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Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 26; July 11, 2012


Why Qatar’s big spending?


UK report kicks up scandal involving foreign student grades.


In Canada, a similar grades for money scandal.


Keeping your laptop happy.


1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Why Qatar’s big spending?

As more countries declare their intentions to become the “education hubs” of their region, it becomes increasingly difficult to look at higher education initiatives without jaded eyes. After all, international education is big business, meaning big money. But for one country, there may be more behind the flashy new school buildings and major education investments.

With its rapidly growing list of education-based projects, ranging from grassroots basic literacy initiatives through high-end university research, Qatar is quickly becoming one of the world’s most significant players in the field of education innovation. At the head of many of this Gulf state’s educational transformations is one man – Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, a member of Qatar’s ruling family and former university professor.

Recently speaking in London, Dr. Abdulla explained the country’s strategic thinking. When its oil runs out, Qatar wants to be left with a viable, advanced economy. Investing in education, he says is the strategy to ensure a bright, sustainable future, post-oil. As a result, Qatar is recycling its gas and oil money into knowledge – building universities, reforming the school system, improving vocational training, and setting up an international forum for finding the most effective forms of innovation.

But a quality education system isn’t built overnight – so he says they decided to “jump start” the process with overseas partnerships.

Already eight international universities, mostly from the US, make up Qatar’s state-of-the-art Education City campus. This multi-million dollar investment was intended to provide a quick start for the development of a regional research hub, while at the same time act to strengthen human contact between Qatar and the outside world. Dr Abdulla says he is particularly proud that the international universities in Qatar already have students representing 85 different nationalities. Although he is hesitant to admit there is much ‘ignorance” about his region, he does feel this personal contact will help the country create strengthened international ties for the future.

“We need to get exchanges between cultures and students because this dialogue isn’t done enough. We believe education should match the idea of being a bridge,’ he says, adding that although cultural differences are sure to happen, the only way to overcome them “is open dialogue”.

And speaking of reaching out to other cultures – part of what makes Qatar’s educational investment so distinctive is its willingness to support international projects. Through its WISE summit [World Innovation Summit for Education], the country is known for bringing together education leaders from around the world to discuss what works in improving schools. Now in its fourth year, the summit identifies examples of good practice – offering WISE awards which have financially supported projected in Africa, south Asia, South America and Europe.

“We want it to be about action – we need things to come out of this three-day meeting and not just talk,” Dr Abdulla explains.

Now, Dr Abdulla says, the biggest challenge is the long-term process of developing home-grown high-quality institutions.

“There is no way forward without putting education as a priority, especially in the Arab world,” he says. With the events of last year’s Arab Spring having proven the dissatisfaction of the region’s youth population – with rising unemployment and a lack of opportunities for young graduates – the country will indeed have its work cut out for it. Yet Dr Abdulla remains optimistic about his country’s faith in the transformative power of education.

“Having been blessed with the wealth there is no better way of using it,” he says.

Qatar currently has the highest GDP per capita of any country in the world.

Source: “Why is Qatar investing so much in education?” BBC News, June 8, 2012.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – UK report kicks up scandal involving foreign student grades.

During the last week of June, UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph released a shocking article. Following lengthy undercover investigations, the report outlined how one of the biggest education agents in China told a fictional Chinese student they could study at top UK universities, even though her A-level grades (consisting of three Cs) were far lower than those required for British applicants (whose minimum is at least an A, A and B). Moreover, the newspaper claimed, it wasn’t an isolated incident.

During the Telegraph’s investigations, seven out of 10 official agents agreed to relax standards for Chinese applicants – including agents representing such quality institutions as Exeter, Sheffield, Kent, Edinburgh, Leeds, and Newcastle.

The disclosure has increased concerns across the UK that standards are being compromised, as universities favour foreign students for the higher fees they are required to pay. And according to a follow-up article in the Telegraph, it is a valid concern, as universities say that even the new (highly controversial) £9,000-a-year tuition fees for British and E.U. students do not cover all their costs, leaving them with a need to turn to foreigners, who are charged 50% more.

In an official response to the report, UK Universities Minister David Willetts stressed that although overseas students are considered a welcome addition to campuses, universities should seriously address the concerns raised by the investigation.

“The claims made by this paper about lower entry standards for Chinese students are salutary. If our world-class institutions admit people that cannot cope or who slow down their fellow students, their league table position will slip. That is in no one’s interests.”

Mr. Willetts was adamant that no home students are being displaced by those from overseas – a statement back by UK universities, who say they are recruiting the maximum number of British students allowed by the UK government cap.

Yet recruitment of students from outside the EU – who self-fund their studies, are recruited separately, and can be charged an unlimited fee – continue to operate “entirely outside these domestic limits”. As chief executive of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, explains:

“There is no cap on the number of genuine overseas students, but it is reasonable to expect universities to recruit them in ways that protect our world-class higher education sector.”

Universities UK also states that individual institutions set their own entry requirements for courses – and that yes, these could be relaxed in certain circumstances, for both home and overseas students. It is a right, however, that Ms Dandridge says should be taken very seriously.

“Recruiting students without the academic ability to complete the course is not in universities’ interests as it risks compromising their reputation, causes significant additional work in terms of supporting potentially poorly performing students.”

Meanwhile, most of the universities referred to in the Telegraph’s initial report have tried to discredit the story, claiming that the agents in question whether either unaffiliated or unable to offer positions with their institutions, and/or insisting that there is no difference in entry requirements between home and foreign students for their programs.

Sources: “How foreign students with lower grades jump the university queue”. The Telegraph, June 26, 2012.
& “Willetts warns universities over foreign student grades”. BBC, June 28, 2012.
& “Warning to universities in foreign student grades scandal”. The Telegraph, June 27, 2012.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – In Canada, a similar grades for money scandal.

On Canada’s west coast, the Vancouver board of education is sounding an alarm over the growing number of immigrant students suspected of buying their way into university places.

What is happening, according to many schools, is that students who do poorly in English 10, English 11, or English 12 courses, are dropping out and paying fees to take short courses at little-known independent schools that cater to international students – schools where everyone passes.

It’s not the first time this concern has been aired. In 2007, staff at one of Vancouver’s secondary institutions warned that some struggling students were paying hundreds of dollars to replace their low English 12 marks with As and Bs from private schools. The school’s principle at the time said she feared that the practise was growing.

It was a well-founded fear. According to district principle for English Language Learning, William Wong, many students are now known to “buy” English high school credits when they fail to meet standards. Though this opens doors to university programs, Wong says their poor English skills will likely hamper their success later on.

Stephen Guy-Bray, head of the English department at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia, admits that too many first-year students struggle with language. “Anyone marking first-year English notices that a lot of students just aren’t up to it,” he says. “They’ve managed to get into university without basic English skills.”

According to Wong, part of the problem comes from a misunderstanding among many of the immigrant families – the majority of whom hail from Asian countries. Where they are from, students are expected to complete high school on time and move immediately to post-secondary. If they don’t enrol in university before age 19, it is likely they will lose the opportunity altogether, he explains. But in Canada, universities are open to all ages – something he says is important for immigrant families to understand, along with the need for their children to master the English language in order to succeed in further studies.

“Our focus is on success for every student. And it’s not just immediate success but it’s long-term success for them,” Wong says. Independent schools that offer short courses don’t have the same priorities, he explains. “Those schools see a market out there.”

Wong plans to speak to the ethnic media in Vancouver, in order to help spread information about the Canadian education system. And as for the government, district officials are currently contacting teachers to get a better idea of just how many students are leaving public school in search of easy ‘pay-to-pass’ credentials.

Source: “Struggling students buying passing grades, Vancouver principal warns”. Vancouver Sun, June 18, 2012.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Keeping your laptop happy.

Anyone who spends a lot of time travelling for work knows just how important it is to have their laptop up and running exactly when you need it to be … and just how devastating – not to mention logistically problematic – a breakdown can be, should it ever arise. So in order to help keep your laptop running smoother, longer, read on for some tips – courtesy of OnlineITDegree.

1. Always run your laptop on a smooth, hard surface. Though the name suggests otherwise, never set your laptop on your lap – or on any other soft surfaces such as pillows, blankets, or beds. This can restrict airflow to the bottom of your computer and cause it to overheat, one of the biggest contributing factors to computer failure.

2. Put your laptop to sleep before putting it in a bag. After you close your laptop lid, make sure you wait a few seconds for your hard drive to completely shut down before putting it away. Or, to be extra safe, put your laptop to sleep mode before closing the lid in the first place. Any bumps or movement while it’s still running can damage your computer.

3. Don’t stay plugged in 24/7. Constant charging can degrade your computer battery and significantly shorten its life. Make sure you let the battery charge and run low at least two to three times a week in order to keep it working properly.

4. Clean out your computer at least once a year. Excessive dust build-up can greatly affect computer performance. Use compressed air, a laptop vacuum, or cotton swabs to keep all openings clear year round (also works for the areas beneath keys), then open up the case once a year to gently repair the inside. Repair shops will also do this for you if you’d rather leave the internal stuff to a professional.

5. Shut down your computer every few days. Many normal computer tasks revolve around this process, including clearing caches, short term memory, and installing updates. For those who live on their machine this can be tough to remember, but it can work wonders (especially if your computer’s been acting funny).

6. Prepare for thieves. While it’s still a good idea to immediately report a stolen laptop to police (for insurance purposes if nothing else), realize that it can be difficult for police to obtain a warrant to reclaim it – even if you’ve installed locating software on it. But at least you can still protect any sensitive data. Using an open-source encrypting tool like TrueCrypt is like a safe on a computer; a thief may get in the front door, but they can’t get the valuable goods.

7. Back up everything. External hard drives are not expensive, and can protect against losing your files completely in the case of theft, malfunction, or the dreaded spilled beverage. So buy one from a reliable brand and back up at least once a week.

Source: “Laptop Safety Tips”. OnlineITDegree, 2012.


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