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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 20; May 23, 2012


Incredibile! Italians say “sì” to teaching in English only.


“The Russians are coming! … and going!”


British clampdown to cost UK universities billions.


Dodging the germ route.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Incredibile! Italians say “sì” to teaching in English only.

One of Italy’s leading universities, the 149-year-old Politecnico di Milano, has announced that, as of 2014, it will offer most of its degree courses in English only. Its aim is to better prepare its students for the ever-more-global job market, while at the same time attract more international students – just as recruitment competition heats up worldwide.

“We need to prepare all our graduates for a professional world that demands a rigorous international outlook,” explains Politecnico rector, Giovanni Azzone.
“Our graduates very often have to work on projects with scholars from China, India and many other countries … Getting them used to an inter-cultural environment prepares them better for the world of work.”

The move, however, is being met with some intense opposition, particularly from some of the university’s faculty. One of them was even quoted by University World News as likening the “imposition” of English on students “as a kind of linguistic dictatorship”. At least 285 professors signed a petition last week, protesting the decision and arguing it to be unconstitutional.

Even so, Rector Azzone stands by the decision.

“Universities are in a more competitive world, if you want to stay with the other global universities – you have no other choice,” he says. “We strongly believe our classes should be international classes – and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language.”

For now, the university – one of the world’s top 50 engineering schools, according to QS World University Rankings – plans to move forward with the change, and has already announced that it will invest an additional 3.2 millions Euros to attract international faculty. If all goes well, the move will see the university join the ranks of the country’s most prestigious business school, Bocconi, which was the first to offer undergraduate classes in English back in 2001. Today, it teaches about 50% of its graduate courses in English, with the number likely to grow.

Sources: “Italian university switches to English for success”. Reuters, May 18, 2012.
& “Italian university to switch to English-only classes”. MSNBC World News, May 16, 2012.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – “The Russians are coming! … and going!”

As part of its plan to bolster the country’s scientific workforce and encourage international research collaborations in future, the Russian government is set to send thousands of its students abroad for further studies. Only two catches – the selected foreign institutions must rate among the Times Higher Education World University Ranking’s top 300 universities, and any students who take part in the scholarship programs must return home to Russia to work after their studies are complete … assuming they can find work, that is.

The program, which is estimated to cost $165 million US to run, is expected to be approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin by the end of May. Prior to his election, Putin pledged to increase the nation’s funding of science and education.

If all goes as planned, the scheme will initially operate for three years – sending up to 2,000 promising young Russian students abroad annually. Students in all fields of science, technology, medicine, social science, and business will be eligible for the grant – so long as they sign a contract agreeing to return to Russia to work for at east three years after graduation. Any students who do not choose to return to the country will be required to pay back the full stipend – which covers all travel, tuition fees, and living expenses for the program scholars.

“The good thing is that the initiative is in the hands of students, who will be selected — or not — on the basis of merit by foreign schools,” says Konstantin Severinov, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who runs research groups at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ institutes for molecular genetics and gene biology. “That way, Russian university administrators cannot exert too much control” over which students receive the awards, he says.

Although Severinov welcomes the program, he warns that it is far from certain that adequate career opportunities will be available for all the returnees. As Russian science has fallen well below the status it once held, and high-tech industries remain in their infancy, Severinov is concerned that the lack of jobs may force the students to seek work abroad – furthering the brain drain that the program is in fact meant to reduce.

Sources: “Campus Connection: Russia plans to send students to top universities abroad”. The Cap Times, May 17, 2012.
& “Go West, young Russian”. Nature News & Comment, May 15, 2012.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – British clampdown to cost UK universities billions.

It’s a stern warning from Universities UK. The British higher education sector stands to lose billions of pounds – with individual universities missing out on potentially “£5m to £7m” a year each – unless the government abandons its new rules for overseas students.

Universities UK is a group that represents 134 higher education institutions across the nation, and is desperately seeking to convince the British government to overturn its previous decisions affecting visas for students bound for Great Britain.

There are currently 405,000 international students studying at UK campuses, with non-European Union students adding £5 billion to the UK economy every year. The recent changes to the country’s visa system place a limit on the number of years such students can spend studying in the UK, and restrict the number of hours of paid work they can do both during and after their studies. Additionally, they are no longer allowed to bring spouses and children with them, unless enrolled in a postgraduate course lasting more than one year.

Already the affects of the new laws are being felt, with one university reporting a 40% drop in applications from non-EU students since last year. As many universities rely on the income from these students (some charge international scholars up to four times as much as they do home students), this type of drop could have major consequences.

“There aren’t that many income streams for universities to grow in the current economic climate and a 40% drop is going to cause a university to respond pretty rapidly,” explains Universities UK president Professor Eric Thomas.

At a recent conference covering how immigration policies are affecting universities, Aston University’s vice-chancellor, Professor Julia King, said her institution had recorded a 39% fall in the number of applications from Indian students alone since last year, and 29% fewer from Nigerian students. As a result, she said the university would receive £3m less income – “quite significant for an institution with a £120m turnover” – and the city of Birmingham would miss out on an additional £6m. She considers the situation a direct result of the nation’s new immigration policies.

In China and India – the UK’s first and second biggest markets for overseas students – Britain is being seen as “putting up barriers to entry”, Thomas explains. “The UK seems to be telling the world that it doesn’t welcome international students.”
“Meanwhile,” he adds, “a number of other [European] countries, such as Australia and Germany, are looking at making themselves more welcoming.”

Sources: “Clampdown on overseas students to cost universities £7m each”., May 17, 2012.
& “New rules on overseas students ‘will cost universities billions’. The Guardian, May 17, 2012.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Dodging the germ route.

With the peak summer travel season just around the corner, here are a few basics to help you avoid the nasty germs you may meet along the way, and keep you at your healthiest – particularly if you’re boarding any planes.

Stay hydrated. This advice is ‘old news’ for a reason. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the air inside planes has anywhere from 10 to 20% humidity, which can easily dry out mucous membranes and make you more susceptible to germs. Staying hydrated (with non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated drinks) can help prevent nasal passages from becoming irritated, boost immune function, and in some cases, even help combat jet lag. For longer, international trips you might also pack some electrolyte-friendly snacks, like a banana, nuts, or small bag of fortified cereal – all items that can help you stay alert.

Change seats. Particularly during flu season, airplanes can be a major concern for travelers – and reasonably so, seeing as the two most common modes of spreading infectious diseases is through air droplets and touching contaminated surfaces. But the good news is, you can breathe easy! The majority of modern commercial aircrafts actually have HEPA filters (similar to what hospitals use to keep air clean) that introduce fresh air into the cabin and capture more than 99% of airborne microbes. Even so, however, studies have shown that a person’s chance for post-flight disease still increases when seated within two seats to the front, side, or behind an ill passenger. So if you can, speak to a flight attendant about changing seats, and/or alternatively, always pack a saline spray, such as the one available through, to help protect your health post-flight.

Skip the pillows and blankets. “Airline pillows and blankets are meant to be changed after every use and flight, however there are no government rules regulating this,” says Bill Miller, SVP of the discount flight site Every couple months, aircraft interiors generally go through a thorough cleaning, but it’s impossible to know whether your pillow cover or blanket just came out of the dryer … or a communal dirty hamper. So to stay healthy, err on the side of caution and consider bringing your own pillow and/or blanket whenever you feel you might need one. Airport shops generally have a good selection, including many with easy-to-remove (and wash) fleece covers.

Source: “Tips For Germ-Free Travel”. FitSugar, May 8, 2012.


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