor is also a great way to connect with a hotel’s general manager. When you book a room, read the replies and note the manager’s e-mail address, then write him/her to say you admire how he/she replies to the reviews, adding that you look forward to your upcoming stay. It only takes a couple minutes, and it could help you receive special treatment during your stay – as managers are more likely to try to impress anyone they believe may be a frequent reviewer.

And finally, keep your miles from expiring with – a handy site that shows you all your different mileage accounts at a glance, including expiration dates, so you know exactly when to take action to keep any big stashes from disappearing. You can even keep track of your whole family’s together if you’d like.

Source: “Wendy Perrin’s Golden Rules of Travel”. Conde Nast Traveler.


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