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Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 22; June 6, 2012

1. THE PLAYING FIELD

Pressure mounts for Iran to uphold right to education.

2. ABROAD PERSPECTIVES

Falling rupee, rising worry.

3. OVER THE COUNTER

Warning: Be wary of Nigerian exodus to Ghana.

4. GLOBE TIPPING

Get creative with your points.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Pressure mounts for Iran to uphold right to education.

The Baha’i International Community is just one of 17 non-governmental organizations – including Amnesty International, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and Human Rights Watch – which have recently joined to call upon the government of Iran to urgently address the state of higher education in the country.

In a joint statement released last week and addressed to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the claim made was due to their political beliefs. Student gatherings, publications, and organizations have been shut down and since 2009, more than 600 students, as well as a number of university lecturers have been arrested for peacefully expressing their opinions on the same issues.

“The right to education for all persons without discrimination is explicitly guaranteed under international instruments, which Iran has accepted or to which it is party,” they wrote. “It is also guaranteed under Iran’s Constitution.”

Additionally, the statement touched on the fact that a number of Iran’s minorities – including members of the Baha’i Faith – continue to face systematic discrimination in education, solely because of their religious beliefs. In May 2011, Iranian authorities raided homes of those associated with the informal initiative, Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), and arrested a number of educators, who are now serving four to five year jail terms.

The statement strongly urges the immediate and unconditional release of “all Iranian students and higher education personnel who have been jailed for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly… including those who have expressed political opinions…” Iran is also urged to abolish “all policies and practices that discriminate against or otherwise violate the rights of religious and ethnic minorities… including…their access to higher education and academic freedom.”

This newest statement joins a growing number of protests and movements around the world – including initiatives in Northern Ireland and Canada – aimed at encouraging change to Iran’s educational policies.

Source: “Calls for Iran to uphold right to education intensify”. Baha’i World News Service, May 31, 2012. http://news.bahai.org/story/913

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Falling rupee, rising worry.

As India’s currency, the rupee, continues its recent slide, many Indian students and families are re-evaluating plans to study abroad and it could have a significant impact on the global student movement from south Asia.

Studying overseas is a costly affair. US universities range from $15k to $60k per year in expenses, and courses in the UK between £7,000 to £25,000. For years, tens of thousands of Indian students and families have paid in full. According to statistics from the US-based Institute of International Education, the 2010-11 academic year had some 103,895 Indian students in the US alone, with another 27,000+ in Australia, and 12,000 in Canada.

Last week the rupee touched a record low of 56.515 to the US dollar, coming after a year-long slide in which the currency depreciated by more than 23% against the dollar.

“When the dollar is strengthening against the rupee, it’s bound to affect the cost of education, especially stay and other expenses,” says Vineet Gupta, managing director of Jamboree Education Pvt. Ltd, a company that provides counselling to students who want to study abroad. “When the course fee goes up, let’s say 10 or 15% because of non-academic reasons, it definitely hurts students.”

While many aspirants are worried about the quick decline, Gupta says his organization has not yet seen students dropping their plans completely, particularly those who have received strong offers. With foreign schools providing a wider range of courses, program flexibility, and combined majors, as well as international scholarships, pursuing a foreign degree is considered a great opportunity – especially at a time when securing a place at a good Indian college is becoming increasingly problematic.
But with the now weaker rupee, such students may become more choosy, says Amit Agnihotri, director of MBAUniverse.com.
“It may not affect the Ivy Leagues because of their pedigree but it will certainly hamper tier-II foreign colleges that get the bulk of the Indian students,” Amit explains. He adds that Indian business schools will also be negatively affected, as foreign guest faculty require more and more rupees as the currency declines.
Some countries, meanwhile, see the currency fluctuation as an opportunity to attract more Indian students.

“In Canada, the institutes are publicly funded (hence relatively less costly), the cost of living is cheaper and they can work while studying,” explains Simon Cridland, a counsellor at the Canadian high commission in New Delhi.

For now, opinions among officials at banks and other lenders is mixed as to whether the rupee’s slide will in fact lead to a drop in loans (as students forego foreign studies), or a rise in loans (as aspirants move forward with their plans regardless, and search for further funds to do so).

Sources: “Debt worries rise for students eyeing foreign schools”. Livemint.com, May 31, 2012. http://www.livemint.com/2012/05/31231644/Debt-worries-rise-for-students.html
& “High college cut-offs trigger exodus for foreign degrees”. The Times of India. May 31, 2012. http://m.timesofindia.com/city/kolkata/High-college-cut-offs-trigger-exodus-for-foreign-degrees/articleshow/13679196.cms

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Warning: Be wary of Nigerian exodus to Ghana.

As Nigerian universities approach bursting points with demand for higher education growing faster than ever across the nation, more prospective students are looking to foreign institutions, particularly those in nearby Ghana. But as an article recently published by allAfrica.com uncovers, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Ghana is generally considered an attractive study destination for Nigerians looking to go abroad. The countries’ share language (English) and history (of British colonial rule). Ghana has collection of highly regarded public institutions and in the 2012 world ranking of top universities in Africa, all of Ghana’s six public universities fared better than their Nigerian counterparts, with the University of Ghana coming in 14th overall.

Another class of Ghanaian universities is now threatening this reputation – private universities. Many of these institutions – privately owned by either individuals or faith-based organizations – are officially recognized by the National Accreditation Board of Ghana, and, in most cases, are affiliates of more established public institutions, which ‘oversee’ their curriculum, and issue the students’ degrees and/or certificates directly. In other words, attend a ‘private affiliate’ for as little as $1,000 USD per session (for non-master’s programs), but still receive a degree seemingly worth many times that much (as a session for a foreign student at the main public Ghanaian universities can cost anywhere between $5,500 and $15,000 USD). But these ‘mother universities’ aren’t just in Ghana – they also include universities in places like India and Dubai, adding to the schools’ attraction.

The upsetting trend among this booming number of private institutions, however, is that many are being established wholly as commercial ventures. When students arrive, they see that their new ‘university’ is little more than one floor of a multiple-storey building, and many only offer one course – which the school then awards multiple levels of diplomas, degrees, and masters’ certificates for (based on how much students pay). So how do these schools keep attracting students?

To start with, many of the student recruits seem to hail from Nigeria. In some institutions, as much as 90% of the student body is made up by just such hopefuls – attracted by paid agents recruiting across their country. And not even current students are left out of the scam – they, too, are financially rewarded for any friends or family members they can convince to follow in their steps. And so the institutions continue to grow.

Officials at the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana are aware of the situation, and urge parents to more selective about the universities they send their children to in Ghana.

“There is a preponderance of Nigerians, most of them in some institutions that the embassy is not comfortable with,” says one such official, Mr. Mohammed Kurmawa. He says that in many cases, the growing desire to see children obtain a university education is overwhelming, and clouds the judgment of parents’ – who simply see the low costs and flexible admissions of these private institutions as a way of making that dream come true.

Source: “Nigeria: Ghanaian Universities – How Nigerians Are Swindled”. allAfrica.com, May 17, 2012. http://allafrica.com/stories/201205170518.html

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Get creative with your points.

For many travelers, choosing which airline to fly or hotel to stay in often involves a certain sense of brand loyalty – particularly when that continued loyalty can earn them extra miles, points, or special perks. And the great news is that, in many cases, it’s not just flights, car rentals or accommodation for which these points can be used. So to help you get creative, here are just a few ‘less traditional’ ways to cash in on those hard-earned points!

Starwood Hotels’ Preferred Guest Program: With its lack of blackout dates and a wide range of properties (from W Hotels to the St Regis), this program has a reputation for being one of the most-loved hotel reward programs around. And once you’ve earned enough points, you can use them for everything from intimate private dinners with some of the world’s greatest chefs, to all-access passes for Grand Prix racing tournaments. The only catch is that the, for some of these VIP experiences, demand is so high that members sometimes have to bid on the more exclusive ones using their points in an online auction, but rest assured that the process is quite easy and new options are frequently added.

Hilton’s HHonors Program: Another program offering unique ways to spend those points – offering adventures ranging from parachute jumping and skydiving, to a professional portrait shoot, to the chance at recording a song in a professional studio setting. Like Starwood, any of the more exclusive options are available via a simple online auction.

American Airlines AAdvantage: Gives you the option of using your points to do something for others, by donating them to a variety of children’s charities through the organization’s Kids in Need Program – using your miles to help transport critically ill children and their families to medical care. Alternatively, AA miles can also be used to purchase identity theft protection, which includes helping replace any credit cards that may be lost or stolen while travelling.

American Express’ Membership Rewards: In addition to using American Express Rewards as payment for Saks Fifth Avenue gift cards and iPhones, the company also lets customers use them to purchase tickets for lots of events, such as concerts and sports matches, before they even go on sale to the general public. Platinum AmEx cardholders also have access to an additional range of ‘Invitation Only’ experiences, like special evenings with top chefs and TV personalities, and tickets for runway shows during New York’s infamous Fashion Week.

Source: “Coolest Non-Travel Perks from Rewards Programs”. Travel News from Fodor’s Travel Guides, May 28, 2012. http://www.fodors.com/news/story_5588.html

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