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Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 4; February 1, 2012


Chile’s students – protests and/or policy?


Time in Thailand to tackle the English problem.


The Chinese Cash Cow. Is the conspiracy of silence starting to crack?


Perfecting “carry-on travel”.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Chile’s students – protests and/or policy?

While South American higher education certainly has its challenges, Chile’s educational success over the past two decades could, in comparison, seem like a model for the region. Yet, ironically, it is precisely these advances (along with the problems they created) that led to the student protests, which rocked the country last May.

On the upside, rising high school graduation rates (almost 90% of 25 to 34-year-olds hold high school degrees, versus less than 40% of 55 to 64-year-olds) and access to higher education in the country has greatly expanded over the last 20 years. In fact, more than 1 million Chilean students are now enrolled in postsecondary institutions – compared to less than 250,000 in 1990. With improvements also taking place at the primary and secondary schools, the socioeconomic achievement gap is continuing to narrow. Today, 7 of 10 Chileans attending university are the first generation in their families to do so.

So then where is the downside? Rising costs. Middle-class Chilean families are spending nearly 40% of their income per child on higher education expenses, and tuition rates at both public and private universities have increased by more than 60% over the past decade. With degree programs in the country taking typically longer (usually six to eight years), completion rates are low – meaning that, although the overall number of students increases, only 50% at present actually graduate… mostly due to pricey debts and loan defaults.

Add to these problems an unregulated higher education market with little accountability and many universities operating for-profit (whether they are officially ‘non-profits’ receiving indirect public funding, or registered for-profits seems to make little difference in how they operate), it is no wonder the students finally took to the streets last year.

The majority of Chileans – including many politicians – are sympathetic to the students. Almost immediately, senators and deputies, ministers, and influential domestic unions such as the Teachers Union, the National Confederation of Workers, and the State Employee Union all jumped on the bandwagon. President Sebastián Piñera expressed his support for the movement.

Yet even with their success in shaping public opinion, the students remain largely unsuccessful at influencing government policy.

The protesting students have distanced themselves from both of the major political coalitions, and refuse to participate in any formal negotiations involving congress or the executive. So the challenge remains for students to convert their specific demands – including tuition caps, stricter regulation, and greater accountability involving public funds – into policy.

Source: “Education: Chile’s Students Demand Reform”. Americas Quarterly – Education.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Time in Thailand to tackle the English problem.

Thailand’s Education Ministry has decreed 2012 an English Speaking Year in all schools. What this means is that all students will be required to speak English at least one day a week – the goal being to prepare the country for its upcoming ASEAN integration in 2015.

Although Thai students already study English from day one at school, internationally Thais rank very low on the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or ‘TOEFL’ exam. Last year, for example, the nation’s scholars came in at only 116th of the 163 countries participating in the exam, and many Thai are known to enter the workforce still unable to communicate at even a basic level of English.

Anyone who has been to Thailand knows well that despite good service at many hotels and restaurants, there is commonly a language barrier. These days, Philippine workers are starting to take jobs away from locals, purely on English-language abilities.

The major concern is when the ASEAN Economic Community comes into effect in 2015, Thais will not be able to compete for jobs against other foreigners in the region – foreigners with superior English skills – and will consequently be left behind when it comes to hiring opportunities.

Besides a lack of native speakers teaching English at the public school level, experts are also pointing out that some of the biggest obstacles are in fact cultural.

“[Thais] are kind of passive learners, because they respect teachers, they have to be quiet, sitting, listening and jotting down – with is something teachers expect from them,” says Srinakharinwirot University’s vice-president for International Relations, Aurapan Weerawong. “But students who need to learn English for communication, they have to be very active learners.”

As a recent Channel NewsAsia article points out, one thing is certain: “For Thailand to stay competitive, not speaking English well is not an option.”

Source: “Thai students decreed to speak English”. Channel NewsAsia, January 27, 2012.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – The Chinese Cash Cow. Is the conspiracy of silence starting to crack ?

Five Chinese students have been told they have to leave North Dakota’s Dickinson State University, after they failed a required English test. The blame for the situation, DSU President D.C. Coston explains, does not fall on the students, but the officials with the Chinese company who placed them at the school.

“They did not abide by what they had agreed to do and they have done a great disservice to their fellow citizens,” Coston says.

As the university advertises itself as having an “emphasis on educating a diverse and international population.” Coston says the dismissal of the five Chinese students is regrettable, but necessary “for the integrity of this institution.”

According to the school’s director of multicultural affairs, Ronnie Walker, the news had to be broken to the students via a translator.

In Canada, recently Douglas College in Burnaby, British Columbia announced an independent review of the policies and procedures governing the college’s partnership programs in China. The College is concerned the examinations and marking systems of its Chinese partners, may be compromised (read more on this in “Aim Higher”).

“Maybe this is an issue that is finally coming to the surface,” says director of the Canadian University Application Centre, Mel Broitman, who is also a partner in the leading global education consulting firm Higher-Edge (which is the publisher of this newsletter).

“A few universities are waking up to the loss of academic integrity of taking any Chinese student and partnership for the money. Everyone knows what’s been going on for years. It’s a kind of conspiracy of silence and let’s see if anyone has the courage to speak out, and if institutions can accept their own accountability, or simply take the easy way out and blame the agents and students.”

Sources: “5 Chinese students dismissed from ND university”. Devils Lake Journal, January 27, 2012.
& “International students evicted from ND university for poor English skills”., January 26, 2012.
& “ND university dismisses 5 Chinese students for poor English skills”., January, 2012.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Perfecting “carry-on travel”.

Packing light used to be a handy skill. But with more and more airlines upping the number of ‘extra fees’ and luggage restrictions, it is quickly becoming somewhat of a necessity. Especially for anyone hoping to keep the fees to a minimum while flying a low-cost carrier like Ryanair or Easyjet – both of whom charge for any bag put in the hold – the question is now: can you really travel hand-luggage only? …. The answer, is yes – so long as your get clever with your packing.

To start, check out the hand-bag dimensions permitted by your airline at Although limits vary between airlines, the average carry-on size allowed is around 56cm x 45cm x 25cm. Buy a bag that fits these dimensions and isn’t too heavy on its own (a soft bag will be lighter and more pliable).

Next, consider restricted items. For many destinations, liquids must still be carried in 100ml bottles and stored in a clear plastic bag that holds no larger than one litre in total. If this is an issue for packing, then the good news is, where in the world can’t you buy replacement toiletries? Alternatively, you can also buy a set of mini clear reusable toiletry bottles (available at most travel shops, as well as outdoor stores like MEC and/or REI), and just fill them up from your larger bottles before each trip.

Vital medicines can generally be packed carry-on in larger quantities if accompanied by a letter from your doctor, however sharp items are not permitted – so ditch the pen knife and just buy a cheap kitchen knife upon arrival (if you really even need it).

For trips that require lots of gear (camping or skiing, for example), you can still travel hand-luggage only, IF you buy or hire specialist kit on arrival. Although the price of hiring there may or may not be more than the luggage hold fees involved with bringing your own (check it out), this is another great way to support the local economy. Additionally, you might also consider paying the hold fee on the way there, but then donating the items to a good local cause (check out before travelling home lighter.
Now… how to fit it all in? Plan your packing list in advance, and try not to pack anything ‘just in case’. In this increasingly global world, you can buy most items at your destination. Ie: Load up your e-reader with multiple books instead of bringing bulky reading material – or, if you like “the real thing”, then just bring one book, and swap it for another after you’ve read it. Shoes are particularly bulky as well, so take just one pair – a smart, multipurpose sneaker/boot or walking shoe for example. If you need two, wear the bulkier one on the plane – along with any bulky clothing items (a coat, sweater, scarf…). And if you really want to save carry-on space/weight, consider investing in something like a Scott E Vest ( – its range of jackets have up to 33 pockets, designed to hold iPods, books, even laptops. Also try to pack items that can have multiple purposes. Ie: sarongs can be skirts, beach mats and shawls, fleeces are lightweight and make comfy pillows in a pinch. And investing in lightweight options such as travel towels (check out can really help you stay within the scale limits.

And finally, when it comes to packing it all in, note that folding items into individual ‘squares’ is actually the worst way to go – it takes up more space and increases wrinkling. Instead, roll clothes together. has more detailed instructions, as well as loads of helpful packing tips.

Source: “Packing it all in – a guide to traveling hand-luggage only”. Lonely Planet, May 12, 2011.


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