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Calbright College: Give it time, or doomed from the start?

Inside Higher Ed - 13 hours 59 min ago

Some observers are raising red flags after the unexpected departure of the president and CEO of California’s new online-only community college. But others chalk it up to the normal growing pains associated with a start-up and say it’s too soon to judge whether the college will be successful.

Calbright College, an initiative started by Jerry Brown, California's former governor, opened its programs to students in October. It’s aimed at adult learners who don’t have degrees and are underemployed. Calbright is completely online, statewide and competency-based. It doesn’t offer degrees but instead features certificates based on skills that could lead to middle-income jobs.

Its first leader, Heather Hiles, announced this week that she will step down in March after a year on the job. A statement from Hiles said she plans to return to previous ventures now that Calbright is operational.

The news has raised some eyebrows and reignited the discussion of whether the college can be successful.

"Our legislative mandate remains that we have to serve these students, and that’s what brings everyone to work every day," said Taylor Huckaby, a spokesman for Calbright. "We’ll roll with the punches."

‘I Don’t Think We Can Wait’

So far, 464 students are enrolled in what Calbright calls its “beta cohort,” which includes three programs. In each track, students enroll in college skills courses first before moving on to a “core curriculum” designed for the specific program. So far, 22 students have enrolled in the core curriculum portion, which the college’s three deans are teaching as it works toward hiring faculty members.

Huckaby said they are “comfortable” with the number of enrolled students because Calbright is still hiring faculty and establishing partnerships with businesses.

The college was pushed to open before getting these pieces in place because of legislative deadlines, Huckaby said. The state required it to start programs by the fourth quarter of 2019.

Right now is “very much a research and development phase,” Huckaby said. After the beta phase, he said, the college will work under its intended model. Programs would start with an employer agreement. The college would create a curriculum based on the workforce demands for that employer, which would then offer a set number of jobs and apprenticeships to the students who graduate.

The college has had more than 100 meetings with potential employers since last summer, Huckaby said, but it’s not ready to announce any partnerships.

Before the programs even opened, critics have argued that the new college is unnecessary.

“We have existing colleges that do all these same programs,” said Evan Hawkins, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges.

Hawkins also finds the college’s inherent model “flawed.” Calbright plans to work with employers to train people in relevant skills. It would charge employers to train employees, reducing its reliance on taxpayer money, which Hawkins said is “incredibly problematic” for a public institution.

“From the very beginning, you have the idea of a start-up as opposed to a college,” he said.

Hawkins and the faculty union believe the state’s community colleges should be fully funded, as they are now the lowest funded of all institution types in the state. With more state support, the colleges could focus on similar programs he believes would be more effective locally than statewide.

“I think faculty are pretty frustrated,” he said. “This is one thing that all faculty are in agreement on -- that this is really a waste of resources.”

Sally Johnstone disagrees.

“What everyone’s saying -- that’s what they want to happen,” said Johnstone, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and one of the consultants who helped design the Calbright model.

Despite losing Hiles, she said, the college has strong leaders on the ground who are “keeping things rolling.” She believes Calbright is likely to succeed.

Johnstone said designers considered several models for the project, including asking existing colleges to use this model, but ultimately decided something new was needed.

“The colleges have not radically rethought what it is that the workplace needs and how could they work with employers in ways that are meaningful for adult learners,” she said, adding that it doesn’t make sense to wait "around to try and get the colleges that now exist to change a whole bunch of what they’re doing within structures and systems that are not conducive to change."

She added that the "governor didn’t want to wait, because I don’t think we can wait."

Johnstone also said Calbright is a “threatening model” for traditional academic institutions.

“If it succeeds, it may well challenge the basic tenets of how you do things,” she said, adding that those in higher education now may have their “hearts in the right places,” but they’re operating within a structure that might not be as relevant as it was in the past.

“And that’s scary,” she said.

Still, without substantive changes, Johnstone said, higher education won't be able to serve the population of people that Calbright is trying to help.

Start-Ups Take Time

As for how the college is doing so far, “it is a start-up,” Johnstone said.

She compared it to Western Governors University, a nonprofit, private online university founded in 1997 that now enrolls nearly 120,000 students and has 170,000 alumni.

“People in higher education in the western states thought it was the worst idea in the world,” Johnstone said of WGU. “So I’m not surprised to be hearing what I’m hearing about Calbright right now.”

When looking at a history of WGU, some of the similarities are clear. It worked with employers, many in technology, to get funding; few students signed up in the beginning; it took a few years to find a leader who was more permanent; and much of the early news media coverage described it as a doomed venture.

As an outsider looking at Calbright, Scott Pulsipher, WGU's president, said it’s too early to judge the college's success.

In WGU’s case, it took five years to reach 1,000 students.

“That early phase of any new endeavor like this, that’s not some quick turnaround,” Pulsipher said.

With any start-up, Pulsipher said, there are two questions to answer: Is the product needed and valuable, and is the entity able to execute the product?

Calbright is offering something different in the form of nondegree credentials that focus on workforce needs and provide more flexibility to students.

Now, he said, the college must prove the demand and that it can scale the idea, which will take time.

And, while WGU serves thousands of Californians and has articulation agreements with the state’s community colleges, Pulsipher doesn’t see Calbright as competition.

“There are far more individuals that need to be served than there is capacity to serve them,” he said. “It’s bad to see this as a zero-sum game.”

An ‘Early Experiment’

Some experts have doubts about whether the idea itself can work.

“I’m not sure that only nondegree credentials on their own could sustain a business model for most institutions,” said Sean Gallagher, executive director of the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy at Northeastern University. “You’d have to be operating at a very large scale.”

Because the state of California is large, it does provide that opportunity. But Gallagher said Calbright may struggle to convince enough students to buy in to the idea.

Calbright’s intended targets are less likely to enroll in online programs, Gallagher said. Adults without degrees tend not to try online higher education as often as do those who hold degrees.

“The comfort with online learning and the means and time to pursue it has been historically greater at higher levels of the job market,” he said. “That means there’s a special challenge, at times, in enrolling students at this level of a program and in certain fields in the online education market.”

Calbright also must grapple with establishing a new brand, which will take time.

But there are advantages to starting anew.

“My sense is that there are aspects of the structure of higher education in California that have, at times, made it difficult to scale online,” Gallagher said.

All of these issues make Calbright an “early experiment” in this field, Gallagher said, though he expects to see more ventures like it.

David Schejbal, vice president and chief of digital learning at Marquette University, also has doubts about the model, particularly its focus on nondegree credentials.

“Degrees are still the coin of the realm,” Schejbal said. “The reality is that we don’t have any kind of common medium the way we do with credit hours and degrees” that allows for easy credit transfer or understanding from employers.

While he thinks these new kinds of models are needed for the nation as a whole, getting the public and employers to latch on to the idea is difficult.

To change these perceptions, he said federal Title IV regulations that regulate financial aid funds need to change, too.

Because of the broader shifts needed to make real change, Schejbal said, new ventures should follow the current structure. The experiment won’t change the broader culture, he said. And without that change, the ventures are likely to fail.

“We, as a nation, are not good at education strategy,” he said. “It would be great if we got this one right. The future of the country depends on more educated citizens.”

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Universities ignore growing concern over Sci-Hub cyber risk

Inside Higher Ed - 13 hours 59 min ago

Alexandra Elbakyan, founder of the scholarly piracy website Sci-Hub, is suspected of working with Russian intelligence officials to steal confidential research and military secrets from American universities.

According to The Washington Post, Elbakyan, nicknamed the Robin Hood of science, is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for suspected criminal acts and espionage.

Elbakyan denies any wrongdoing, but scholarly publishers such as Elsevier have used news of her investigation to call on academic institutions to block access to Sci-Hub -- not because the site is illegal, but because it poses a security threat. Several large publishers, including Elsevier, have successfully sued Sci-Hub for mass copyright infringement in recent years. The Sci-Hub repository contains more than 80 million research articles, including a large proportion of Elsevier's catalog.

Attempts to block the site completely through legal measures have not been successful. New links to the site (some listed on Wikipedia) keep being created. Now it seems that publishers such as Elsevier are taking a new approach -- asking users to boycott the site because of security concerns.

“The Washington Post story confirms that Sci-Hub is a malicious site being used for nefarious purposes,” said an Elsevier blog post published in late December. The publisher advised universities to block all websites associated with Sci-Hub.

PSI, a company based in Britain that offers tools and services to protect scholarly copyright, maintains a list of web addresses associated with Sci-Hub, which institutions can download and use to block access to the site on campus.

Andrew Pitts, CEO and co-founder of PSI, said that so far, few U.S. institutions have downloaded the block list. Pitts, who has been writing about Sci-Hub’s links to Russian military intelligence for several years, said he struggled to understand why universities are not taking more immediate steps to protect their networks. “This is a matter of urgency,” he said.

PSI’s research suggests that Sci-Hub has stolen log-in credentials from 373 universities in 39 countries, including more than 150 institutions in the U.S., said Pitts. The credentials were likely stolen through phishing attacks, he said. Sci-Hub browser extensions could also be used to track user activity and steal personal information, he said.

Brandon Butler, director of information policy at the University of Virginia Library, said, “Clearly Sci-Hub is not a legitimate organization. Their activity is sketchy, and we know they are based in Russia.” But he added that the “investigation is still an investigation; nothing has been proven yet.”

If the investigation found concrete evidence that Sci-Hub is linked to the theft of U.S. military secrets, Butler said, he would “give the matter more serious attention.”

Right now, the University of Virginia is not specifically discouraging academics from using Sci-Hub, said Butler. “We have two-factor authentication on everything. If someone attempted to log in using my credentials, my phone would ping,” he said.

“Philosophically, I feel Sci-Hub is a foreseeable side effect of the publisher business model. There’s always going to be a black market for paywalled content,” said Butler. He added that the opportunity for Sci-Hub to steal university credentials wouldn’t exist if academics didn’t have to provide credentials to access paywalled content. “That’s a risk that wouldn’t exist in a full open-access world,” he said.

Jim O’Donnell, university librarian at the Arizona State University Library, said that news of the investigation of Elbakyan had not changed his views on Sci-Hub.

“We are very aware of Sci-Hub. They make assertions about their business practices that cannot be verified -- they’re very untransparent,” he said. But the ASU Library does not tell academics and students to specifically avoid Sci-Hub, nor has it blocked the site. “Our advice to users is that they should abide by the law and follow our university policies,” he said.

The investigation into Elbakyan has “created more smoke, metaphorically speaking. But all we’re doing is a little more coughing,” said O’Donnell. He added, “We observe, we watch, we wait.”

Joe Esposito, a scholarly publishing consultant, said some librarians have been “dismissive” of PSI’s claims because the company is looking to promote its services. “I have no reason to think that they’re lying. But the amount of chatter seems to be way out ahead of the facts,” he said. “I think it’s true that an investigation is taking place, but we don’t yet know the outcome.”

Elbakyan has previously stated that the university credentials Sci-Hub uses to access paywalled content and download millions of research papers were volunteered by academics -- a statement that is disputed by PSI and some publishers.

Even if Sci-Hub is not obtaining credentials illegally, Esposito noted that one organization “hoarding credentials” has “dangerous implications.”

“Sci-Hub could easily be a target for hackers,” said Esposito. “People talk about Sci-Hub hacking universities, but what happens if Sci-Hub gets attacked?”

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Proposed rule focuses on faith-based colleges, religious liberty and free speech

Inside Higher Ed - 13 hours 59 min ago

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed a new rule clarifying that faith-based colleges are eligible for department grants on the same terms as other private organizations and prohibiting colleges from denying faith-based student groups “any of the rights, benefits, or privileges" allowed for non-faith-based student organizations as a condition of receiving grant funding.

The proposed rule, which was published Thursday in the Federal Register, would also amend regulations to add a “non-exhaustive list of criteria” that would offer colleges “different methods” to demonstrate their eligibility for a religious exemption to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex. Currently, institutions “controlled by” religious organizations are eligible for exemptions from Title IX, but the department said in a press release that neither Title IX nor the regulations implementing it define what it means for a college to be controlled by a religious group.

“Our actions today will protect the constitutional rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions," Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a press release. "The Department's efforts will level the playing field between religious and non-religious organizations competing for federal grants, as well as protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and the religious liberty of faith-based institutions.”

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities praised the intent of the new rule.

“While we cannot yet comment on the entirety of the specific proposed rule, we applaud any effort on the part of the Department of Education to put policies in place that protect religious liberty and ensure that faith-based institutions are treated fairly by the federal government,” said Shirley V. Hoogstra, the group’s president.

But Michael A. Olivas, an expert on higher education law and a retired professor at the University of Houston, disputed the premise behind the proposed rule that religious institutions are being unfairly treated.

“I don’t believe that religious institutions are treated unequally in the law,” he said. “In fact, there’s any number of exemptions that religious institutions and organizations get, all of which allow them to operate in ways that public or governmental organizations don’t. There are all kinds of religious hiring exemptions: you can let someone go or not hire them because you assert a religious protection that exempts you from normal [employment] laws or nondiscrimination laws” including laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or pregnancy.

“I think it’s just flat wrong to suggest that what we need to do is to restore a balance,” Olivas said. “If we’re out of balance, it is in the other direction.”

The proposed rule was released on National Religious Freedom Day in concert with new guidance from the Education Department regarding prayer in public K-12 schools and as part of a package of proposed rules from various agencies relating to equal treatment of faith-based groups.

Daniel Mach, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, described the proposed regulations as "yet another effort by the Trump administration to encourage discrimination in the name of religion."

The proposed Education Department rule applies to a variety of grant programs administered directly by the department and indirectly through the states, but it does not apply to direct student aid programs.

Provisions of the proposed rule would:

  • “Remove requirements on faith-based organizations that receive [Education Department grants] to provide assurances or notices where similar requirements are not imposed on non-faith-based organizations.”
  • "Ensure that faith-based and non-faith-based organizations shall, on equal terms, be eligible to obtain, use, and keep grant funds."
  • Remove restrictions for certain grant programs that prohibit the use of funds "for otherwise allowable activities if they merely relate to 'religious worship' and 'theological subjects.'"

The proposed regulation would also require public institutions to comply with the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech, as a condition of receiving grant funding. Private institutions receiving funding would have to comply with their stated institutional policies on speech. The proposed rule states that the Education Department would find an institution to be out of compliance in regards to these speech-related requirements only if there is a final, nondefault state or federal court judgment to this effect.

"To the extent that this rule requires universities to follow the First Amendment and follow their already existing requirements, it should be uncontroversial," said Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocates for speech rights on campus.

Shibley said he is concerned about the potential that this proposed rule could create incentives for colleges to fight or settle speech-related cases to avoid Education Department sanctions.

"But over all, I’d say it’s a welcome effort to make sure that the government, when it is giving out taxpayer money, is ensuring that the institutions are following their rules and certainly following the Constitution, which they’re already obliged to do," he said.

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Educators in Denmark fear closure of language programs

Inside Higher Ed - 13 hours 59 min ago

Danish academics have warned of “language death” in the country after the closure of scores of foreign language programs, blaming the trend on a lack of regard for the humanities and the perceived importance of English.

The Danish National Centre for Foreign Languages (NCFF) estimates that 32 language degree programs in Denmark have closed over the past five years.

Mette Skovgaard Andersen, director of the NCFF’s unit at the University of Copenhagen, said she was “not certain that we have seen the last programs to close.”

Denmark “used to be a highly competent country with regard to foreign languages,” she continued, but for many years there has been “a discourse about ‘useless humanities’ and, at the same time, a very explicit national focus on the STEM competences.”

In addition, Danish politicians have been “very focused on promoting English,” which has led to a misconception among young people that other foreign languages were unimportant, Andersen said.

The decline of foreign language study in Denmark is part of a broader European trend. A report published this month by the U.K.’s Higher Education Policy Institute called for universities to consider offering credit-bearing language modules to all students to tackle the decline of languages in the sector.

Hanne Tange, associate professor in English and global studies at Aalborg University, which announced the closure of three language programs in November, said that “with a few exceptions, modern languages except English have disappeared from all universities except Aarhus and Copenhagen. We speak now of ‘language death’ in Denmark.”

She added that the number of students enrolled in the English and business international communication program at Aalborg dropped from 171 in 2014 to 53 in 2018, after the Danish government introduced a policy capping the number of study places available in each discipline based on labor market need.

Two smaller programs in German and Spanish international communication had previously been “cushioned by the big English program,” but the drop in enrollment in English “meant that it became difficult to provide this kind of support,” she said.

Anne Holmen, director of the Center for Internationalization and Parallel Language Use at the University of Copenhagen, said “a general trend of bashing humanities” because of their perceived low social impact was a factor for the decline of languages, as was a 15-year-old reform of upper secondary school education, which has left “very little room in students’ schedules for second and third foreign languages.”

“Finally, there is a very strong ideology in Denmark that English is enough [for a person] to be a global player,” Holmen added.

Roskilde University is among the institutions that no longer offer any language programs following a gradual closure of courses over the past 10 years because of declining enrollments.

But Rector Hanne Leth Andersen, who chaired a working group on national language strategies under the Ministry of Education in 2016, said all humanities and social sciences students were given the option of integrating the use of French, German or Spanish in their degree program.

“We need to establish a broader approach to languages and language studies. We need language teachers, we need experts on languages and we need to tell students how important it is for them to study languages. And then we need others who get a good competence in English and another foreign language integrated into their discipline,” she said.

“We have some students who choose to come to Roskilde because they know that they can use languages without studying languages.”

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside Higher Ed - 13 hours 59 min ago
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Chronicle of Higher Education: A Brown U. Professor Took On Big Pharma. His University Pulled Him From the Classroom.

The case highlights the conflicts for colleges that employ researchers who study — and engage in advocacy against — powerful corporations.

Come Together: Australia’s regional study consortia

The PIE News - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:37

Australia is a vast country – geographically speaking, at least. Whereas in the United Kingdom, a person could feasibly drive from tip to tail within a day or so, travelling the same distance in Australia would often see them remain in the same state.

Given the immense space, it’s little wonder study consortia have taken hold. Each of the eight states and territories has a cluster working to promote their region under one banner, and increasingly, smaller cities are joining larger metropolises in forming their own as well.

“You really have to work together to get your message out”

What could have resulted in hostile competition between regions has instead become a collegial approach under a burgeoning national brand. Clusters are aware of each other’s activities but are more focused on working together to grow the size of Australia’s international education pie, over increasing their slice.

Meanwhile, at a political level, as national policy focuses change, the role of each consortium is changing with it, and their role for providers, the local community, international students and Australia’s national interests is growing.

Let’s form a consortium

“It’s such a huge industry now and such a huge field in international education, that you really have to work together to get your message out,” explains director of Study Canberra Oliver Harrap on why consortia are so prominent in Australia.

“Otherwise, it’s quite easy to get lost in all the noise. That’s the way that we’re all leveraging these consortiums to get the best impact.”

There is a long history of study clusters in Australia, dating back at least two decades.

By region, the involvement of local and state government varies, with some, such as Study New South Wales and Study Tasmania, contained within state government. Others, like StudyPerth, which looks after Western Australia, receive state government funding as well as member contributions.

Regardless of how they came into being, a consortium’s goals generally fall under brand management, attracting international students, building the student experience, employability and connecting with industry.

“One of our biggest challenges here in Adelaide is awareness”

Where the differences between consortiums become apparent, however, is in addressing the challenges of a particular region.

“One of our biggest challenges here in Adelaide is awareness. We don’t enjoy the same natural awareness of other cities in Australia that have a bigger profile,” says StudyAdelaide chief executive Karryn Kent.

“But then, we don’t have some of the other challenges that perhaps some of the larger cities have. For example, the cost of living in the larger cities in Australia often gets referenced.”

Study NSW

Meanwhile, in New South Wales, where capital Sydney has such a high level of student awareness that it’s often confused for Australia’s capital, activities are more focused on the student experience.

“We know a lot of people want to come here, but it’s about trying to match the experience with the brochure,” says Peter Mackey, director of trade, international education and small business operations at the NSW Department of Industry.

“There’s no point getting people to come to a place if they’re leaving dissatisfied or they’re feeling that they’ve been ripped off and no one’s doing anything about it.”

As well as being a big country, Australia is by no means homogenous, and a one-size-fits-all approach would be next to impossible to implement.

“We can tailor our strategies aligned to [our] opportunities and challenges,” Kent concludes.

Hands on the wheel

A consortium’s involvement in creating strategies to meet a region’s opportunities and challenges is dependent on whether it’s embedded within government.

Study Queensland, for example, played a substantial role in the development and ongoing implementation of the state’s 2016-2026 international education strategy. StudyPerth, meanwhile, uses Western Australia’s 2018-2025 strategy as the launching point for its action plan.

Regardless of their position relative to government, however, each consortium plays some role in guiding the policy focus of their region.

Matagarup Bridge, Perth

“We make our views very clear about policy settings which we think are damaging the prospects of Western Australia, and we do see it as our role to advise government and other stakeholders,” says StudyPerth executive director Phil Payne.

As an entity outside of government, however, Payne adds he does feel there is a difference in the weight of his organisation’s voice in state policy compared with those in other states which are part of government.

At a national level, Australia’s consortia are also playing a role, looking to address common problems as well as providing and receiving guidance from the federal government.

“We participate in a number of federal working groups,” Study Canberra’s Harrap says.

“We participate in the Department of Education and Training’s Commonwealth, States and Territories International Education Forum and Austrade also has an international education marketing forum.”

“We know a lot of people want to come here, but it’s about trying to match the experience with the brochure”

But it’s not only government that consortia seek to guide. Study Tasmania global education marketing officer Harpreet Gill says relationship building and market intelligence are key elements.

“We work as a conduit between the education providers and industry,” she says.

“Not only just to attract international students, but make sure when they’re here they’re supported, and then once they graduate, we facilitate programs to make sure they’re more employable.”

Furthermore, Gill adds that research and market intelligence are powerful tools for providers to ensure they’re offering programs that meet international students’ demands as well as the needs of a region.

“It is an ongoing consultation process where we feed [institutions] with data that we have, and they then look at how they can develop that into their courses,” she says.

Go West (and a bit further south)

Australia’s study consortia are beginning to shift and expand outside of their specific region, playing a larger role in the implementation of national strategies, too. The most prominent example of this is the Australian government’s refocus towards encouraging overseas students to choose a regional location instead of popular study metropolises.

Citing congestion in eastern mainland Sydney, Melbourne and south-east Queensland – which includes its capital, Brisbane, and tourism hotspot, the Gold Coast – prime minister Scott Morrison signalled in September 2018 a need to better spread out Australia’s international student cohort.

After a rocky start, the federal government opted for regional incentives over deterrents in March 2019’s Planning for Australia’s Future Population document.

Taking a broad view of population growth, the document includes a new set of scholarships for regional study and an additional year of post-study work rights for those who study and remain in regional areas.

“We don’t have some of the other challenges that perhaps some of the larger cities have”

“We are classified as regional for migration purposes, and the federal government is pushing regional study destinations,” explains Gill.

“All of the policies indicate a regional push, so we are more beneficial that way.”

The resulting strategy, released in late 2019, upped the incentives for remote areas to two additional years of post-study work rights, with one additional year for regional.

But it was the work of both StudyPerth and Study Gold Coast, that shone through after their campaigning helped reclassify both cities as regional after previously been mooted as metropolitan.

“It’s a game-changer; its news we’ve been waiting [to hear] for two years,” says Perth’s Payne.

“It puts us on a level playing field with other cities within Australia and creates another reason for international students to use Western Australia to live, study and further their careers.”

Stepping into tomorrow

In the long-term, it seems Australia’s study consortia are here to stay. While all acknowledge that their role will evolve due to market forces, their importance in acting as a representative between government, providers, international students, businesses and the local community is deeply embedded.

To achieve their goals, however, that friendly competition needs to remain in place, says StudyPerth’s Payne.

“The opportunities for Australian international education are still fairly significant”

“I think the opportunities for all of us to grow the pie and to actually work as Team Australia dwarf the opportunities that may present themselves as individuals to compete with each other,” he notes.

“The opportunities for Australian international education are still fairly significant. Notwithstanding the record-breaking growth we’ve had, I still think we could be better and bigger; probably in that order.”

This is an abridged version of an article that originally appeared in The PIE Review, our quarterly print publication.

The post Come Together: Australia’s regional study consortia appeared first on The PIE News.

Florida to Investigate Foreign Ties to Researchers

The Chronicle of Higher Education (Global) - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 11:23
It’s the first state to set up its own commission to examine such foreign influence. And more news of global higher education.

Wales: Celtic English Academy marks 15th year

The PIE News - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 10:49

Celtic English Academy in Cardiff, Wales, celebrated its 15th anniversary in December, as its CEO highlighted the importance of international education to the local economy.

Since opening in 2004, more than 10,000 students from over 50 countries have learned English with the organisation. Along with its second centre in North Wales, Celtic English Academy employs over 50 staff.

“There is huge potential to welcome international educational tourists”

“If we are able to increase the number of students that come to Wales to study, it would hugely benefit our local and national economy,” Celtic English Academy CEO Shoko Doherty said at the event on December 9.

The ELT sector supports 1,300 jobs in Wales alone. In 2017 the region benefited from an added gross value of £12 million from students’ expenditure on courses.

Another £40m was spent on suppliers, including homestay providers, ELT employees and leisure and tourism of students and visitors during their stay in the UK, according to a 2017 Capital Economics report.

“For Wales in this pre and post-Brexit period, we need to continue striving to maintain relationships with our European partners as well as partners from around the world, stressing that Wales is welcoming and a safe, friendly and exciting destination for educational tourists of all ages to discover,” Doherty continued.

There is huge potential to welcome international educational tourists, Doherty added, due to the fact that 90% of visitors to Wales are from the UK domestic market.

Lord Mayor of Cardiff, councillor Dan De’Ath, who also attended the event also noted the importance of the school’s work to the city.

“We have a strong sense of community in Wales and we hope that [the students] have felt at home in our community of Cardiff during your short or long-term stay here with us,” he told attendees.

“We are proud to hear that there is a network of over 100 families in Cardiff that open their homes to host students from Celtic English Academy.”

Other guests included Honorary Consul of Switzerland in Wales – Ruth Thomas-Lehhman, Honorary Consul of Japan in Wales – Keith Dunn OBE and Ifona Deeley, head of International Relations at the Welsh government.

Celtic English Academy was recently awarded a million-pound contract from the Swiss government to help its nationals improve their English for work.

The post Wales: Celtic English Academy marks 15th year appeared first on The PIE News.

Argentina’s new government gets to grips with the economy

Economist, North America - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 09:35

IT IS A MONTH now since Alberto Fernández took over from Mauricio Macri as Argentina’s president and, contrary to some forecasts, the sky over the Pampas has not yet fallen in. Having inherited a dire economic situation, including what Mr Fernández, a Peronist, called a “virtual default” on the country’s debts, his government has begun by doing more or less what he said it would. Adopting almost the opposite approach to its predecessor, it has laid out a tough fiscal policy and a loose monetary policy and has yet to say much about how it will handle the debt. Exchange and price controls, and the southern summer lull, have combined to buy the new team time. But will they use it wisely?

It was trying to buy time to reform a sick economy that got Mr Macri into trouble. A free-market conservative, he ran up debt to finance a gradual fiscal adjustment until investors took fright, prompting a run on the peso and forcing the government into the arms of the IMF. The economy slumped into recession, inflation surged to 54% last year and Mr Macri lost the presidential election. The new team’s first objective, according to Martin Guzmán, the economy minister, is “to halt the fall”.

They have swiftly pushed through an emergency package of mainly fiscal measures. These include tax increases on farm exports and travel abroad, and a...

Baseball-mad Andrés Manuel López Obrador throws money at the game

Economist, North America - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 09:35

“TRAITOR. YOU ARE A TRAITOR.” That is how Eduardo Galeano, a leftist writer from Uruguay, greeted Che Guevara in Havana in the early 1960s. The Argentine’s crime had been to abandon Latin America’s favourite pastime, football, for North America’s. A Cuban newspaper had published a photo of him playing baseball. Guevara, who said it was “the first time someone calls me a traitor and keeps living”, learned to play in a Mexican prison while jailed with Fidel Castro in the 1950s. 

He is not the only left-wing leader to have caught the baseball bug in Mexico. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the country’s president, has been a fanatic since childhood. He won the election in 2018 by pledging to go to bat for the poor and vows to “strike out” Mexico’s “mafia of power”.

Under his programme of “republican austerity”, the government has slashed spending on everything from child care to medicines. Baseball is an exception. In March Mr López Obrador opened an Office for the Promotion and Development of Baseball. It got 350m pesos ($19m) to spot and nurture talent. Bureaucrats at non-baseball agencies were enraged. 

Mexico’s constitution tells the government to “promote and stimulate” sport. It does not say which ones. Mr López Obrador has cut funding for Formula 1 and American-football events. Baseball, though, is “...

Jovenel Moïse tries to govern Haiti without a parliament

Economist, North America - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 09:35

PETER CONFIDENCE lounges against a broken lamppost in a park in Petionville, a prosperous suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, basking in the afternoon sun. As he rubs a tattooed St Peter on his neck he explains that Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s president, is the only man strong enough to fix the country. Before he can finish, a passer-by selling food from a large metal pot that he lugs around interjects that the Americans should lock Mr Moïse up. Within seconds, a crowd assembles to discuss the state of the nation and the quality of its leader, nicknamed “Banana Man” because he once helped create a big banana plantation. The conversation pinballs between tirades and black humour.

Though such debate is a feature of Haitian life, the country’s parliament is silent. A new session should have begun on January 13th, the day after the tenth anniversary of a devastating earthquake. But a legislative election, due in October 2019, was never held. In the absence of a functioning legislature, the president will rule by decree. For a country with a history of brutal dictatorship, coups and dodgy elections, the prospect of one-man rule is ominous.

Even before it was dissolved, parliament was dysfunctional and its relationship with the president was broken. The 119-seat lower house was divided among 20-odd parties, which mostly...

Chronicle of Higher Education: Do Gateway Courses Foster Inequity?

The Gardner Institute sees fixing foundational courses as a social-justice issue. The reason: A disproportionate share of students who struggle in those classes come from disadvantaged groups.

Danish gov’t funds projects to address int’l graduate retention

The PIE News - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 08:48

Following a 2018 study that revealed 42% of international students in Denmark leave within two years of graduating, the Danish government has announced it is supporting five new projects to boost graduate retention.

Denmark has emerged as an attractive country to pursue higher-level education in recent times, and retaining international students is considered important as their studies are funded by taxpayers, with about half receiving additional grants.

“Employers have also not always… done enough to reach out to international students”

“Not enough [students] are using their education in the Danish labour market afterwards, and therefore represent a large cost to Danish society, as they are educated for the benefit of labour markets in other countries,” said the government at the time of the study.

Providing funding grants of between DKK 500,000 (£57,000) and DKK 1 million (£114,000), each of the newly announced projects will run for several years, with participants being required to share their findings with institutions across the country.

According to reports, the five selected projects were selected from 16 applications and will include instruction of the Danish language, use of mentor models, focusing on the relationship to the workforce and on practice while studying and in jobs alongside studies.

One of the successful bids, ‘biotech job preparations’ from University College Absalon, will prepare international students to live and work in Denmark through job-oriented activities such as mentorships and collaborations with local companies.

“In the first year, the students are offered a course ‘Danish with job hunting’ and access to a student job portal where Absalon can distribute student job listings from the local community,” project manager, Lene Beck Mikkelsen, told The PIE News.

“In the second and third year, a mentoring program will be established with mentors from the business environment in Kalundborg and the surrounding area.”

Retaining graduates in engineering and related fields – which are popular with international students – is particularly desirable.

At the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), for example, 40% of all MSc students are international.

“There’s a significant lack of engineering graduates in Denmark, and we are trying to bridge that gap,” Morten Overgaard, head of international education at DTU, told The PIE.

While Overgaard maintains that people “cannot expect all international graduates to remain in the country”, he added that “a majority of DTU’s international students wish to stay upon graduation”.

“So far we have not prepared them in an optimal way, and the employers have also not always been aware of the opportunity or done enough to reach out to international students,” he said.

“We think that as a university we should do more than just educate excellent graduates. We must facilitate their transition into employment, especially international students who need special preparation.”

A lack of Danish language skills, difficulty integrating into society and few local connections also play a role in the number of graduates leaving.

“Coming to a small language area like Danish, most students hesitate with [learning] the language until they know if they want to stay,” Helene Fast Seefeldt, a business consultant at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), told The PIE.

“Most students hesitate with [learning] the language until they know if they want to stay”

While jobs are available for those that don’t speak Danish, Fast Seefeldt believes it is important to emphasise learning the language as it is “key to the social part of being in Denmark”.

“It is during the lunch break and the small talk you establish relations, share informal knowledge and become aware of opportunities,” she explained.

Better integration can also help international students consider Denmark a place to stay long-term, whether this is done by joining associations and clubs, doing volunteer work or finding a Danish boyfriend or girlfriend, which Fast Seefeldt suggested is “by far the most efficient way of retaining people”.

“As one international student said about Danish society, [we] are like pineapples – stiff and rough on the outside, but once inside it is sweet,” she said.

Full project list:

  1. Biotech work preparation (University College Absalon)
  2. Career management course for international full degree students (Copenhagen University)
  3. Career management skills for international students (University of Southern Denmark)
  4. Communication, student life and internationalisation: The road towards employment through early career encouragement of international students (VIA University College)
  5. From international students to value generation in Danish businesses (Technical University of Denmark)

The post Danish gov’t funds projects to address int’l graduate retention appeared first on The PIE News.

Chronicle of Higher Education: Colleges struggle to serve millions of dropouts. Have these men cracked the code?

College Unbound removes barriers and empowers students to drive the curriculum. But can it succeed on a larger scale?  

Nigeria’s HEI deficit discussed at UK conference

The PIE News - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 06:09

The issue of Nigerian students not having enough spaces at universities in their own country, as well as how UK boarding schools can establish, nurture and maintain relationships with families and schools in Nigeria was discussed at the “New Year…New Partnerships in Nigeria” conference held in London recently.

Delegates heard that as many as 900,000 students were unable to get places in Nigeria’s 300 combined public and private institutions of higher education-resulting in young people leaving the country in order to study.

“Something to remember is that youth unemployment is at 37%”

In his opening remarks, event organiser Mark Brooks explained how Nigeria is one of the African continent’s top growth markets. 

“UNESCO estimates that 90,000 Nigerians study abroad today,” he said.  “Nigeria has a population of more than 200 million and 20% of the population are aged between 15 and 24.

“Something to remember is that youth unemployment is at 37% and one of the motivations of getting a fantastic education at British boarding schools or British run education in Nigeria is to provide students with opportunities and avoid problems with unemployment,” he added. 

The sheer size of Nigeria’s population has interesting consequences for the country’s education market, delegates heard. 

“The average family has four to five children and we expect the population to grow to around 400 million [by 2050],” explained Lami Adekola, deputy country director,  for the UK’s Department for International Trade, Nigeria.

“That shows massive potential in terms of the share numbers of students that we generate every year.”

Adekola also spoke about Nigeria’s infrastructure and education assets. 

“We have 300 combined public and private institutions of higher education, which is grossly below what is required for the population we have. 

“About 900,000 students could not get an education in Nigeria in 2018 and it shows the volume and numbers we are talking about,” Adekola continued.

“Most of these students sought alternative destinations to basically get into schools. And a lot of parents are even beginning to look for measures before university level; they send their children out of the country to schools at the secondary level, so it is easier for them to transition to universities.” 

Adekola identified the UK as one of the top destinations for Nigerian students because of the cultural ties between the two countries.

But according to Yemisi Akindele, founder of High Achiever’s Academy, cultural sensitivities still have the potential to cause issues for Nigerian students coming to the UK.

She spoke about the Nigerian approach to parenting and how some parents may be more nervous about letting their children visit other households during boarding school exeats.

She also told delegates that British schools had to make sure the dietary requirements in relation to the religious views of students are respected.

Top destinations for Nigerian students include the US with around 16,000 students as of March 2019; Malaysia, with roughly 13,000 in 2019; Canada, with 11,290 in 2018 according to IRCC data and the UK with 10,540 in 2017/18.

The post Nigeria’s HEI deficit discussed at UK conference appeared first on The PIE News.

US overtakes UK as “best in world” for education

The PIE News - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 04:07

The US is perceived as the top country in the world for education, having overtaken last year’s top spot holder the UK, according to a survey by U.S. News & World Report.

The 2020 ‘Best Countries’ rankings, which surveyed 20,000 people from across the globe, also rated the United Arab Emirates as the best country for study abroad.

“North American and European countries are seen to provide the best education in the world’s future leaders”

The “Best Country for Education” list is based on three factors – whether the countries provide top-quality education, having a well-developed public education system and if people would consider attending university there.

With the UK, Canada, Germany and France taking second to fifth places respectively, the report contends that “North American and European countries are seen to provide the best education in the world’s future leaders”.

The remaining top 10 countries perceived as best for education are all in Europe apart from Australia, which is ranked in the seventh position.

Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark ranked sixth, eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively.

The US, along with China, dominated the US News & World Report 2020 Best Global Universities Rankings, which was released in October last year.

The ranking also list the best countries to study abroad, with the United Arab Emirates taking the top position in 2020, with last year’s top country Malaysia sliding down to number 11.

The UAE is followed by South Korea, China, India and Turkey in 2020.

The best countries to study abroad section was based on answers from more than 8,500 adults under age 35.

They were asked to score countries based on their cultural accessibility, fun, number of cultural attractions, whether they would consider attending university there and whether it was a country that provides top-quality education.

“Despite historical trends that show the US and the UK to be the countries that attract the most international students each year, young adults’ perceptions ranked countries primarily in Asia with less established –but promising – economies as the best countries to study abroad,” the report concluded.

The post US overtakes UK as “best in world” for education appeared first on The PIE News.

For-profit programs not the only ones that would fail gainful-employment test

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 01:00

Only about 60 percent of programs at private nonprofit institutions, and 70 percent of those at public colleges and universities, would pass the Obama administration’s gainful-employment test, if it were in place and applied to them, according to an online tool developed by a conservative Texas policy group.

Coming amid a stalemate over how to proceed with college accountability after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos repealed the gainful-employment rule in July, the tool made public by the Texas Public Policy Foundation was aimed in part to further the idea that public and nonprofit institutions -- and not just for-profit colleges -- should face scrutiny for how well graduates do financially.

The Obama administration rule subjected colleges and universities to a loss of financial aid funding if too large a share of their graduates do not make enough to repay their student debt. While nondegree programs at public and private nonprofit colleges were subject to the rule, it was controversial for being aimed primarily at for-profit institutions. In repealing the measure, DeVos said it unfairly targeted colleges and universities based on their tax status.

“As a country, we’ve only really applied the accountability metrics once, during the Obama administration,” Andrew Gillen, senior policy analyst in the foundation’s Center for Innovation in Education, said in a telephone interview. “What would happen if we applied the exact income and debt measures to other institutions?”

“What was shocking [was] how many programs are failing and how many students are attending those programs,” he said.

Based on the Department of Education’s College Scorecard data, the tool allows a search for the median income and debt of graduates at 40,000 college programs. Using similar standards to those in the gainful-employment rule -- based on the percentage of graduates’ income compared to their debt -- it judges whether programs would pass or fail the test or be on probation.

According to the web tool, private for-profit programs indeed do worse than public and private nonprofit programs in getting graduates jobs that pay enough so they are not overwhelmed by their student loans.

Only 5,646 of 10,147, or 55.6 percent, of private, for-profit programs for which income and debt data were available would have passed the standard. Another 2,071, or a fifth, would have failed. And 2,430, or 24 percent, of the programs would have been on probation. As with other types of institutions, data were not available for a large number of programs -- 10,633.

But private nonprofits didn’t do much better. Only 6,262 of 10,585 programs, or 59 percent, would have passed. Another 1,916, or 18 percent, would have failed. And 2,407, or 22.7 percent, would have been on probation. No information was available for 56,965 others.

Public institutions fared the best, with 14,234 of 20,216, or 70 percent, passing. Only 1,463, or 7.2 percent, of the programs failed. Another 4,519, or 22.3 percent, would have been on probation. Data were not available for 103,283 programs.

This indicates that a lot of the people asserting that for-profits are uniquely bad actors are wrong -- as a group, their performance is quite similar to that of nonprofits. Publics do noticeably better than either nonprofit private or for-profit colleges, no doubt because they generally cost less to attend and therefore their graduates have less debt.

In part, the tool is designed to make the Scorecard data accessible enough to let parents and high school students choose what programs to go to, Gillen said.

“If someone were to say they got into Harvard, should they go? People would say they should,” Gillen said. But according to the tool, Harvard’s dentistry program failed the test. A Harvard spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

But the Harvard School of Dental Medicine said in a statement, "Tools like this can be misleading when looking at gainful employment in the field of dentistry. It’s concerning that the data does not provide a comprehensive comparison of programs or take into account the career paths of graduates. Harvard School of Dental Medicine graduates go on to highly successful careers and residencies in competitive dental specialty programs, achieving earnings well beyond gainful employment requirements."

To Gillen, the tool would also help college administrators see how well programs are preparing students to get adequately paying jobs. But he said it could guide policy makers as well in withholding funding from underperforming programs.

It’s also intended to guide policy makers to restore but expand the idea of penalizing programs that leave students with too much debt, an idea nonprofit colleges generally oppose.

Differences by Discipline

Some programs were particularly problematic. Only 14 percent of law students graduated from programs that would pass, while almost 70 percent graduated from programs that would fail.

Because the College Scorecard data differ from what was used by the Education Department in implementing the gainful-employment rule, Gillen acknowledged making a number of technical adjustments.

Douglas Webber, director of graduate studies and an associate professor at Temple University department of economics and Institute for Labor Economics, and Robert Kelchen, an associate professor in Seton Hall University’s department of education leadership, management and policy, said in emails that Gillen’s methodology seemed “reasonable.”

For-profit colleges said the data showed they should not be singled out. “There are problematic programs in all sectors,” Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the association representing private for-profit institutions, said in a phone interview. However, he didn’t expect a break in the stalemate.

“The partisanship that has divided the country has entered higher education,” Gunderson said.

The College Affordability Act passed by Democrats on the House education and labor committee in October would restore the gainful-employment rule -- but only for for-profit institutions.

Advocacy groups lamented that DeVos’s repeal of the gainful-employment rule removed accountability from low-performing for-profit institutions. "The gainful employment rule was a commonsense regulation that held schools accountable for delivering value to federal student loan borrowers. It applied to all career education programs, including those at public and nonprofit schools, as well as to for-profit degree programs where evidence demonstrated students had been suffering from terrible loan outcomes while owners and shareholders got rich on student loan dollars," Abby Shafroth, a National Consumer Law Center lawyer, said in a statement.

Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said in a phone interview she’d be opposed to extending a gainful-employment rule to public institutions. The focus of the rule was on for-profit institutions because some misled students about being able to get high-paying jobs. Other accountability regimes, including boards of trustees and accreditors, at public and private nonprofit institutions, already protect students, she said.

Placing rules on public institutions “would further exacerbate the false narrative that the value of college relates only to employment,” she said.

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American University of Afghanistan faces uncertainty over future U.S. government funding

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 01:00

The American University of Afghanistan opened its doors in 2006, in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of the country three years earlier. In a country still marked by conflict and stark gender inequalities in educational opportunities, the private, coed, nonprofit institution stands out as an outpost for American-style education.

The​ university currently enrolls about 850 students -- 42 percent of whom are women -- across its undergraduate and graduate programs. It offers undergraduate degrees in law, business, political science, public administration and information technology, as well as a master's program in business. It also offers professional development programs.​ It has more than 1,000 graduates and has produced 97 Fulbright scholars to date.

Despite such successes, the future of the university may be at stake.

AUAF is highly dependent on U.S. tax dollars, which, according to the university's president, David Sedney, account for about 70 percent of its budget. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has contributed more than $110 million to the university since its inception, and additional funding has come from the Departments of Defense and State. It's unclear whether USAID funding for the university will continue after the current funding term ends May 31, as was initially reported by CNN.

The uncertainty over future funding comes after officials at USAID raised serious concerns about AUAF’s governance and fiscal controls. A joint investigation by USAID's Office of Inspector General and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) concluded that AUAF could not account for more than $63 million in U.S. government funds, according to SIGAR’s Oct. 30 report to Congress.

A separate SIGAR report, from April, faulted AUAF for "a history of mismanagement, lack of controls, and financial instability." The report said that examinations of financial documents found that the "university was not sustainable in its present form, financially or programmatically, due to poor governance and management." It also alleged failures of oversight and conflicts of interest on the part of the university's board.

Details about the alleged conflicts of interest by university board members were not disclosed in the SIGAR report to Congress. SIGAR denied a Freedom of Information Act request by Inside Higher Ed for specific documents relating to SIGAR and USAID's investigations of AUAF.

Sedney disputes the allegation of missing or unaccounted-for funds and described SIGAR's characterizations of AUAF as "inaccurate and misleading."

“Every dollar that we’ve spent from the U.S. government has been fully accounted for in our monthly, quarterly and yearly reports,” he said. “In cases where the contracts are over, we have done final reports that have been approved by the issuing agencies. All of those documents are available to SIGAR and the U.S. government.”

Sedney said U.S. government funding is necessary for the security of the university, which in August 2016 sustained an attack by the Taliban that killed 15 people. Several weeks before that attack, two AUAF professors were kidnapped. The professors -- Kevin King, an American, and Timothy Weeks, an Australian -- were freed from Taliban custody just this past November, after more than three years in captivity.

Sedney said the attacks on the AUAF campus and the abductions of its professors compelled the university to increase spending on security, which accounts for about $7 million out of the university’s overall $28 million budget.

“All of that security spending is paid for by the U.S. government,” Sedney said. “Unfortunately, given the security situation in Afghanistan and the very clear intent of the Taliban to continue attacking us, we have to spend that money on security. Continued U.S. government funding is vital to our continued operation, because there’s no one else besides the U.S. government that will pay for security. Various donors we've talked to are not in a position to pay for security, because it brings with it a range of potential legal liability issues that only a sovereign government can accept.”

Future of Federal Funding

A USAID spokesperson said that additional funding for AUAF past May “is subject to a competitive process and contingent upon the university’s continued compliance with the terms of the Administrative Agreement (AA) that AUAF signed with USAID’s Suspending and Debarring Official in 2018.”

The spokesperson said the administrative agreement "was the result of a referral from the Office of the USAID Inspector General and the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, which found significant weaknesses in the university’s operations, fiduciary oversight, and internal controls."

The spokesperson said USAID's leadership has "strongly encouraged the university to diversify its funding sources" and to apply for competitive grant funding through the Advancing Higher Education for Afghanistan's Development (AHEAD) program, which is administered by USAID. Sedney said the university has applied for the funding.

“AUAF’s Board, not USAID, has the fiduciary responsibility to make decisions regarding the future of the university, which is an independent entity,” the USAID spokesperson said. “The U.S. government has emphasized regularly to the management of AUAF and its Board of Trustees that they must exercise this responsibility, to ensure the university’s overall financial health and sustainability, as is the case with any other nonprofit organization.”

Thomas Barfield, the president of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies, a scholarly group that has its Kabul headquarters at the AUAF campus, discounted the talk of competitive funding.

"It's hardly that they’re waiting to see if there another great university that also has a large campus and program and they’ll decide between the two," said Barfield. "This is an American flagship project, and they either fund it or they don't."

Barfield, who is also a professor of anthropology at Boston University, said AUAF, which was backed by First Lady Laura Bush in its early years, "probably lost much of the political clout it had earlier on, and it became one of [US]AID's projects. If you have the first lady behind you, that’s really different than if you are just one of [US]AID'S educational projects."

Barfield said the accounting problems at AUAF described by SIGAR are common for American projects in Afghanistan. But unlike with many other projects, he said he has not seen evidence of waste, abuse or fraud at AUAF. He thinks it would be a mistake if funding for AUAF were allowed to lapse.

“This has been one of the major projects of the U.S. government on the soft side, the largest and most visible project,” he said. “If you're willing to pull the plug on that, is that an indication that you’re willing to pull the plug on Afghanistan, too? That has implications that go well beyond a year’s funding for a particular aid project.”

Ahmadullah Azadani, a member of AUAF's student government association, has called for the U.S. government to continue funding AUAF.

"Many think the university is being politicized, linking the recent news regarding funding troubles with the Trump administration’s efforts to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and shrink the financial expense called for by involvement in Afghanistan," Azadani wrote in an opinion article in The Diplomat. "But cutting money without providing alternatives for educational purposes will damage the United States’ reputation gravely. It will demonstrate U.S. irresponsibility and faithlessness, leaving AUAF dangling."

Sedney said AUAF administrators and board members are actively working to ensure funding is in place for 2020 and beyond.

“We continue to reach out to a wide range of funders, and we continue to get support both from the U.S. and internationally, as well as Afghans,” Sedney said. "We do get support, but it’s unfortunately not at the scale that is necessary to cover the cost of operations and security."

He said university administrators were continuing discussions with American government officials.

"We remain optimistic that we will get the funding that we need to continue, as we have for the last 13 years," Sedney said.

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Arbitrator says UC Berkeley owes its computer science TAs $5 million

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 01:00

The University of California, Berkeley, must pay $5 million to teaching assistants it improperly denied tuition remission and other benefits, an arbitrator said this week after reviewing a union grievance.

Berkeley says it’s disappointed with the decision but that it will cooperate.

The case concerns about 1,000 students, including many undergraduate teaching assistants in the department of electrical engineering and computer science. Enrollment in these kinds of courses has swelled nationally in recent years, contributing to a major computer science faculty shortage. At Berkeley, for instance, an introductory computer science course now attracts 1,800 students, compared to about half that in 2014. Berkeley, which also has too few graduate student instructors to meet that need, has responded by appointing more and more undergraduate TAs to lead discussion sections and perform other teaching-related tasks.

That’s not necessarily a problem for the United Auto Workers-affiliated student employees' union, as these TAs are covered by the contract and receive pay of around $30 an hour, depending on appointment type, not considering tuition remission. But the union says that the university is putting far too many students on eight-hour appointments, which do not qualify them for tuition remission, and too few on 10-hour appointments, which do qualify them for a big break on tuition and childcare benefits. Graduate students on these 10-hour appointments are also entitled to health-care benefits.

In negotiating the 10-hour threshold for tuition remission during contract negotiations, the union says it understood that eight-hour appointments would be used only sparingly. And they were used that way for about a decade. Since 2015, however, non-remission-eligible appointments have surged from about 2 percent of assistantships to 12 percent.

The allegation here is that Berkeley is deliberately trying to keep students under the 10-hour threshold to avoid having to remit their tuition, thereby dramatically decreasing their potential compensation. It’s akin to employees accusing an employer of keeping them just below the threshold of full-time work in order to avoid having to give them full-time benefits.

Nathan Kenshur, an undergraduate math tutor and head steward for the union, said Wednesday that the electrical engineering and computer science department's practice now is to employ hundreds of workers per semester as eight-hour TAs, in "a transparent attempt to dodge the contractually negotiated tuition benefit."

Not everyone who's served as an undergraduate TA in the department thought their terms were unfair. Barak Gila, who has since graduated, held that position in 2015 and 2016. He taught discussion sections, wrote and graded midterms, helped monitor online discussions, and, as head TA in his final semester, helped lead the TA program. He did receive tuition remission.

In Gila's experience, pay was good, and even it it hadn't been, he said, “undergrads were freely choosing to accept jobs.”

"I’m not sure why it's illegal for professors to choose to hire more eight-hour TAs, rather than cut their class sizes almost in half," Gila added. By that, he meant that departments with given budgets for a course may either hire more TAs on smaller appointments and offer more sections, or have bigger sections with fewer TAs on 10- to 20-hour appointments.

The arbitrator’s decision was not immediately made public. Information that the department shared at a town hall around 2016 show that undergraduate TAs on eight-hour appointments cost $4,000 per term, while 10-hour appointees cost $11,000. In-state tuition remission accounts for most of the difference between the two figures. 

Kenshur said he understands that some TAs don’t feel the grievance was necessary, but that this is about even more than the 1,000 students affected.

“Undermining the collectively bargained labor contract between student workers and the university threatens the benefits and rights of every worker on this campus,” he said. The TA practice could have spread and “eroded tuition waiver rights across the board.”

Jobs, Kenshur noted, “can still be exploitative even if workers are willing to do them.”

Janet Gilmore, a university spokesperson, said the university and the department “believed that appointments should be kept at 20 percent,” or eight hours per week or less, “in order not to interfere with student academic performance.”

The union, of course, argued that the university's reasoning was mostly financial, not pedagogical. And the arbitrator agreed with the union, directing the electrical engineering and computer science department to “cease and desist making both graduate and undergraduate appointments below 25 percent,” or the 10 hour-per-week, benefits-eligible level.

Berkeley is now required to provide retroactive fee remission benefits to students who were not provided them around the time the grievance was filed, in 2017, Gilmore said.

The union has said that each affected student who taught in the department in 2017 or later is entitled to $7,500 per term taught. The university, however, says that it’s not yet clear how many students will get how much.

“Identifying which group of students qualify for lost compensation, which could include partial fee remission, childcare assistance and health benefits, will take some time,” Gilmore said.

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