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Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 2; January 18, 2012


Indian Unis Go Green.


In Asia, fewer students and growing competition.


UK unis do damage control.


For those Africa-bound… (Part One)

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Indian Unis Go Green

As countries and institutions around the world concentrate on becoming more ‘green’, Indian universities are jumping on (and in some cases, championing) the trend. In 2011, three Indian universities figured in the top 178 institutions on the UI Green Metric Ranking of World Universities – IIT Madras (44th), Manipal University (78th), and IIT Bombay (107th).

To illustrate some of the changes made by the institutions, take Manipal University’s initiatives for example.

Housing some 15,000 people and spread out over 500 acres on the west coast of southern India, in Karnataka state, Manipal has made a number of ‘green’ transformations over the years. In addition to a ‘no smoking’ policy, the school has also invested in rain water harvesting initiatives, recycling of water, state-of-the-art waste disposal systems, energy-saving devices, use of solar energy, and solid waste management programs, to name a few. In addition to helping its way up the UI Green Metric Rankings, these efforts have also earned the university an ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) 14001:2004 certification – an accreditation and recognition going to organizations which minimize harmful effects on the environment caused by their activities, and are continually improving their environmental performances.

Highlighted for their eco-consciousness, the universities included in the UI Green Metric Ranking are being lauded for their efforts toward sustainable development (specifically measures including Environment, Economics and Equity). Meanwhile, it is hoped that the new rankings (established in 2010) will encourage education leaders and stakeholders world-wide to pay even more attention to combating global climate change, energy and water conservation, waste recycling and green transportation in future years.

Source: “Manipal University gets world green ranking”. Bangalore Mirror, December 26, 2011.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – In Asia, fewer students and growing competition.

Last year, two prestigious Chinese universities got into a heated battle, after Fudan University accused its city rival, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, of “vicious fraud”. Although the allegations were denied, the scandal attracted the attention of education authorities, and the scenario is being considered an example of the country’s new cutthroat competition for attracting top students – exacerbated, in large part, by the shrinking number of eligible students in China.

“A recent slump…in the number of students enrolling to take the college entrance examinations has awakened Chinese universities to an inconvenient truth: the era of glory has gone and they will soon have to [compete] for a decreasing number of students,” read a commentary run last May by the country’s official Xinhua news agency. The same commentary ascribed the drop to a declining birthrate, easier access to overseas universities, and difficulties in obtaining quality education.

With official media warning that universities already face mounting financial pressures, academics predict that the impact of this demographic decline on the education system will become a major topic in 2012 – just as it has already is in a number of nearby countries.

Asia’s most prosperous economies – Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan – all have birthrates which are among the lowest in the world. Based on recent census figures, China’s birthrate is also falling, causing its population to age faster than expected. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), “Japan, Korea and China are the countries that will experience the most notable, continuous long-term decrease of the 18 to 23 population”.

In Japan, that decline began in 1993. According to official predictions, the college age population, which was 12 million in 1995, will decline to just over seven million in 2010. This news sparked mergers among 10 national universities and guidelines for the closure of private universities. Meanwhile, South Korea’s drop began in 2003, and the country’s education minister declared last year that higher education enrolment could decline 40% in the next 12 years. Hastening to address the issue, institutional mergers and closures are already under way as part of the government’s higher education reforms to counter the effects of both demographic decline as well as initial over-expansion. Which just leaves China – with its decline set to hit roughly a decade behind Korea’s.

At a time when East Asia’s higher education systems are rising to a level where they are quickly being considered as viable competition against Western institutions, experts are warning over the types of change this could lead to. Although cutthroat tactics are likely to increase as Chinese institutions struggle to survive, the good news is that, in the long run, the change could lead to a number of positive outcomes.

“The challenges arising from decreased enrollment may actually have a positive effect,” explains Zhang Li, director of the Education Development and Research Centre of the Ministry of Education in China.

“Lower enrollment numbers will forces colleges to improve the quality and structure of their programs, and encourage higher education reform in general.”

As it stands, China’s college-age cohort of 137 million in 2010 is currently projected to decline to 109 million in 2020. According to government figures, registrations for this year’s national college exam, the infamous ‘gaokao’ dropped 10% in Anhui province, 6% in Beijing and 12% in Shanghai. The number of gaokao candidates overall has shrunk by a million since 2008, when it hit a peak of 10.8 million.

As for the rest of the region…? According to predictions by the Asian Development Bank, the higher education industries of India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Malaysia are still set to reap a ‘demographic dividend’ for at least two more decades.

Source: “EAST ASIA: Demographic decline hits universities”. University decline hits universities”. University World News, January 8, 2012.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – UK unis do damage control.

After the shocking December 26th killing of an Indian student in Manchester, UK, British universities are struggling to limit the adverse effects following the event.

Understandably, the death of the 23-year-old microelectronics student, Anuj Bidve, has prompted much concern among Indian parents whose children are currently studying in the UK. Originally from Pune, India (in the Indian state of Maharashtra, and located about four hours from Mumbai), Bidve was shot in the face at point blank range while he and some friends joined a sales queue in Manchester. Although the exact motives of the killing are still unclear, it is believed that Bidve was chosen randomly, and a 20-year-old UK man has been formally charged with the murder.

Meanwhile, Universities UK president, Professor Eric Thomas, has released a letter expressing his “deep sadness” over Bidve’s death, which he described as a “loss for us all”. Published in English-language newspapers across India, the letter also reassured others planning to study in Britain that such events are “exceptionally rare”.

“Compared to other countries the UK remains a safe and tolerant country with low levels of violence and street crime,” Thomas wrote. He also emphasized that UK universities take international students’ well being “very seriously”.

This event comes at a time when there are already reports of a drop in the number of Indian student applications to UK institutions, with some universities reporting up to a 20% decrease. Although this decline is being largely attributed to recent changes in the student visa system (particularly the scrapping of the ‘Post-Study Work Visa’ from April 2012), such an event could cause further implications – particularly considering the extensive coverage of the event by Indian media.

Similar reporting of attacks on Indian students in Australia two years ago was blamed as a major reason for the downturn of applications to study in the country.

Currently, Indian students make up the second largest international group (after China) at UK universities, numbering 28,500 in the 2009-10 academic year, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. With British unis already struggling against deep funding cuts, the income generated by hosting international students is considered vital to the livelihood of many university departments.

Sources: “Anuj killing: UK varsities seek to limit damage”. Hindustan Times, January 5, 2012.
& “UUK moves to reassure Indian students following shooting”. Times Higher Education, January 6, 2012.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – For those Africa-bound…(Part One)

With more and more opportunities – both travel and business – opening up destinations across the African continent, it seems only fitting to concentrate on providing a series of practical Africa-centric travel tips… those that go beyond the often disproportionate fear that travellers’ most common hurdles in Africa will involve dodging armed bandits, war, and murder. Truth be told, for the average African traveller, the biggest challenges (and perils) are sure to be far more mundane. So stop worrying about how you will survive being kidnapped by pirates and give some more thought to the following thoughts and tips:

1. Although you’ll likely be tempted to pack for “every possibility” (Africa seeming for many a slightly daunting, unknown place), do yourself a favour and don’t. Concentrate on packing less – taking only one bag if possible, without wheels being even better (depending where exactly you’re going, a heavier wheelie-bag may or may not be practical for maneuvering the dusty roads, open sewers, crowded walkways and/or potholes that line many African city streets). Although the brands available differ from country to country, take heart that you will be able to find almost everything you ‘might need’ once you arrive. Buying items in country also helps support the local economy, so pack light and become a more responsible traveler.

2. Carry a couple of power bars. Although you can usually find food wherever you are, a power bar (which takes up little space) is great for giving yourself a quick boost of energy, and you don’t have to worry about it making you ill later on (…which cannot always be said for street food).

3. USB devices are great for transferring information, photos, documents, etc while on the road. But remember that there are no condoms for USB sticks – so treat every public computer, internet café, or shared ‘stick’ in Africa for what it usually is; a virus-ridden disaster just waiting to infect your own computer, smart-phone, MP3 player, or collection of photographic memories… BEWARE.

4. Paperbacks are king. There can be a lot of waiting around when travelling (especially in Africa where things don’t always run ‘on schedule’…), so carrying a couple lightweight books (that don’t rely on power-sources, as e-readers do) can provide some nice entertainment. Unlike e-reader editions, they can also be left behind after your trip – with reading material often expensive and difficult to obtain in many African nations, a book can make a very nice gift for someone you’ve met along the way.

5. With mobile phones, you have two options (that don’t involve astronomic roaming charges, that is). a) Buy a cheap mobile ($20-40) and a local SIM card once you arrive, or b) get an unlocked phone beforehand and just buy a SIM once you get there. For multi-country travel, b) is worth considering, but if you’re prone to losing/breaking phones (or are terrified of theft), then a) is probably a better option. Extra tip: even cheapies can found with a built-in flashlight, clock, and alarm settings – all of which can be lifesavers!

… Check back next week for Part Two of Africa Travel Tips!

Source: “15 Travel Tips for Africa”. WhiteAfrican, June 11, 2009.


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