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Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 14; April 11, 2012


New website ruffles some feathers in Australia.


Indian discontent over new UK laws.


Violence spreads across Pakistani campuses.


New brochure offers big tips for big people.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – New website ruffles some feathers in Australia.

The launch of a new Australian government-run website, called ‘MyUniversity’, is being met with mixed reactions across the nation’s higher education sector. The site, designed to assist prospective students both in Australia and around the world, includes information comparing the country’s universities, such as course satisfaction levels, staff numbers, drop-out rates, and subsequent employment. The idea is to help support students to make a more informed choice.

Particularly with the country’s recent decision to uncap university places, Education Minister Chris Evans says the site is set to be a valuable tool for prospective students, in addition to helping ensure accountability within the sector.

“We’ve provided for students to choose where they want to go without restrictions, to choose the courses they want to study, and part of empowering them is to give them good information about what their options are,” he explains. “We’ve got 39 public universities and other private institutions and we want to make sure that prospective students understand the choices available to them.”

Critics such as the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), however, have offered some harsh reactions, saying the site provides little more than league tables.

“I don’t really see the need for a site like this; I don’t think it adds to the capacity of the people to make informed choices, nor is it a way of addressing the issue of quality in higher education,” says NTEU president Jeannie Rae. “There are multiple ways that we try to assure the quality of higher education, the most important ones are by the quality of the teaching and learning programs…So arguing that it is part of a quality-assurance measure is not really convincing.”

Even Universities Australia (UA) has stated it can offer only “cautious support”, stating concerns over the site’s content, specifically when it comes to comparative information on attrition rates and staff-to-student ratios. The organization’s chief executive, Belinda Robinson, went so far as to describe MyUniversity as riddled with erroneous information and data that lacks the context prospective students need – particularly students from abroad.

“People around the world are going to be looking to this website not just in terms of making choices between universities, but in considering their choice to study in Australia at all,” Robinson explains. “It really is incumbent on that website to be the best and the most accurate it can possibly be.”

Above all, Robinson urged students and parents not to consider the site a one-stop shop, but instead seek further information directly from the institutions themselves.

The Gillard government made a commitment of Australian $1.5 million to the MyUniversity site – an initiative which follows the similarly controversial, yet highly popular MySchool sister platform. The platform, which compiled data through the Higher Education Information Management System, includes information on tuition fees, courses, scholarships, student services, cut-off scores, student-satisfaction and graduation-destination surveys.

Sources: “Australia launches website on education institutions”. Indian Express, April 5, 2012.
& “Campus Review: New website not quite the face universities want to show”. Times Higher Education, April 4, 2012.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Indian discontent over new UK laws.

Reactions of discontent are clearly on display across the pages of Indian newspapers, after the United Kingdom’s new immigration laws – essentially barring Indian (and other non-EU) students to stay and work after completing their university degrees – came into effect last Friday. One article, run by the Times of India, even labeled the move to be part of an “anti-immigration drive”, and already, the number of Indian applicants for September 2012 UK university courses has taken a hit.

The often sensationalized and partisan Indian media commonly position this story as anti-Indian, but it rarely reports the fact that tens of thousands of Indian student visa applicants (and visa holders) to the UK, see it as a work first and study second (or maybe not study at all) opportunity.

Previously, overseas students were able to apply for at least two years of post-graduation employment, by paying a visa fee of £500. But amidst sky high British unemployment rates, efforts are being taken to reduce the number of foreign workers coming to the UK. Now, international graduates are only eligible for visa sponsorship by a UK employer as a ‘skilled worker’, or to apply under the “graduate entrepreneur scheme” – an avenue only open to those with quality business plans.

The previous ‘tier one’ post-study route was favored among many Indian students, as it enabled them to work off some of the loans they took in order to study in Britain in the first place, while at the same time gaining valuable work experience to improve their future job prospects. But as a spokesperson for the British home ministry explained, “The previous scheme was too generous. There were no restrictions and it was being exploited, with people engaging in low-skill work.”

The goal now, explains immigration minister Damian Green, is to control migration while at the same time ensuring economic growth. “Our reformed immigration system,” he explained, “can achieve both”.

Source: “Anti-immigration drive: Now, Indians can’t work in UK after studies”. Times of India, April 5, 2012.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Violence spreads across Pakistani campuses.

Last month, a fourth year commerce student from Karachi University (KU), was picked up at one of his campus entrances. Three days later, the student, Saleem Akhtar, was found nearby, tortured and shot.

Though Akhtar received successful treatment at a local hospital, a complaint has been filed against the alleged perpetrators – a student activist group in declared opposition to Akhtar’s own activist organization, the Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT).

This case is just one in a series of violent incidents that have recently occurred between student political factions at Pakistani universities. Last month alone, at least five institutions, including KU, reported student clashes. While each of these altercations started out small – often with an exchange of hot words over a petty issue such as wall-chalking or flag-hoisting – they quickly escalated into an all-out brawl, with weapons involved. To date, the clashes have resulted in the death of one student and injury of several others.

Violence in Pakistan’s biggest city is escalating at a worrisome rate. “When I arrived two weeks ago in Karachi the roads were nearly empty,” says Canadian University Application Centre Director Mel Broitman. “That morning a politician was assassinated and the violent response resulted in a dozen more deaths and forty cars and buses burning on the streets. Karachi is descending to its violent times of the 1980s and 90s, when it was a foreboding and menacing place.”

Professor Moonis Ahmar, from the Area Study Centre for Europe and the Department of International Relations at Karachi University, blames the current atmosphere of student politics as being responsible for the escalating violence. With student unions banned in the country, he says students no longer understand the concept of political rights or democratic procedures, and in many cases, “student politics” have morphed into nothing more than the “minority hijacking the rights of the majority”.

“It reflects the erosion of societal values, and radicalisation leading to intolerance,” he explains. “This is what happens when students are not motivated to concentrate on their studies. If there were better educational facilities, some of these students would be assets.”

Source: “The politics of student violence”. The News, April 4, 2012.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – New brochure offers big tips for big people.

A new, downloadable brochure, titled “Travel Tips for People of Size”, is now offering tips to make flying easier for large customers. Compiled by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) and the Association for Airline Passenger Rights (AAPR), the four-page document includes tips for packing, booking flights, choosing seats, traveling to and through airports, and getting on and off planes. It even details various airlines’ passengers-of-size policies, and offers recommendations for how travel agents can better assist passengers of size to ensure more comfortable flying experiences.

“Airline travel, in particular, is such a hot topic for fat people,” says Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for NAAFA. “Some have mobility issues and the trip from the curb to the gate is daunting. Some people are concerned that they may not be able to move quickly enough to make connecting flights. And we often get questions about which airlines have policies regarding the purchase of two seats.”

“The reality,” explains Tony Harrell, owner of Virginia-based Abundant Travel, “is that purchasing a second coach seat, sharing a third seat with a fellow traveler of size, or considering an upgrade to business or first class may be the most appropriate choice.”

According to the brochure, passengers of size are recommended to book a second seat particularly when flying Southwest, American, or Jet Blue airlines. United may also require passengers to purchase a second seat if they are unable to fit in a single seat with both armrests down. And in addition to urging travelers to choose airlines deemed “people-of-size friendly”, the brochure offers a range of additional tips, including:

- A window seat will give you a little more shoulder room but hip room remains the same. The average seat is (approximately) 18 inches wide.

- While you can discreetly ask your flight attendant for a seat belt extender as you board, you may find it more convenient to carry your own (a list of sites that sell seatbelt extenders is included in the brochure). Just be careful that any extender you carry is in good condition, as any damaged or frayed extender may not work.

- Smile and say hello to your seat mates. It is harder to be annoyed with someone if they are being nice.

- Washroom size may be an issue. Try to plan accordingly.

For more tips tailored to persons of size, just download the NAAFA brochure from

Sources: “Flying? New brochure offers travel tips for passengers of size”., March 29, 2012.
& “Travel Tips for Plus Size Travellers”. NAAFA & AAPR, 2012.


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