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Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 16; April 25, 2012

1. THE PLAYING FIELD

Excellence vs. Access: Debate grows in developing world.

2. ABROAD PERSPECTIVES

Malaysia higher education ups its game.

3. OVER THE COUNTER

Fair or Foul? Education fairs in Delhi and Dubai.

4. GLOBE TIPPING

Avoid learning lessons the hard way, Part I.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Excellence vs. Access: Debate grows in developing world.

With increased numbers of developing nations setting their sites on not just improving their universities, but more specifically, creating institutes of “world-class” standard, there is a growing debate. The main question at hand: whether these nations should indeed spend all their money and energy trying to build one or two “world class” universities – aimed at conducting specialized research and educating the nation’s elite – or focus on building more and better institutions to train the masses?

It was an issue bought up repeatedly during a three-day symposium held earlier this year at the University of Oxford’s Green Templeton College – and led to many sharp disagreements over “the extent to which the emerging world should be part of the educational arms race”, according to Simon Marginson, University of Melbourne professor of higher education.

Though definitions and opinions on this ‘race’ vary greatly (causing scorn from some and encouragement from others), it is generally agreed that the ‘race’ is most strongly based around the goal of achieving top slots in worldwide university rankings – competitions which are largely weighted on areas such as research funding and student selectivity, rather than measures to encourage widespread student access. While American and European institutions have historically dominated these rankings, a growing number of universities from Asia and other parts of the world are starting to force their way in.

The main problem, experts maintain, is that achieving such “world class” status does not come cheaply, and often such concentrated efforts come at the expense of neglecting the masses… thereby raising questions about relative priorities, considering the need in virtually every country to produce increased numbers of well-educated citizens – essential for feeding economic growth. Some of these experts, however, believe that the pursuit of “status” does not have to come at such a high expense. Former Dutch minister of education and current president emeritus from the Netherlands’ Maastricht University, Jo Ritzen, explains.

“Mass higher education is necessary for a country to belong to the league of developed countries,” he says. “At the same time, it’s very important to make sure that you are also going to be part of the world elite…. There doesn’t have to be a conflict. The Chinese do exactly this. There is no question about the broadening of access in China, but also no question about the fact that some Chinese universities are elite.”

Opposing experts, meanwhile, continue to argue that China’s example, though successful, is not one that can be easily copied by many other nations – nor should it be, as these “rankings” should not be the main goal countries work towards.

“Politicians and institutions … are obsessed with a poorly designed concept of comparative ‘world-classness’”, explained one such expert, Economics and Education professor David W. Breneman from the University of Virgina’s Curry School of Education. Instead, Watson says they should be focusing on “geographically specific ‘engagement”.

“What governments say they want from higher education systems,” Watson continued, “represent almost the opposite of what the international league tables they also exhort us to climb actually measure”: research over teaching quality, graduate education over undergraduate and skills training, an international focus over service to business and the community, etc.

In the end, the overall findings and recommendations from the event leaned heavily towards encouraging developing nations to focus first on the fundamental need for more and better education as a driver of economic social development, though suggestions for balancing world class vs. mass education were also briefly touched upon in the document titled “The search for prestige can detract from mainstream needs”.

Source: “International educators debate higher education priorities for developing countries”. Inside Higher Ed, March 9, 2012. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/03/09/international-educators-debate-higher-education-priorities-developing-countries

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Malaysia higher education ups its game.

Just as Australia announces the launch of its own comprehensive university website, Malaysia has stepped out with its own.

For some time now, the South East Asian nation of Malaysia has been talking about its intentions to become a leading ‘education hub’ in the region. Now, Easyuni.com – a privately owned and managed portal – is helping students to apply for both local and international universities online.

According to Malaysia’s Deputy Higher Education Minister, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, the new web-based recruitment portal lists information detailing over 34,000 courses and programs from 362 colleges and universities, located in more than 20 countries. Speaking to reporters in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, the deputy minister lauded the site’s services.

“The portal offers a comprehensive platform for local and international private college and university applications for school leavers and working adults,” he explained. “[The applicants] can search, compare and shortlist, rank the selection of colleges or universities and send in applications for free.”

The site is not only the first of its kind in the country, it is also more detailed and easier to use than many of those offered by far better known international education destinations.

Source: “Online entry Into Local Or International Universities Via Easyuni.com”. Bernama.com, April 10, 2010. http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v6/newsgeneral.php?id=658285
& “Study in Malaysia University and abroad” – www.easyuni.com

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Fair or Foul? Education fairs in Delhi and Dubai.

More proof that education fairs are dying in India was on display in Delhi last weekend. The normally reliable Education Worldwide Fair (EWWI) in the nation’s capital was a bust. Tables and chairs replaced stalls (probably to cut costs even more) and few students showed up on a Saturday, normally a good day in Delhi for an education fair. It’s a recurring theme – as Indian Fair providers skimp on promotions and expenses in a desperate attempt to maintain profit margins.

Meanwhile in Dubai, the annual spring GETEX education fair was a strong success. The GETEX April event has rebounded from over-extending itself five years ago to strike a balance of modest size (it has half the participants from its peak in 2007) and a healthy participation of would-be students and their families. GETEX in April is dramatically different from its Fall fair, which is always a disappointment.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Avoid learning lessons the hard way, Part I.

From the expert advisors at Conde Nast Traveler, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most common ‘travel problems’ that crop up along the way. Our advice? Read now and avoid learning them the hard way!

1. Avoid cancellation charges. Unforeseen circumstances and needs to cancel travel plans do come up. So whenever you’re booking a trip well in advance, make sure you read your travel provider’s cancellation policy (whether it be for an airline, cruise line, tour provider, hotel, or other booking service) thoroughly before you commit. If the policy makes you uncomfortable, look for another provider – or, alternatively, consider purchasing a specific insurance policy or tailored protection plan through the provider that will permit cancellation for any reason without penalty. They may be a relatively pricey option … but if it’s an expensive trip, you might want to consider coughing up.

2. Fly home without problem. People miss flights all the time because they check in late, are unaware that departure times have changed, or fail to reconfirm their flights home beforehand (a mandatory requirement with some carriers). Be aware that most carriers ask passengers to arrive no less than one hour before a domestic departure, and usually three hours before an international one – and routinely close desks for international flights an hour before departure. Don’t expect gate agents to be sympathetic. Instead, just be sure to reconfirm flight times and bookings (including for return flights!) two to three days before you are scheduled to fly – and above all, arrive on time.

3. Shop smart. When shopping overseas, common sense often goes out the window. But to save yourself potential headache (ie: struggling to ship it yourself and/or enduring the all-too-common story of the paid merchant who never ships the item), follow this rule of thumb – if you can’t take it back with you on the plane, don’t buy it! However, if you still really want the ship-only item, then at least check the shop’s credentials with the local tourist board before you hand over your hard-earned cash.

4. Return your rental car correctly. A traveler drops off their car in perfect condition only to discover that, weeks later, a sizeable ‘damages’ charge is put on their credit card. Want to ensure this never happens to you? Make sure you always have an employee of the rental company sign a statement saying the vehicle is in good condition when you drop it off. If no one is there, take dated photos of the vehicle and hope they will be enough to convince your credit card company of your side of the story. Alternatively, always purchase company’s collision-damage waiver when you pick up the car.

5. Make it to the port on time. If you ever take a cruise, be sure to remember the one golden rule: cruise ships wait for no one. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to fly into any starting port at least one full day before the ship’s departure, to avoid any problems caused by delay.

6. Get the room you booked. If you get a room that was not the one you booked (ie: a parking lot view versus an ocean terrace), bring the issue up with the general management immediately, voice your concerns, and propose a solution. Whether this involves a room switch, a cut in the room rate, or a free meal, you deserve some sort of remuneration on the spot. To make sure you can prove your argument, be sure to print out your booking confirmation, and/or take a picture of the website’s photo/room description that you booked from.

7. Research visa requirements – and do it well ahead of time. Don’t rely on the advice of a travel agent or airline, as their information may not be up to date. Instead, go directly to the source – the website of the country’s embassy or consulate located in your own country. If this says you don’t need a visa, be sure to print off this statement in writing and carry it with you.

8. Avoid dodgy travel agents. It’s hard to turn away from what sounds like the travel deal of a lifetime, but just remember; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So unless you know and trust a travel agent, you might want to avoid booking big trips. Particular things to look out for – if the agency is located multiple time zones away (ie: a foreign country), demands payment in cash or by cheque, or goes bankrupt shortly after you make your payment. To protect yourself, always pay by credit card, and dispute any charges immediately – your bank and/or credit card company will be more cooperative the sooner you report the situation.

9. Carry on valuables. Simple, straightforward advice – don’t put anything expensive, fragile, or ‘un-losable’ in your checked baggage. This includes medicine, jewelry, computers, cameras, etc. Even if they are lost or damaged, most airlines are not liable for these types of items.

10. Object effectively. When things go wrong, it’s crucial to voice your concerns immediately and to the right person. Don’t just grin and bare it, and let the issue ruin your trip. Instead, take the issue to the appropriate person, explain it calmly, and ask for a solution.

Source: “Ombudsman: Hard-Won Wisdom”. Conde Nast Traveler, September 2007. http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/ombudsman/2007/09/Ombudsman-Hard-Won-Wisdom

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