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Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 15; April 18, 2012

1. THE PLAYING FIELD

Paying commissions and paying the price in the US.

2. ABROAD PERSPECTIVES

Chinese scholarship and influence in West Africa.

3. OVER THE COUNTER

Student, Professor, Spy? America on alert.

4. GLOBE TIPPING

Prepare for the unlikely: earthquakes and tsunamis.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Paying commissions and paying the price in the US.

In the University of Wisconsin system at least seven of its campuses currently pay foreign agencies to help recruit international students, and spend as much as $1,700 per student, according to a recent State Journal survey. Though universities’ reasons for wanting to attract more international scholars (ie: higher tuition rates, increased global exposure) are straightforward, critics argue that the methods used by some overseas recruitment agencies are anything but. One of the UW campuses, for example, dropped a contract with an agency in China last year, after it learned the recruiters were reportedly falsifying student credentials – writing essays, making up reference letters, and even getting high schools to change grades.

“It’s something we would collectively, I think, agree is completely unethical here,” says Barmak Nassirian, associate director at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). “How does it become acceptable just because the targets are foreign nationals?”

While admissions officers have a duty to make sure students and schools are indeed right for each other, Nassirian says their ability to accurately judge applicants’ suitability can be greatly compromised whenever commission-based agents are involved.

“These folks won’t eat unless the student shows up as a warm body on your roster,” he says. “Therein lies the fundamental corruption.”

(Actually – Nassirian is wrong. In most agency models in the world, agents also charge students up front for “services”. These fees range from hundreds to thousands of dollars)

For those who agree with Nassrian, it logically follows that the bigger the payout, the bigger the potential for corruption. So when the UW-Milwaukee campus recently announced its plans to enroll almost 400 Chinese students by its fifth year of recruiting (an agency cost of about $533,000 for a tuition and fees payout of $8.7 million to UW-Milwaukee that year), more than a few eyebrows were raised. Though the large sum involved meant the plan had to be brought to the UW Board of Regents for approval, the UW system doesn’t generally track how many of their campuses use agencies, or even how much they spend on them.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), which already bans fee-based admissions recruiting within the US, is now considering a policy that explicitly bars those same practices in foreign countries.

“There’s just a lot of confusion about what you can and can’t do, what you should and shouldn’t do overseas,” said David Hawkins, NACAC director of public policy and research.

If the policy goes through, any schools that violate the bans would be prevented from attending recruiting fairs and professional conferences.

Source: “UW System schools pay agencies for international students”. April 10, 2012. http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/university/uw-system-schools-pay-agencies-for-international-students/article_49fdfb6e-81a3-11e1-b803-0019bb2963f4.html

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Chinese scholarship and influence in West Africa.

China’s ambassador in the West African nation of Liberia, Zhao Jianhua, has officially launched a new scholarship program for local university students. Awarded to promising scholars taking part in University of Liberia programs in Science, Technology, Agriculture, and Forestry, the scholarship is the first of its kind.

While a number of Liberians in both the public and private sectors, as well as students from the University of Liberia have previously benefited from international scholarships and trainings funded by the government of China – this is the first local scholarship that the Chinese government has offered.

Noting that it was Liberia’s own president (and recent Noble Peace Prize recipient), Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who initially urged him to focus the scholarship on benefiting the local Science College, Ambassador Zhao explained that the chosen areas of study are those that will most help Liberia in its mission for recovery, reconstruction and development following the nation’s series of recent civil conflicts.

“What you need is recovery,” he declared at the scholarship’s recent launch program, “what you need is to build the agriculture sector. What you need is more sciences. What you need is the perfect usage of your natural resources. All these require professionals to make the country reach its development.”

These fields of focus are the very same areas of interest for. Chinese companies have been spilling into West African countries for years – grabbing up concessions in mining, iron ore, and construction, with smaller companies also focusing on timber and/or agricultural projects. With increased focus on improving the state-run Science College, the industries in question are expected to benefit.

Source: “Liberia: Chinese Ambassador Launches Scholarship Program”. The Analyst, April 11, 2012. http://allafrica.com/stories/201204110937.html

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Student, Professor, Spy? America on alert.

As American universities race to become more ‘international’, opening their doors to students from around the world, starting up programs and even satellite campuses on foreign shores, some U.S. officials are warning of an alarming increase in cases of espionage at U.S. universities.

Over the past five years it is believed that efforts of academic-based espionage by foreign countries has taken advantage of universities’ very own culture of openness and goals to increase international collaboration – which it is alleged, makes them more vulnerable to such penetration.

“We have intelligence and cases indicating that U.S. universities are indeed a target of foreign intelligence services”, confirmed FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, Frank Figliuzzi, who added that the FBI and academic bodies (despite less than friendly relations in the past) are now working together to combat the threat. To this aim, a group initially created at Pennsylvania State University in 1995 has since grown into a national board of representatives, hailing from security agencies and universities across the country.

According to the FBI, foreign agents’ activities at the universities could range from conducting research with respected scientific teams, to taking photos of hi-tech equipment, to the straightforward copying of sensitive documents. Of particular concern is the theft of research conducted for government and industry within the country, and according to a 2011 US Defense Department report, major concentration is given to the areas of information systems development, lasers, aeronautics, and underwater robots.

According to the same report, attempts by Asian countries – and China in particular – to obtain classified information by “academic solicitation” (ie: requests to review academic papers or study with professors), jumped eightfold between 2009 and 2010 alone. Such approaches from the Middle East also doubled within the same timeframe.

While most international students, researchers and professors come to the U.S. for legitimate academic reasons, a 2011 FBI report continues to encourage caution, maintaining that universities are an “ideal place” for foreign intelligence services “to find recruits, propose and nurture ideas, learn and even steal research data, or place trainees”.
.
Meanwhile, in an effort to preserve its key role in science and technology, America remains open to talented researchers from around the world. In fact, the nation’s universities are so welcoming that, in many cases, up to 40% of a single institution’s graduates could hail from overseas, according to a federal survey.

Sources: “Spies infiltrate U.S. colleges”. The Columbus Dispatch, April 10, 2012. http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2012/04/10/spies-infiltrate-u-s–colleges.html
& “FBI fears American universities ‘swarming with spies’”. RT, April 10, 2012. http://rt.com/usa/news/american-universities-scientific-espionage-687/

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Prepare for the unlikely: earthquakes and tsunamis.

While the chances of actually being caught up in the aftermath of an extreme earthquake or tsunami while traveling are quite low, the reality is that more than a couple dozen major earthquakes (those measuring between 7 and 7.9 on the Richter scale) do occur each year. And since they can happen at any time, and many occur in popular travel destinations such as Hawaii, California, Mexico City, and most of Japan (ie: Pacific Rim locations), it ‘s still a good idea to know how to react if you’re considering a trip to any potential earthquake zone. So here are a few ways you can help stay prepared for such an event:

1. Ask your hotel preliminary questions. Check to see that the building has routine fire and emergency drills, an evacuation plan, and fire safety inspections. Poor maintenance is a clear warning sign. Also, if the hotel is near the water, be sure to ask where the ‘safe’ points are and how they’ll alert guests of an impending tsunami (or, for that matter, extreme tropical storm – though they should be different points, the management should be prepared for all forms of natural disasters).

2. Assess your surroundings. Be aware of any furniture and fixtures in your room. Think about things that can fall or slide, and what they will hit. If your bed is near a tall wardrobe, for example, you might want to consider moving it if possible. Also, take note of where the nearest fire extinguisher is, and ensure the hotel exit routes are unlocked.

3. Write a family reunification plan. Make a plan with your family or travel partner(s) where to reunite in case of an earthquake or other emergency. Also, designate specific go-to people back home for each person to contact in case anything should happen.

4. Bring a flashlight. A professional-grade LED flashlight is a great item to carry with you while travelling, as it lasts longer than non-LED models and can also be used to help attract attention if you need assistance. Some great example models can be found at www.surefire.com and www.nteinc.com/coast/.

5. Think about water. Consider carrying a water treatment option with you, such as iodine tablets or filters, in order to ensure you have drinkable water in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster, events which can often render regular drinking water sources to be unsafe. While iodine tablets can be purchased at most pharmacies, you might also consider investing in a portable filtration product such as a LifeStraw (www.vestergaard-frandsen.com/lifestraw/lifestraw).

6. Beyond a basic medical kit, you might also consider packing a mask filter, as dust whipped up from an earthquake can be full of particles, and is not something you want to breathe in.

7. Drop, cover, and hold on! If you feel shaking, immediately cover your head and neck. If you’re in bed when a quake hits, stay there – otherwise try to find a doorframe to crouch in. Do not seek shelter in a bathtub, however, as the increased likelihood of broken tile, glass and porcelain being knocked around from the surrounding bathroom can increase your chance of serious injury.

8. Know tsunami warning signs. Three vital tsunami signs include shaking and tremors, the sea receding below normal tide, and a loud roar. If you suspect a tsunami may occur, be sure to listen out for warnings made by local authorities, which could include radio broadcasts or a loud siren.

9. Get to the second floor or higher. Seek a building at least two stories high and head upwards.

Source: “Tips for Earthquake and Tsunami Preparedness”. Travel Channel, http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/travel-tips/articles/tips-for-earthquake-and-tsunami-preparedness

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