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Chronicle of Higher Education: When Banks Pay for College Students to Learn About Money

Some universities use commercial banks’ experts, materials, and funding to teach students financial literacy. What rules an institution sets for such arrangements depends on which one you ask.

Aus: RMIT continues Future Skills expansion

The PIE News - Fri, 02/14/2020 - 07:16

Australia’s RMIT University has continued growing its online Future Skills program offerings, announcing a new course designed to meet the exponential growth in demand for DevOps professionals.

Developed in partnership with software consultancy Thoughtworks and DevOps Agile Skills Association, RMIT’s DevOps course aims to upskill those in technology and management professionals to understand the benefits of the practices.

“In an increasingly digitised world, we can’t underestimate the importance of connected teams,” said chief executive of RMIT Online, Helen Souness.

“Our clients are finding it difficult to find people who have experience with DevOps”

“The short online nature of the program enables working professionals to upskill and grow in their career, as well as positively impact the organisations they work for.”

Souness added demand for DevOps Engineers, which is a set of practices combining software development and information technology operations to shorten systems development life cycles and continuously deliver high-quality software, was expected to grow 21%.

“Our focus at RMIT Online is to provide learning opportunities that address skills shortages and in-demand skills gaps in the job market,” she said.

ThoughtWorks Australia head of engineering Evan Botcher said further collaboration between education providers and industry was needed to address future skills shortages and maintain Australia’s competitive advantage globally.

“Our clients are finding it difficult to find people who have experience with DevOps and there is clearly a lack of accessible formal training in the area,” Botcher said.

“We’re proud to be partnering with RMIT Online to design a course that addresses the needs of Australia’s future workforce.”

The new course is the latest from RMIT Online, which has been steadily building up its Future Skills portfolio after launching Developing Blockchain Strategy in 2018 and Cyber Security Risk and Strategy in 2019.

Souness told The PIE News further courses were planned in the future.

“Because of the ever-changing and fast-paced nature of Industry 4.0, we are always looking at industry demands and areas in which both employers and employees alike are hoping to upskill,” she said.

“We will be focussed on fields of studies that address the progressive and emerging sectors in work.”

The DevOps course will commence in March and run for six weeks.

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LCI boosts number of creative design courses

The PIE News - Fri, 02/14/2020 - 03:14

Global education provider LCI Education is aiming to become a “one-stop shop” for boutique higher education, as it increases its number of specialised creative industries and design courses.

LCI Education has backed its hubs in Vancouver, Montréal, Melbourne and Barcelona for future growth, adding courses ranging from a Bachelor’s of Fashion Design Degree to a Master’s in Management of Creative Industries, and other higher education diploma programs.

“[Partnerships] help prepare students adequately for the real needs of the labour market”

The education provider’s Spanish centre LCI Barcelona has launched an English-language master’s course, which combines project and team-based learning with residential learning experiences.

The course is designed to ensure students are prepared for work in an industry that employs more than 29 million people worldwide.

Additionally, it has created a strategic alliance with digital design school Seeway, as LCI strives to become Spain’s “leading design school”.

“These courses and alliances make LCI Education a ‘one-stop shop’ for boutique higher education,” said Joëlle Cloutier-Gravel, chef de marque at LCI Education.

“They are indeed high demand destinations.”

In Canada, LaSalle College Vancouver has expanded its fashion design program via a new Bachelor of Design in Fashion Design, while LaSalle College Montréal has partnered with retail company ALDO on a Footwear and Accessory Design specialisation course.

“[Partnerships] help prepare students adequately for the real needs of the labour market,” Cloutier-Gravel added.

According to LCI, there is a “glaring shortage of skilled labour” in shoe and accessory design, which is an important function in the Québec fashion industry.

“A specialised training program for designers, preparing them to integrate into the footwear industry, has never existed to this day,” Cloutier-Gravel noted.

The ALDO Group is currently hiring 90 positions at LCI’s Montréal campus.

At another of its hubs in Australia’s ‘cultural capital’, LCI Melbourne has recently announced four HE diploma programs, which can be used as a direct pathway into its Bachelor of Design Arts degree program.

Beginning June 2020, the programs have been developed in consultation with industry experts, and promise students a combination of developmental, creative and professional skills.

Sponsored content: in partnership with LCI Education

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The Chopras evolves, rebrands as TC Global

The PIE News - Fri, 02/14/2020 - 02:36

One of India’s education counselling empires, The Chopras Group, has relaunched as TC Global following a 45-month restructuring and rebranding effort.

The company is swapping its purely brick and mortar counsellor-based operating model into what it terms a technology-enabled “platform ecosystem”. 

Founded in 1995 by Naveen and Natasha Chopra, The Chopras Group has grown to be one of India’s largest education and learning services groups, engaging with over 300,000 students annually. 

“We are transitioning into a platform eco-system, backed by community and experience centres”

Chief brand strategy and community partner for TC Global, Shan Chopra, told The PIE that the re-invention will help the company add value for students who are making decisions about their future. 

The original company “was built for a very different age and very different time”, he said.

“To serve consumers who have grown up in the age of the internet, and adapt to the sheer speed and scale of the communications infrastructure the internet has unlocked, we are transitioning into a platform eco-system, backed by community and experience centres with rich resources that are both physical and digital for the student.”

Chopra said that since May 2019 the company has been introducing a soft branding relaunch for the organisation. The new website was launched in December. 

As well as offering student searching tools, insights, learning preparation and future-focused investments, TC Global has a large events platform and is hosting a series of events over February.

These free Global Education Interact events are being held in cities across India including Delhi and Lucknow and will allow students and parents to speak directly with universities and partners of TC Global.

“We’re excited to test our operating model and the overall value that we are going to create to the consumer journey,” related Chopra.

“We really believe we need a new paradigm and a new story, with a symbiotic relationship between technology and people, with a workforce that is re-skilled from being bearers of knowledge to influencers of meaningful decisions.”

The company’s board set the strategic mandate to fundamentally reinvent the organisation in 2016.

In 2016 the Shivalik Hills Foundation Trust, established and run by The Chopras, was granted permission by the Higher Education Department in Uttarakhand, India, to open a university in the Himalayas.

The post The Chopras evolves, rebrands as TC Global appeared first on The PIE News.

Nicolas Chu, CEO & founder, Sinorbis, Australia

The PIE News - Fri, 02/14/2020 - 02:21
Sinorbis is a software as a service company that facilitates SMEs and enterprises that wish to enter the Chinese market. The PIE spoke to the company’s CEO and founder Nicolas Chu about the difficulties institutions face when they try to crack the Chinese market, and how Sinorbis can help to overcome them.

 

The PIE: So tell me about Sinorbis, what does it do and why did you decide to start it? 

Nicolas Chu: Sure. Sinorbis is a marketing platform that allows Western businesses to create measure and optimise their digital presence in China. The main reason why we decided to form Sinorbis was that not a long time ago, we were trying to crack into this market.

“I said if it is difficult for us [to crack the Chinese market], I can’t imagine how difficult it is for smaller companies”

I used to work for Expedia, the online travel company and Orbitz as well, and we led the market entry for Orbitz into China. And despite the fact that we were a multi-billion dollar company, it was quite difficult for us.

So I said to myself, ‘you know, if it is difficult for us, I can’t imagine how difficult it is for others, for smaller companies’. I thought that it was crazy that no one had tried to crack through technology and help companies by offering software that will reduce the barriers to entry to zero.

The PIE: How does your platform actually work? I know it can be difficult to be present in China with a website, for example...

NC: When you try to go after China, you usually face three issues. The first one is a lack of understanding of the market, business, culture or language.

The second one is the technical barriers to entry, or what is known as the Great Firewall. Not only has it limited access to those popular websites but it has also furthered the emergence of a completely different online ecosystem. So really the second problem is that we don’t know about this ecosystem. And usually, when we try to [understand it] and spend a lot of money, we’re facing the third issue, which is a lack of visibility or lack of control.

So what our platform allows you to do is to address those three points. We give maximum insights into where you get a lot of markets, we reduce the barriers to entry to zero by optimising everything that you’re doing for this ecosystem. We allow you to have a fast loading page in China, completely optimised for all the search engines in China.

For example, you don’t have Google, but you have Baidu. You don’t have Facebook but you have WeChat. You can manage your whole WeChat account offshore. You can do all this through our platform by, you know, either integration with local technology or by optimising what we’re producing for this ecosystem.

The PIE: And why did you decide to then work with education if you’d been in mainstream travel?

NC: So I have always been involved in the education sector. I’m actually a professor of practice at the NSW Business School as well.

I realised how important it was for education institutions to go after this market, but how difficult it was as well. So on the one hand, you had this huge opportunity, huge demand. Chinese students are the largest source market in terms of international students nowadays, but it’s also very difficult for those institutions to actually push their messages towards Chinese students.

“I realised how important it was for education institutions to go after this market, but how difficult it was as well”

So when we launched Sinorbis, I knew that education would be a very important sector for us. I knew we would have to be able to address this problem because it’s really difficult for universities to have a legal presence in China, for instance.

Without a legal presence, you can’t have an entity, without an entity you can’t have a licence, without the licence, you can’t have a website. So I knew that if we could address this problem that would resolve a big issue for universities.

The PIE: Essentially, you are helping institutions sidestep the legal presence requirement?

NC: Yes. What we do is that we allow institutions to create a presence outside of China. But this presence is 100% optimised for China and visible in China.

So take any university, for instance, its English website or the Australian website will take two to three minutes to load – which is the same as not being visible. What will allow them is to create the same site, but 100% optimised and relevant site for a Chinese audience.

The PIE: I’m assuming that these sites are in Mandarin, so do the institutions need to have a Mandarin speaker running these platforms for them? 

NC: Yes, they are in simplified Chinese. We would recommend if you really want to invest and you’re serious about this market, it would make sense to have someone who speaks Chinese and Mandarin. But our services are such that you can actually do everything by yourself if you have the skills or resources to do it, or we can do a part of it. We can set up all this for you and then you can manage it.

“We allow institutions to create a presence outside of China”

In the education sector, we have smaller universities that will ask us to do everything; bigger universities that have teams; and Chinese teams that can manage the whole thing but they want us to set it up, so we do that. And we also have universities that are doing everything by themselves from scratch.

The PIE: How big is your team?

NC: We have three offices in Shanghai, Colombo and Sydney, and we are now around 40 team members. 

The PIE: Do you have any competitors who are doing what you do?

No, we don’t. We are the only platform in the world [doing what we do]. I mean, I was looking to invest in such a company in 2015, I did a kind of a roadshow, but couldn’t find any. So I decided to launch one.

The PIE: Who are your clients in education?

NC: We have a lot of boarding schools, international schools, but also in the ecosystem, so for example, student accommodation. So we do have a variety and broad spectrum of clients in the education sector.

Education is definitely our main focus. Consumer goods is [also] big because everyone wants to sell to the Chinese. It’s just that it’s very difficult for most companies to actually do so.

The PIE: You spent a lot of time in China. Were you always aware of Chinese students having a real demand for education overseas? 

NC: Yes, and demand is not declining, but destinations are changing and evolving. The US market has always been the primary market in terms of international education. And as you know, the demand has changed recently, especially because of the trade war between China and the US.

“Education is definitely our main focus”

The demand is there, it’s just dependant on the environment, the macro environment, that might shift from one country to another one. But I don’t think the appetite to study overseas is going to reduce.

The PIE: Okay. And did you have to build all the tech yourself? How much investment was put in to actually developing the platform? 

NC: A lot, like any technology company, you have to spend a lot of money before getting any money. We raised money, we went through three rounds.

I’m obviously investing in the company as well, and my co-founders too. But we raised money straight away – actually when it was just an idea and when we were about to launch. And then one year after launching the platform. So three rounds so far.

The majority of investors are from Australia. We have some investors from Asia as well and from Europe.

The PIE: And what are your hopes then for Sinorbis for the next few years?

NC: We would love to be able to really address the various needs for education providers to go after the Chinese markets. Right now, we allow them to create that digital presence, the web, social, but there are other things that we could do as well.

So we’re working on how we could integrate better with legacy systems of universities or institutions. We just released a new feature that allows you to integrate whatever you’ve built through Sinorbis with China, with your marketing automation or your CRMs, which is very important for lead generation for universities.

We also developed another feature that allows universities or institutions to create some events in China – for the open day week, for example.

So, we would love to see us in a few years being able to offer all those different services into one integrated platform and make it easy because, you know, we always say: digital marketing in China is difficult – we make it easy.

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Warning signs of Concordia University Portland's closure, which now stretches across states, higher education and Lutheran Synod

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

In December 2012, Concordia University, in Portland, Ore., hosted a presentation for its bondholders in which it spelled out what it saw as a changing higher education landscape.

A market would persist for traditional 18-year-old high school graduates, the presentation said. But private colleges and universities' long-term sustainability depended on their ability to “strategically expand into areas that fulfill their mission, provide high margin return, and leverage their existing infrastructure.”

The presentation went on to spell out three initiatives already under way that would position Concordia to survive this changing future. One was a law school it had launched in Boise, Idaho, that fall. Another was a pilot program newly launched in homeland security that it hoped to scale up quickly. And the third was a massive expansion of online graduate education.

“While the marketplace is significant, the ability to effectively and economically market and recruit remains a challenge,” the presentation said. “Concordia University delivered its Masters Degree in Education in an online format for over 10 years with some success, but needed large critical mass.”

Two years prior, in 2010, the university had partnered with a third-party service provider with marketing and recruitment expertise. Enrollment went on to double each year, jumping from 350 students in 2010 to 700 in 2011 and about 1,400 in 2012. Looking forward, leaders expected to enroll 2,500 students in 2013.

By all accounts, Concordia was massively successful in the ensuing years. Total enrollment more than doubled from over 3,000 students in 2012 to more than 7,400 in 2014, according to federal data. Much of that growth was among graduate students, where enrollment spiked from about 1,700 students to more than 6,000. Enrollment of adults aged 25 to 64 went from about 1,100 in 2011 to 3,697 in 2014.

Fast-forward several years to this week, and Concordia shocked the Portland area and many of its own students by announcing that it will close at the end of the spring semester. A statement from the institution said the university’s board decided to close after “years of mounting financial challenges” and a changing landscape for education.

“After much prayer and consideration of all options to continue Concordia University-Portland’s 115-year legacy, the Board of Regents concluded that the university’s current and projected enrollment and finances make it impossible to continue its educational mission,” Thomas Ries, the university’s interim president, said in a statement Monday. “We have come to the decision this is in the best interest of our students, faculty, staff and partners.”

In the ensuing days, the university revealed to a state agency that its closure will result in more than 1,500 people being terminated from their jobs between Feb. 25 and Sept. 30.

Students were not pleased. Some joined a class-action lawsuit seeking tuition refunds because they believe they were misled about the university’s financial condition. On Thursday, students staged a walkout and then a sit-in of the president’s office, charging that the university failed in its responsibility to protect students, staff and faculty and demanding the release of financial records.

Observers in Portland and across the country were surprised by the Concordia Portland announcement -- both because it came suddenly and because the university’s leaders shared little additional information about the circumstances that contributed.

The university also had few details to provide to students about where they could finish their degrees. When it announced its closure, a website answering student questions said little about firm teach-out or transfer plans, stating that “Each situation is unique, and our advising team is available to ensure your transition is supported” and that “Students may also choose to transfer to another school of their choice.” Later in the week, news surfaced that the Portland university’s accelerated nursing program would be absorbed into a separate sister Concordia University in St. Paul.

A spokeswoman for Concordia University Portland did not make any administrators available for comment and declined to answer a list of 14 detailed questions about the university’s enrollment, finances and relationship with the Concordia University system and different Lutheran Church organizations to which it is related.

“Thanks for reaching out and following up,” the spokeswoman, Liz Loulan, said in an email. “We have shared all of the information available to date. We are now highly focused on helping our faculty, staff and students with their transition plans. Let’s reconnect in a few weeks when we have more information.”

Those involved in higher education in Portland and across the country continue to wonder about the unfolding situation at Concordia. Some clues can be found. And a Thursday report raised questions about whether the university's conservative parent organization tied financial help to changing a campus resource center for gay, lesbian, trans, queer and nonbinary students.

Publicly available documents paint an incomplete picture of the university’s recent history. But they nonetheless reveal an institution that experienced massive growth by emphasizing online education, that found itself under intense federal scrutiny because of an online partner’s recruiting practices and that struggled to meet the expectations of its bondholders. Almost everyone who will speak about the university -- including its regional accreditor -- claims surprise that the end came so suddenly.

In that way, Concordia University Portland isn’t just an important story to watch in the Pacific Northwest. It’s one to watch across higher education. If this can happen to a university that grew rapidly in Portland, a burgeoning urban market, what does it mean about the future of other private liberal arts colleges showing more outward signs of stress?

Experts Surprised

In retrospect, experts were able to identify some causes for concern about Concordia University Portland from audited financial statements, other information that the federal government makes public and information the university itself had previously released. The university had experienced turnover among its administrative ranks recently. It had run deficits in two of the four most recent years for which audited financial statements are available, 2015 through 2018. In 2017, it posted a considerable loss, about $11 million, against revenue of $94 million.

Still, the university did many of the things in vogue in higher education strategy circles. It diversified its revenue, branching out from relying on full-time undergraduates and adding graduate students and online muscle over the last decade. The university was still reporting total enrollment of nearly 6,000 students. Its foundation added net assets in 2018, growing from $11.2 million to $12.1 million.

And while it may have had an interim president, that interim president was Ries, who is well respected in higher education for implementing a tuition reset while he was at Concordia University in St. Paul. Tuition resets are controversial today, but the example of Concordia in St. Paul is often held up as a successful example of the strategy.

It didn’t seem to add up to Concordia University Portland being on the brink of closure.

“It strikes me as bizarre,” said Lucie Lapovsky, an economist and former Mercy College president. “It seems to have done the sorts of things that one would think are necessary.”

In some ways, the situation at Concordia University Portland appears similar to that of another small private university that decided to close last year. Green Mountain College in Vermont had done many of the things experts recommend: carve out a niche in the market, start offering online graduate degrees and refinance debt to relieve short-term stress on the budget.

Green Mountain was much smaller than Concordia, so the comparison is far from perfect. But the parallels may suggest that some colleges and universities struggle to execute sound strategies in the face of challenges.

“The big thing that strikes me is that in higher ed, we have chased the silver bullets,” said Rick Staisloff, founder and principal of the higher ed consulting firm rpkGroup. “It raises a reminder that even if they are the right things in the moment, the moment changes. You’ve got to keep with it, and you’ve got to build the muscle and the discipline to continue looking at whether you are being responsive to the world that you now operate in.”

It may also suggest that the popular strategies aren’t enough, at least in some cases. Many colleges and universities are built on a business model that assumes annual growth in enrollment, in revenue or in both. As the economy changes and student populations change, that model may no longer work.

“This idea of sustainability is a much bigger play,” Staisloff said. “Higher ed’s capacity to think about and build sustainable business models is, quite frankly, pretty limited.”

Red Flags

Even if Concordia University Portland is not a sign of a larger problem, its last decade was marked by several causes for concern.

Concordia University Portland advertised giving financial aid to nearly all of its students, a sign it might have been struggling to draw students willing to pay full tuition.

The institution struggled to meet agreements with its bondholders multiple times. The reason it was presenting to bondholders in 2012 was that it wanted to modify a bond covenant requiring it to keep a certain debt-to-equity ratio. Then in January 2017, the university filed notice that it had failed to comply with a coverage ratio covenant. It provided a certificate indicating “non-compliance with the provisions of the agreement … which constitutes an event of default under the agreement,” documents show. It’s not clear how the university navigated those events, but bond covenants can be renegotiated in such cases.

A short time later, in the fall of 2019, the institution needed to restructure its debt, The Oregonian reported Thursday. Concordia defaulted on bond covenants with a bank and the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. The fund bought Concordia's bonds from the bank. Its parent organization, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, agreed to provide a $4 million line of credit to the university, the newspaper reported, citing synod Board of Directors minutes.

The synod board passed a resolution at a November meeting indicating it would not provide more financial help “until the university has substantively addressed the issues regarding the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center and brought its articles and bylaws back into conformity with the requirements of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,” according to the newspaper. The synod has posted documents on its website stating that "God categorically prohibits homosexuality."

When The Oregonian reported on the resolution, spokespeople for the university and synod referred its requests for comment to each other.

Signs of tension between Concordia Portland and related institutions in the Lutheran Church have appeared in the past. The university has described itself in financial statements as “operated under the auspices of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,” and the synod elects some members of the institution’s Board of Regents.

In 2017, Concordia University Portland posted a statement saying that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod asked it to consider becoming an independent Lutheran university. The university’s board decided to “move forward with an exploratory process,” the statement said.

It’s not clear how that process ended. Thursday, a spokesman for the synod disputed the idea that the university had been asked to become independent.

“The assertion that ‘In 2017, the LCMS asked Concordia-Portland to leave the Synod and become an independent university’ is incorrect,” wrote the spokesman, David Strand, in an email. “The LCMS can’t speak to any supposed ‘exploratory process’ of the Board of Regents, but I can tell you that no decision, proposal or recommendation was made by the Concordia University System or by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod regarding any significant changes at Concordia University-Portland.”

An important piece of the financial picture leading up to recent events is the university’s relationship with the Silicon Valley company it hired to operate its online graduate degree program, HotChalk Inc. A two-year U.S. Department of Education investigation into that relationship concluded in 2015, The Oregonian reported. A federal prosecutor alleged their arrangement appeared to violate laws preventing colleges from paying recruitment incentives or outsourcing more than half of any particular educational program.

The parties settled for $1 million. Under the agreement, they admitted no wrongdoing.

“To me, it appears to be a story of hubris based on online education growth,” said Phil Hill, a partner at MindWires Consulting and publisher of the blog Phil on Ed Tech. “That’s both about the school and the OPM relationship itself.”

Relationships with online program management companies have in some cases led to fantastic growth online. That addresses earlier financial and enrollment issues as new students from across the country pay tuition. Then, however, institutions sometimes believe they’re on Easy Street or at least out of the woods.

“There is no preparation or thought of, ‘What if the situation doesn’t last?’” Hill said. “The whole online market is changing. It’s no longer an ‘If you build it, they will come’ type of market for graduate programs.”

Audited financial statements show a steep drop in revenue at Concordia University Portland. In 2015, the university booked $148.4 million in revenue. Four years later, that total had declined by almost 40 percent, to $90.1 million.

One more sign of stress can be glimpsed through information revealed by the university’s regional accreditor. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities was monitoring Concordia University’s finances. It was requiring the institution to submit resource reviews, although it hadn’t placed Concordia University Portland on probation or levied any other formal sanctions against it.

“The recommendation made by the financial resources review committee said, essentially, the committee accepts,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, president of the accreditor. “But continued monitoring. And I think, really, they have been essentially saying that Concordia is headed in the right direction, but we need to continue to keep track of them.”

Concordia University Portland provided its accreditor with no advance warning, according to Ramaswamy. NWCCU did not know until days ago that the university would be closing.

“We knew they were having some potentially major changes,” he said. But those were changes like restructuring and program cuts, not closing the doors.

Picking Up the Pieces

The ramifications of the closure will be felt throughout the Portland area and beyond.

Within the Concordia University system, leaders scrambled to tell students and the public that they were separate institutions from the closing university. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod did much of the same.

“Concordia, Portland, in substantive ways, is independent from the Synod, just as the Concordia University System is a separate corporation,” said the Synod’s spokesman, Strand, in an email. “The LCMS does not manage the school or its operations. We’re not intimately familiar with its finances. And the decision to close the school came from the Portland Board of Regents, not anyone here in St. Louis.”

The synod and one of its related entities are involved, though. In addition to all the details about lending becoming public, Concordia University Portland has said its northeast Portland campus will return to the synod and the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.

The Lutheran Church Extension Fund is a separate corporate entity from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, although it is governed by the synod’s members and Board of Directors. It is tasked with providing financial resources and services to advance the synod’s mission.

The fund lent money to several Concordia universities. The Portland institution had the largest balance outstanding when the fund issued its 2019 annual report and offering circular -- $38.6 million.

Joseph Russo is senior vice president at the fund. It does not publicly share details about its loans, he said in an email.

“Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) has had a longstanding lending relationship with Concordia University-Portland,” Russo said. “We are saddened by the university’s decision to close. Concordia University-Portland reached this decision after it had conducted due diligence and determined that declining enrollment and financial problems necessitated a closure at this time in order to have the resources to finish the semester for the students and allow time for faculty and staff to consider their options going forward. LCEF did not pressure or encourage the university to reach this decision nor did LCEF call the university’s loans.”

The fund defers to the university “regarding the reasons and resources that are available related to the closure,” Russo added. He could not share some other details because of client confidentiality, he said.

Meanwhile, in Boise, Idaho, Concordia University Portland’s law school is in merger talks with other institutions. The law school, one of only two in the state, boasts of a 100 percent bar-passage rate, according to the ABA Journal.

Back in Portland, higher ed leaders pledged to help. They also wondered why Concordia didn’t reach out to make plans for students before announcing its closure. Offering a path for students and clear alternatives for them to finish their degrees would have saved them shock and pain. But that didn’t happen.

“I regret that, because, frankly, it makes higher education in general not look good to not take care of students,” said Wim Wiewel, president of Lewis & Clark University and former president of Portland State University. “Now everybody is scrambling.”

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University of Virginia clarifies all students allowed in multicultural center

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

The University of Virginia took to Twitter Wednesday to clarify: the university’s newly relocated and expanded Multicultural Student Center is open to everyone at the university.

Only a few hours earlier, a video posted on Twitter by the conservative group Young America’s Foundation and others had gone viral. In the video, a young black woman stands up in what many identified as the university’s Multicultural Student Center.

“Frankly, there are just too many white people in here, and this is a space for people of color, so just be really cognizant of the space that you’re taking up, because it does make some of us POCs uncomfortable when we see too many white people in here,” she says to the room. “There’s the whole university for a lot of y’all to be at, and there’s very few spaces for us, so keep that in mind."

The university swiftly posted a statement on Twitter.

“Earlier this month the university announced the relocation and expansion of its Multicultural Student Center as part of an effort to offer a variety of spaces that embrace and support the diversity of this institution,” it read. “In order to foster the diversity of experience and ideas that make UVA a great and good place to study and work, these centers are open to all members of the university community.”

The center had just been reopened in a new and expanded space on Feb. 6, along with the university’s LGBTQ center. A dedicated Latinx Student Center and an Interfaith Student Center were opened on the same day.

In the next 24 hours, right-wing outlets ran with the story. In the wake of increased attention, some students voiced their concerns on Twitter for the student in the video and called on the university to support and protect her. Others emphasized that she did not ask anyone to leave, only to exercise awareness. A few noted that white students did not frequent the multicultural center where it was previously located, in a basement.

How to Create a Center

When the Multicultural Student Center was created at the University of Virginia, university officials and students stressed that it was open to all.

In 2014, students from different organizations formed the Multicultural Student Center Initiative to advocate for such a space. They researched peer institutions, assessed student needs and crafted proposals. Students from ethnic minorities comprise about one-third of the undergraduate population at UVA.

The original Multicultural Student Center opened in the basement in Newcomb Hall in fall 2016, with couches and group tables. It housed the offices of the Multicultural Student Services staff. Programming was held in the space, which had a student director.

Shaun Harper, professor and executive director of the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center, said that when resources are available, creating several more specific centers for cultural groups can be preferable to one larger center.

“I am a proponent of smaller, well-resourced centers that have been thoughtfully created to serve the specific needs, experiences and cultural identities of specific groups,” he said. When resources aren’t available, a larger multicultural center is likely the best option.

“But even with a multicultural center, institutions have to exercise high degrees of intentionality in the creating of those spaces to ensure that they don’t default to an ‘All Lives Matter’ kind of space,” Harper said.

On a website for the Multicultural Student Center Initiative, since taken down, student advocates laid out their mission. The space would allow students to “meet, collaborate, and innovate.”

“We could open up an avenue for intercultural thought and dialogue to spread around the university,” the initiative said on its page in August. “This center can become a space that is not only used by minority students but also by everyone at U.Va.”

Other students who were involved in the effort emphasized that the center was meant to be open to anyone.

“We want people to be able to study, hang out and host meetings here, or reserve the space in the evening hours for events,” Catalina Pinto, the inaugural student director, said in a news release from the university. “Even though it’s called the Multicultural Center, it is absolutely open to anyone. We want to make sure everyone is welcome in this space.”

Harper said that at the hundreds of colleges and universities he has been to and studied, he has never seen one with a specific “no whites allowed” policy.

“Oftentimes white students just presume that those spaces are not for them,” he said.

But universities might be passing over a chance to intentionally involve white students in specific ways, he said.

“Colleges and universities oftentimes miss the opportunity to say to white students that this center can be a rich site for cultural learning. That if you as a white student want to learn more about the cultural histories and cultural identities and cultural assets of indigenous people, Asian American people, African American people and Latino people, that these centers can be a fruitful site for you to access that learning.”

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STEM's ongoing sex-difference debate

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

A 2018 study finding a “gender-equality paradox” in science, technology, engineering and math was controversial for obvious reasons: if there is an inverse relationship between how egalitarian a society is and how many of its women pursue STEM degrees, as the paper suggested, then maybe efforts to push girls and women into these fields are pointless.

Two years later, the study is still in dispute. And a pair of commentaries published this week in Psychological Science doesn’t seem likely to settle this particular sex-difference question.

“Women in science have been pushing back the tide of claims about women’s lack of interest and ability in STEM for decades,” reads a write-up of one of those commentaries by two of its co-authors, published in Slate. The authors, Meredith Reiches, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and Sarah S. Richardson, professor of the history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard University, added, “The work continues today. As we see it, the so-called gender equality paradox is a new entry in an old playbook of arguing that biological sex differences, not social inequalities, drive the gender disparities we see in areas such as STEM.”

“A little digging,” they said, “shows that the paradox is the product not of innate sex differences in STEM interest, but the use of contrived measures and selective data to tell a particular story.”

By a “little digging,” Reiches and Richardson were referring to the work they did to challenge the 2018 “paradox” paper, which was written by David C. Geary, Curators’ Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia, and Gijsbert Stoet, professor of psychology at the University of Essex in Britain.

Geary and Stoet analyzed international data on adolescent achievement and found that girls performed similarly to or better than boys in science in two of every three countries, and that in nearly all countries studied, more girls “appeared capable of college-level STEM study than had enrolled.” The gap between boys’ science achievement and girls’ reading achievement relative to their average academic performance was “near universal,” the pair also found, and “these sex differences in academic strengths and attitudes toward science correlated with the STEM graduation gap.” 

"Paradoxically,” they said, “the sex differences in the magnitude of relative academic strengths and pursuit of STEM degrees rose with increases in national gender equality.” 

An advanced analysis suggested that “life-quality pressures in less gender-equal countries promote girls’ and women’s engagement with STEM subjects.”

In other words, a desire for equality -- not innate interest -- drives women toward STEM where women are considered less equal. Where women enjoy relative equality, they are less motivated to study STEM. So all things being equal, women are less interested in studying STEM.

As the study caught media and other public attention, and because it conflicted with much of their own research about historical biases and other barriers against women in STEM, Reiches, Richardson and their colleagues at Harvard’s GenderSci Lab looked into the numbers.

As Reiches and Richardson wrote in Slate, they tried the replicate the findings. "But their numbers didn’t add up. For example, in Poland, 43.63 percent of STEM graduates are women, which would place it fifth for representation of women in STEM out of the 45 countries included in Stoet and Geary’s analysis. Yet Stoet and Geary reported a value of 26.9 percent, ranking Poland 20th. Why?” Stoet and Geary “weren’t looking at ‘women’s share of STEM degrees,’ as they had claimed, at all.”

Reiches and Richardson highlight the case of Algeria as an example, saying that there, “53 percent of STEM graduates are women. Still, only 9 percent of women college graduates choose a degree in STEM, compared with 13 percent of men. Stoet and Geary had claimed that they were reporting the 53 percent number, but they were actually focusing on the statistic that men were receiving degrees in STEM at a higher rate.”

The publishing journal, Psychological Science, eventually got involved. Geary and Stoet said they’d been using a different measure of representation, but that their results were still valid.

In a 2019 corrigendum, specifically, Geary and Stoet wrote that women graduates throughout their study had been “ambiguously formulated.” They also introduce the concept of women’s and men’s “propensity” to graduate with a college degree in STEM. That “propensity,” they wrote, can be “interpreted as the percentage of women in STEM when equal numbers of men and women enroll at university.”

Reiches and Richardson responded that “propensity” is a flimsy way of updating the aptitude argument that was popular among gender hardliners 20 years ago (e.g., boys are innately better at quantitative work than girls). Moreover, they say, “correlations between women’s STEM degrees and nation-level gender equality don’t stand up when parts of the equation -- how we measure women’s STEM achievement and how we measure gender equality -- are changed.”

Referring to their own commentary in Psychological Science, Reiches and Richardson wrote that “when we tested the correlation between women’s STEM degrees and Stoet and Geary’s own 2019 proposed alternative gender-equality index, a separate index that includes basic measures of well-being such as health, education, and life satisfaction, there was no paradox to be found.”

They further cautioned against using national-level data such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index as a measure of gender equality. For instance, they said, Rwanda ranked sixth in the world on the 2015 index due to high representation of women in economic and political life. But that is more a reflection of post-genocide sex ratio imbalances than any campaign to increase women’s empowerment.

Call and Response

Geary said Thursday via email that his original data were not misleading, despite the correction. In any case, he said, “We focused on the expectancy-value theory, whereby people make educational and occupational choices based on their relative strengths (e.g., whether they are relatively better in reading than math, independent of absolute performance) and interests.”

Accordingly, he continued, “we focused on the percent of all women (and men) who go into STEM and its relation to their academic strengths and interests, as we explain in our clarification.”

Geary also said that he and Stoet “focused on inorganic STEM fields (e.g., computer science) because this is the focus of much debate.” Looking at STEM broadly, he said, including the life sciences, “the balance of men and women is more equal, because many science-oriented women are pursuing careers in the life sciences (e.g., medicine).”

The 2018 study notes that women are underrepresented in inorganic fields. But it says it considered UNESCO data from 2012 to 2015 on graduates in the natural sciences, mathematics, statistics, information and communication technologies, engineering, manufacturing and construction. And UNESCO considers the life sciences to be part of the natural sciences. 

In any case, the study cites Finland, for example, which “excels in gender equality,” and where “adolescent girls outperform boys in science literacy” and students perform well over all.

“With these high levels of educational performance and overall gender equality,” the paper says, “Finland is poised to close the STEM gender gap. Yet, paradoxically, Finland has one of the world’s largest gender gaps in college degrees in STEM fields, and Norway and Sweden, also leading in gender-equality rankings, are not far behind,” with fewer than 25 percent of STEM graduates being women.

Geary and Stoet don’t back down in their reply to the GenderSci lab’s commentary (again, both commentaries were published this week in Psychological Science).

“We hypothesize that men are more likely than women to enter STEM careers because of endogenous interests,” Geary and Stoet wrote. “Societal conditions can change the degree to which exogenous interests influence STEM careers (e.g., the possibilities of STEM careers to satisfy socio-economic needs). But when there is an equal playing field and studying STEM is just as useful (balancing income and career satisfaction) as a degree in other areas, people are better able to pursue their interests and not simply their future economic needs.”

This means then “that the relatively large sex differences in occupational interests become more clearly expressed in countries where occupational choices are less constrained by the financial incentives to study a STEM subject. We are optimistic that future studies will help to confirm or reject such a theoretical account.”

As Richardson, Reiches and their team touch on in their critiques, the term “endogenous interests” is loaded in itself. That is, it’s nearly impossible to determine what preferences are truly innate versus shaped by even subtle external forces.

A recent study, for example, found that even men and women who have the same sorts of priorities regarding field of study tend to choose different majors. Specifically, men’s choices in major were linked to higher-paying prospective jobs: men who prioritized wanting to help people via their majors, for instance, were more likely to choose biology, a premedicine field, whereas women who wanted to help people were more likely to choose nursing.

The study theorized that efforts to engage women in certain fields may not work until their cultures become more welcoming and thus change women’s expectations about what jobs are truly open to them.

The author of that study, Natasha Quadlin, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Ohio, said the debate is much more complicated than women being “less interested” in STEM than men.

“My research, and many other social scientists’ research, shows that women face many more barriers than men when it comes to STEM majors and careers,” she said, “from subtle messages that women are not capable of performing in STEM, to expectations that they will face barriers in the workplace.”

Put another way, said Quadlin, “it’s not really that women are uninterested in STEM -- they may just be uninterested in the challenges STEM may impose in their broader lives.”

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Public universities in several states are required to buy from prison industries

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

Office furniture at the University of Virginia is made in prisons. So is some of the furniture at George Mason University and the University of Mary Washington.

That’s because public universities in Virginia are required to buy from Virginia Correctional Enterprises, a state-owned company that employs inmates in state prisons. About 1,300 inmates participate in the work in Virginia, and other state agencies are also required to get their furniture from VCE.

Every U.S. state except Alaska features some sort of correctional enterprise, where inmates make goods like license plates and desk chairs. And in several states, public universities are required to buy from those entities.

For example, all campuses of the University of Wisconsin system are required to purchase products from Badger State Industries, Wisconsin’s prison-labor company. The University System of Maryland and the State University of New York system are required to use their state’s correctional enterprise as a “preferred source” along with state industries that employ the blind. Furniture is one of the most popular correctional enterprises products. At Mary Washington, VCE has partnered with the administration to create a furniture showroom.

(In all of the above cases, the university is permitted to purchase a product elsewhere if the state's correctional industry can’t meet product requirements. The process requires a release waiver.)

In some states, universities are not legally obligated to purchase from their correctional industries but do so anyway. In California, universities are exempt from purchasing requirements but still buy from CALPIA, the California correctional company, a sales rep said. That business is growing.

Supporters of correctional industries say holding a job in prison gives inmates stimulation, wages and skills for re-entry.

"We have been more than satisfied with the products and services offered by these organizations and support both the mission and the second chance they provide to so many in our state," a spokesperson for the University System of Maryland said via email.

Some activists call the process exploitative.

According to a study by the Prison Policy Initiative, Virginia pays inmates between $0.55 and $0.80 per hour for their work. Across the country, the average imprisoned employee of a correctional industry made between $0.33 and $1.41 per hour. Advocates note that prices for simple goods in prison, like hygiene products or calls to family, are often not fairly pegged to wages. For example, a call to family often can cost the equivalent of a day’s work. Corrections officials typically note that wages are so low because they’re garnished for fees like room and board and debts like child support.

In a handful of states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas, inmates may be paid nothing at all.

Inmate employees are also not offered protections that are standard outside prison, like the right to organize or negotiate for better working conditions.

A Seattle Times investigation found that the enterprise in that state charged excessive prices for prefabricated furniture that inmates only unboxed. The company was also found to be competing unfairly with local businesses that paid workers minimum wage.

The issue is complicated, said Marc Howard, director of the Prison and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University and a prison-reform advocate. Low wages can be exploitative and should be addressed, he said, but ending prison labor across the board is not a solution.

“What you wind up doing is taking people out of work that they actually want to do, that they find fulfilling, that gives them a structure, that prepares them for re-entry,” he said. “Having talked to many people in prison who work, they want to have work and they seek it out, and there are often long waiting lists.”

Boycott Campaigns and Tough Questions

Some prison abolitionists have said that labor and economic exploitation are not the most pressing problems for most inmates. Instead, they point to the lack of freedom and stimulation.

Even so, students in some cases have agitated for removing prison labor from a university supply chain.

At the University of Washington, dorm furniture is made by inmates in Washington prisons. A movement led by UW United Students Against Sweatshops has demanded the university cut its ties with corrections.

“It’s time for the University of Washington to acknowledge its role in the prison industrial complex and realign its practices to put communities over profit,” the student group wrote in a letter, also signed by professors, union leaders and supporting student groups. “We demand that the University of Washington subsequently amends the Supplier Code of Conduct, banning the purchase of furniture from any company that utilizes the labor of incarcerated workers.”

UW president Ana Mari Cauce has said that although the university is not legally obligated to purchase from CI -- Washington’s correctional industry -- it is required to abide by state bid processes.

“At the time that we put out the purchase for bid, we received three responses. Our initial first choice, which was not CI, went out of business shortly after we accepted their bid, leaving us with only two choices,” Cauce wrote in a letter to students in October. “One was CI, the other was a corporation in Southeast Asia that we believed did not comply with of our code and would not allow for review of the conditions of their factory. Consequently, we were left with only one bidder (CI) who could provide the furniture in time for students to move in.”

Cauce said she believes too many people are imprisoned and mass incarceration is a problem -- the U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any other nation. But she feels work in prison can be rehabilitative and does more good than harm.

“It is not clear to me that eliminating such programs entirely are the best option,” Cauce wrote in the letter. “An alternative approach might be to lobby for having incarcerated workers receive local, state or federal minimum wage.”

UW United Students Against Sweatshops started a petition last month to continue demanding change.

Howard said boycotting correctional industries products may not be immediately beneficial for inmates.

“If the outcome of a boycott is we just cut those jobs altogether and then we just warehouse people even more than we do, then that’s not a good outcome,” Howard said. A boycott specifically to pressure corrections officials to raise wages could be more beneficial, he said.

“What we’ve done in this country for decades of dehumanizing people has been an utter failure for everyone,” Howard said. “Understanding [inmates'] humanity and recognizing and supporting people is really the main part of the solution.”

The University of Virginia, George Mason University and the University of Wisconsin did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

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German research institution offers cash for null results

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

A German research institute is offering scientists a 1,000-euro ($1,091) bonus if they publish null results or a replication study as part of its bid to reshape academic incentives.

The unusual offer made to the Berlin Institute of Health’s 7,000 researchers is part of a program to boost research transparency and confidence in science amid international concerns that the pressure to produce positive experimental results that are more likely to be published by leading journals drives some scientists to manipulate data.

The institute, which combines the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin university hospital and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, is also offering the €1,000 bonus if researchers publish a preregistered preclinical study or a paper that reuses data previously published by others.

There are also financial incentives available for scholars who publish their experiments’ raw data. Some might be disappointed to learn, however, that the money goes toward a scientist’s research funds rather than into their personal bank account.

Ulrich Dirnagl, director of Charité’s department of experimental neurology, told Times Higher Education that the bonuses -- which have been awarded over the past two years -- had sparked useful debate about research integrity.

“You cannot do major research with €1,000, but it might help a student travel to a research conference,” said Dirnagl, who is the founding director of the Quest (Quality, Ethics, Open Science and Translation) Center for Transforming Biomedical Research.

“It is mainly a way to start a conversation about the topic.”

While scientists are invited to apply for the bonuses and “normally get them,” the institute has also recently been seeking out good practice to reward, Dirnagl said.

“We have been mining the publication records of our researchers, pulling out papers where open data has been provided and giving them the money,” he said.

Such incentives helped to “complement” Germany’s more traditional “performance-oriented system,” in which journal impact factors and the ability to attract third-party funding were prized by promotion and hiring panels, Dirnagl explained.

“Since we are not convinced this is the best way of doing things, we wanted to think how to complement this structure with rewards that are individually based,” he said.

Those who accrue several bonuses could find they gain “quite a nice supplement to their research funds,” Dirnagl added.

The Berlin institute has also applied the same principles to its promotion practices, with those applying for a professorial post having to outline how they have encouraged responsible science.

Applicants must describe their top five research papers without naming the publication in which they appeared, a move that seeks to combat overreliance on journal reputation and to encourage engagement with the substance of the work.

“We are trying to nudge the process to get them to consider different factors and ideas,” said Dirnagl. “We are perhaps rewarding things that should be normal process, but it needs to be done.

“We hope this program can provide a model for widespread adoption by other research institutions globally.”

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Chronicle of Higher Education: ‘Moving the Goalposts’: What You Need to Know About DeVos’s Closer Scrutiny of Foreign Gifts

In the letters, the department appeared to urge a thorough accounting of all programs, activities, and people funded with money from foreign entities — no matter how small.

Chronicle of Higher Education: Therapy for the Snapchat Generation

A few years ago, colleges used it as a screening tool, if at all. But for the digital natives, counseling by phone or laptop feels natural.

Jo Johnson named on ApplyBoard advisory board

The PIE News - Thu, 02/13/2020 - 11:04

Jo Johnson, younger brother of UK prime minister Boris Johnson, has been appointed as the advisory board chairman of the Canadian student recruitment platform ApplyBoard

Johnson, who was formerly minister of state for universities, science, research, and innovation in the UK government, is already putting together an advisory board for the company. 

“[Jo Johnson] has an incredible history when it comes to education”

Ontario-based ApplyBoard claims to have become the world’s largest online platform for international student recruitment, assisting more than 80,000 students. 

In 2019, it was named the fastest-growing technology company in Canada by Deloitte, ranking number one on the Technology Fast 50™ list.

“[Jo Johnson] has an incredible history when it comes to education,” said Hannah Cameron, manager of marketing and communications for ApplyBoard. 

“Not only as the minister of state for universities, science and innovation but he’s also a fellow at King’s College and Harvard.”

Cameron told The PIE that ApplyBoard was initially attracted to working with Johnson because of his advocacy for the UK’s new post-study work rights. 

“He’s spoken a lot about how much he believes international students positively impact your cities, your wealth, your jobs and that is something that we are so adamantly talking about here in Canada. 

“We’re trying to help people overcome their stigmas, mainly around international students, and why they are great for an economy.” 

In 2019, ApplyBoard secured C$55 million in Series B funding as part of a bid to fuel growth and market expansion.

It’s growth has been rapid. Founded in 2015 by brothers Martin, Meti, and Massi Basiri, ApplyBoard has built partnerships with over 1,200 primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools. 

The company works with 3,500+ recruitment partners and has a team of more than 370, with staff in more than 20 other countries including India, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Nepal and Bangladesh. 

“As the chairman the first thing he has been tasked with is building the advisory board. He’s finding the best and brightest people to come and join us, to help the growth and direction of ApplyBoard.

“We need to make sure as we scale very fast, we are getting the best support,” she said. 

“I am excited to be joining Canada’s fastest-growing technology company, that is bringing higher education within reach of millions around the world,” said Johnson.

“ApplyBoard is lowering barriers to the transformational benefits education brings, and I can’t wait to help the Basiri brothers, and talented team at ApplyBoard write the next chapter in their incredible story.”

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“What is Peronism?”

Economist, North America - Thu, 02/13/2020 - 08:56

ON FEBRUARY 3RD Argentina’s new Peronist president, Alberto Fernández, joined Angela Merkel for dinner at the German chancellery in Berlin. According to press reports, Mrs Merkel asked her guest a question: “What is Peronism? I don’t understand. Are you on the left or the right?” Bello imagines a conversation that might have followed.

Mr Fernández laughed. He was used to foreigners not knowing much about Argentina besides Evita, tango and hyperinflation. But something about Mrs Merkel suggested that she was only feigning ignorance. “Let me explain,” said Mr Fernández cautiously. “First of all, we’re not populists. That was an invention of Mauricio Macri, my neo-liberal predecessor. We don’t just stir up the masses.”

“Really?” asked Mrs Merkel, sounding unconvinced.

“Really. I’m a social democrat,” the president insisted. “The base of Peronism is the trade unions and the poor, whom we always look after. But we also have the industrialists behind us. They liked General Juan Perón’s protectionism 75 years ago and they like it today. And we have the pope.”

“As always, Perón himself put it best,” Mr Fernández continued. “In 1972 he told a journalist: ‘Look, in Argentina, 30% are Radicals…30% are conservatives and a similar amount Socialists.’ ‘So where are the Peronists?’ asked the journalist. ‘Ah,’ replied...

El Salvador’s president summons the army to bully congress

Economist, North America - Thu, 02/13/2020 - 08:56

NAYIB BUKELE, the president of El Salvador, draws notice outside his country for his youth, his jet-black beard and his mastery of social media. Now his authoritarianism is a trending topic. The sight of Mr Bukele entering the National Assembly on February 9th, alongside soldiers toting machine guns, shocked onlookers at home and abroad. He plonked himself in the empty chair reserved for the president of congress. “I liked seeing those empty seats,” he tweeted. “It made it easier for me to imagine them full of honest people who work for the people.”

Congress accused the president of staging an “attempted coup”. The Constitutional Court rebuked Mr Bukele. El Faro, a Salvadorean news website, called his stunt “the lowest moment that Salvadorean democracy has lived in three decades”. He retorted, not very reassuringly, “If I were a dictator, I would have taken control of everything.”

Eight months into his presidency Mr Bukele, who at 38 is the world’s second-youngest head of state, has an approval rating of 90%. But his left-leaning New Ideas party, founded in 2018, has not had a chance to win seats in congress. The legislature is dominated by two parties: the left-wing FMLN, the successor to a guerrilla movement that fought a decade-long civil war in the 1980s, and the right-wing Arena party, which...

Canada ponders a federal programme for pharmaceuticals

Economist, North America - Thu, 02/13/2020 - 08:56

IN JULY Bernie Sanders hopped on a bus in Detroit with some Americans who have diabetes. They rode across the Canadian border to buy insulin at a tenth of the price they would pay at home. For Mr Sanders, who won the New Hampshire primary on February 11th, joining an “insulin caravan” had obvious appeal. He promises “Medicare for all”, suggesting that every American should enjoy the lavish public health spending that the elderly receive. He praises Canada for its tough negotiations with drug firms. “We should be doing what the Canadians do,” he declared.

Canadians have their doubts. Canada’s pharmaceutical prices are 25% higher than the average in the OECD, a club of 36 mainly rich countries. American prices are higher still, largely because the United States has powerful drug firms, no price-setting regulator and lots of citizens who receive health insurance through their employers and have little idea how much it costs. Unlike Canada, the United States also lets drugmakers advertise directly to consumers. As a share of GDP, Canada’s pharmaceutical spending is the fifth-highest in the OECD (see chart).

It is the only country with publicly financed universal health care that does not provide universal coverage for prescription drugs. A fifth of Canadians have no drug insurance. Nearly 1m say they spend less on food or...

Academix agency announces sister company

The PIE News - Thu, 02/13/2020 - 06:47

Turkey-based education agency Academix has announced a sister company – Next Study Abroad – that will focus on Eastern Europe study destinations.

Announced during Academix’s Agent Training and Workshop in Istanbul in January, the new agency will focus on sending students to countries including the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, as well as traditional study destinations.

“Demand for East Europe is rapidly increasing”

According to branch manager at Academix’s Taksim Office in Istanbul Selçuk Atmaca, Academix – which expanded to Iran and Azerbaijan in 2019 – covers many locations globally.

The new company has been created due to the rising demand for Eastern Europe.

“Demand for East Europe is rapidly increasing as they provide more achievable entrance requirements and lower fees than major countries,” he told The PIE News.

“They are also much closer to Turkey in terms of the distance concern.”

By having a new team, Next Study Abroad will ensure its agents are “experts” in the Eastern European study abroad market, he added.

Like Academix, Next will also offer language and junior courses, undergrad and postgrad degrees and VET programs in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Ireland, as well as other popular language destinations for Turkish students.

Next Study Abroad will operate out of Besiktas, in Istanbul.

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Study Group acquires edtech platform, Insendi

The PIE News - Thu, 02/13/2020 - 06:04

Study Group is to acquire learning experience platform developer Insendi in what is seen by the provider as a significant opportunity for business growth in online, blended and international education.

Founded by staff from the Edtech Lab at Imperial College London, Insendi provides a learning experience platform and expertise in course development, staff training and consultancy to its university partners.

“Our shared view is that these technologies are increasingly important to students and teachers”

Insendi will operate as a separate company within Study Group to retain its focus on innovation in online higher education, while Study Group will also work closely with Insendi to develop its online student support and bespoke provision in the years to come.

The move has been described as an opportunity to enhance Study Group’s position as a leading provider of international education in an area of growing importance to students and universities.

Chief executive of Study Group, Emma Lancaster, said the provider is delighted to welcome Insendi to the Study Group family.

“I have been deeply impressed by the team’s technical credentials as a company which grew out of their work at Imperial College and their focus on engaging higher education learning using their platform,” Lancaster said.

“Together with Study Group’s 25 years of experience of working with university partners and helping international students succeed, we see significant opportunities,” she added.

Director and co-founder of Insendi, David LeFevre – also the director of the EdTech Lab at Imperial College – echoed Lancaster’s sentiments, adding that it was important for Insendi to maintain its own “unique identity and reputation”.

“Together we see genuine complementary strengths and a real potential for business growth in the future.”

LeFevre said that increasingly, the teaching and support of students draw on the breakthrough technologies that are impacting our society.

“Our shared view is that these technologies are increasingly important to students and teachers and they will play a pivotal role in the future as international education addresses questions of access, resilience and environmental sustainability.

“We are excited about exploring these possibilities,” he added.

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US HEIs welcome ruling over int’l student “unlawful presence” policy

The PIE News - Thu, 02/13/2020 - 05:17

Educators in the US have welcomed a ruling by a federal court judge that permanently blocks a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services policy which put international students at risk of three and 10-year re-entry bans for incurring a visa status violation.

Concerns were raised upon the introduction of the 2018 policy memo that it put international students at risk of being deported or barred due to clerical errors or delays in visa processing because it allowed the backdating of “unlawful presence” from the moment the violation occurred.

“It was a complex and unnecessary policy change that was deeply concerning”

Previously, unlawful presence was calculated from the day after a student was informed that USCIS had formally found a violation, and students were able to make corrections and request adjustments without risking accruing more unlawful presence.

Once an individual accrues 180 days of unlawful presence they can be barred from the US for three years, and a 10-year ban is levied after more than one year of unlawful presence.

The government said the changes were introduced due to “significant progress in its ability to identify and calculate the number of nonimmigrants who have failed to maintain status” through mechanisms such as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.

But Heather Stewart, counsel and director of immigration policy for NAFSA, told The PIE News that “it was a complex and unnecessary policy change that was deeply concerning”, and would have resulted in students being penalised without even realising they were violating their immigration status.

“This was an attempt to change a long-standing policy applied to international students when they were notified of an alleged violation of their immigration status,” Stewart added.

Upon the announcement that US District Court judge Loretta Biggs had ruled that the language of the policy conflicted with the law, education organisations and institutes across the country responded positively.

“International students and scholars came to the United States to study relying on a promise that our nation made to treat them fairly and transparently,” said Haverford College’s president Wendy Raymond in a statement.

“I laud and commend judge Biggs’ decision for the certainty and stability that it brings for our students”

“The administration’s unlawful presence policy belied that promise, placing our students at risk of serious immigration consequences. I laud and commend judge Biggs’ decision for the certainty and stability that it brings for our students and campuses.”

Haverford College was one of a group of more than 60 institutions that launched a legal challenge against the policy soon after its release on that grounds that it “introduce[d] considerable uncertainty into the calculation of unlawful presence and needlessly exposes international students to devastating re-entry bans”.

The group explained that students and exchange visitors can fall out-of-status due to unwitting clerical and technical errors, “often of someone else’s making”.

It argued that “in many cases, the infraction will not be discovered… until the individual reapplies for another immigration benefit, such as an optional practical training allowance or an H-1B visa”.

Biggs later issued a preliminary injunction against the policy, followed by the permanent one earlier this month.

“Given the statuses identified in the memo, students and exchange visitors in higher education were being directly targeted by the new policy,” Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, told The PIE.

“On campuses across the country, international advisers began struggling with how to present this new reality without creating fear and confusion.”

Although Feldblum said that due to the speed with which the injunction was brought in she doesn’t know of any specific cases were students or scholars were deported under the policy, educational organisations and providers had to adapt their visa advice for students.

“We urge the administration to not appeal this decision and instead recommit to restoring our nation’s competitiveness in regards to international students,” added Jane Fernandes, president of Guilford College.

“We urge the administration to not appeal this decision”

USCIS told The PIE it was currently reviewing the court’s decision.

But even if USCIS choose not to appeal, further changes to immigration policy will likely continue to affect international students.

According to a report by Forbes, one upcoming policy is seeking to replace students’ “duration of status” with a “maximum period of authorised stay”.

This would “require them to gain new approvals at each stage of their studies in the US, such as a transition from an undergraduate to a graduate-level program” and “new approvals also would be needed if academic programs take longer than anticipated”.

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100K Australia-bound Chinese hit by extended travel ban

The PIE News - Thu, 02/13/2020 - 04:48

Australia is bracing for more disruption with an extension of the travel ban from mainland China announced for a further week by PM Scott Morrison – and concerns are also surfacing about visa applications in the pipeline, according to chair of the global reputation taskforce, Phil Honeywood.

The taskforce – a panel of council of universities and education providers – have met with education minister Dan Tehan and trade minister Simon Birmingham to discuss how they can limit the impact on the AUS$38 billion dollar industry.

In excess of 100,000 international students remain stranded offshore after the Australian government banned foreign nationals entering from China for 14 days from February 1 in an effort to minimise the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Orientation week for many Australian universities commences on February 24.

“We’re pleased that the Chinese government has agreed to relax its internet restrictions to allow students who are banned from entering Australia to commence their studies online,” Honeywood told The PIE.

“This is something that hasn’t been easy to achieve in the past so we welcome the move.” Online study has been suggested as an interim measure to ensure Chinese students can start programs as planned remotely.

Honeywood said learning options, regulatory flexibility and student visas were major discussion points – but also flagged up concerns around a visa issuance freeze while the coronavirus crisis continues.

“It appears no student visas have been issued since the travel ban”

“It appears no student visas have been issued since the travel ban started on February 1,” he said. “There is no logistical reason for this and we’re in negotiation with the federal government to lift the visa approval freeze.”

Hardest hit by the travel ban is the “Group of Eight” – which comprises Australia’s leading research-intensive universities. Chief executive of the Go8, Vicki Thompson, said they account for 63% of enrolments from Chinese nationals studying in Australia.

“Given the Go8’s exposure, it can be deduced that most of these students [who are stranded] are ours. This is potentially a financial hit estimated by S&P Global at up to AUS$3 billion for all universities.”

The economic impact isn’t contained to just the higher education sector, with Thompson quoting a recent London Economics study showing that for every three international students studying at a Go8 university, the broader economic impact for Australia is a positive $1m.

Regulatory bodies TEQSA and ASQA are promising maximum flexibility on a provider to provider level around start dates, online learning and other options for students.

“With the support of these bodies, universities have been able to put in place a range of measures,” said Honeywood.

Monash [the country’s biggest university] has pushed back the commencement of semester 1 for all students, while the University of New South Wales is offering to roll enrolments over from its first to second trimester and Australian National University (ANU) has announced a special winter semester.”

The Global Reputation Taskforce acknowledged that once the travel bans have been lifted and Chinese students start returning to campuses, there will be longer term issues to deal with.

“We’re looking to ensure all things such as deferment fees, additional visa fees and post study work right visas are facilitated in a way that doesn’t disadvantage the students,” said Honeywood. “We’re pleased to see the government has an appetite for providing this type of regulatory fee support.”

“We need to let them know, that we care, that their health and mental wellbeing are important to us”

Individual student welfare is also a focus for the taskforce. “In addition to practicalities including student housing availability, we also need to ensure these students are supported,” said Honeywood.

“We need to let them know, that we care, that their health and mental wellbeing are important to us and that Australia is still an attractive and welcoming place.”

Other prominent stakeholders echoed this, with the premier of Western Australia calling out reported racist behaviour as ‘disgraceful and un-Australian’.

StudyPerth said now was the time to rally behind communities that are feeling the effects of the outbreak and extend a helping hand.

Phil Payne, CEO at StudyPerth, commented, “I feel particularly for the thousands of Chinese students who have been prevented from commencing or resuming their studies in Western Australia.

“I look forward to an early resolution of this outbreak, and a lifting of the travel restrictions, so we can welcome these students with open arms into the Western Australian community.”

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