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Chronicle of Higher Education: What Happens When You Give Students Control of the Syllabus?

These professors wanted to get students more engaged in class. So they asked them to help decide what they were going to learn.

Brazilian prosecutors go after Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist

Economist, North America - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 08:57

LAST JUNE the Intercept, a news site, published hacked messages that showed improper collaboration between Brazilian prosecutors and judges conducting the anti-corruption investigation known as Lava Jato (Car Wash). The leaks tarnished the image of Sergio Moro, the justice minister, who had been the judge in charge. They enraged Brazil’s nationalist president, Jair Bolsonaro, whose election in 2018 owed much to anger about corruption.

On January 21st prosecutors filed charges against Glenn Greenwald (pictured), a co-founder of the Intercept. They accused him of belonging to a “criminal organisation” that hacked the mobile phones of members of the Lava Jato task-force. The judge overseeing the case may throw out the charges. Even so, they raise questions about how free the press will be in Mr Bolsonaro’s Brazil and whether prosecutors will act independently.

Mr Greenwald, an American, became famous by helping publish Edward Snowden’s leaks of information from the United States’ National Security Agency. In July Mr Bolsonaro suggested that Mr Greenwald might “do jail time” for his Lava Jato revelations, and accused him of marrying his Brazilian husband to avoid deportation. That month, after a rumour surfaced that investigators were scrutinising Mr Greenwald’s bank accounts, a supreme-court judge barred the authorities...

Learning from Carlos Denegri, a crooked Mexican newsman

Economist, North America - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 08:57

IN 1939 CARLOS DENEGRI, a young reporter, investigated a murder by gunmen working for Maximino Ávila Camacho, the governor of the state of Puebla and brother of the next president of Mexico. Denegri delivered a detailed account of Ávila’s crimes to the editor of Excélsior, the country’s most important newspaper. The editor did not publish it, explaining that the governor was a source of much paid advertising. “In this business we don’t only sell information and advertising space: above all, we sell silence,” he went on. Denegri quickly lost his idealism, and accepted a monthly stipend from the governor “for publicity and information services”.

These imagined words provide Enrique Serna, a Mexican writer, with the title of his new novel, El vendedor de silencio (“The Merchant of Silence”), a semi-fictionalised biography of Denegri, the country’s most prominent journalist from the 1940s to the 1960s and once named by the Associated Press as one of the ten most influential reporters in the world. Mr Serna offers a rich account of the incestuous relationship between politics and the media and the machismo and impunity that lay at the heart of the authoritarian rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed for seven decades...

The current calm in Bolivia is fragile

Economist, North America - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 08:57

ON A RECENT afternoon, workmen were repairing the wall around the Senkata gas plant in El Alto, a working-class city in the mountains above La Paz, Bolivia’s administrative capital. Backers of Evo Morales, the left-wing president who quit on November 10th, had blocked lorries from leaving the plant and knocked down the wall. On November 19th soldiers opened fire, killing ten people. Fresh paint now covers much of the rebuilt wall, but one mural remains from the chaotic presidential campaign that preceded Mr Morales’s resignation: his face and the word estabilidad (stability) in big capital letters. Restoring that to Bolivia will involve much more than fixing the wall. “The country is coming out of shock,” says Milenka García, a vice-president of El Alto’s neighbourhood association (Fejuve) who represents District 8, an area of cinder-block homes and dusty streets that includes the gas plant.

The crisis began on October 20th, when Mr Morales, who became Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2006, tried to rig his re-election, sparking protests across the country. He fled to Mexico after losing the support of the police and the army, saying he had been toppled in a coup. His supporters set fire to buses and the homes of politicians and journalists who had criticised him. Opposition protesters burned the...

Canada: int’l grad & Canadian counterpart pay gap narrows over time

The PIE News - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 05:04

International students who remain in Canada earn between 17% and 38% less than Canadian graduates one year after graduation, a report has found. However, the salary gap appears to narrow over time as international graduates remain in the country.

“The most commonly cited challenges of respondents when approaching the labour market were that they lacked work experience”

According to the Labour Market Information Council’s ‘How Much Do They Make?’ report, international students graduating in 2010 and finding work in Canada earned 21% – on average CAD$9,000 – less than Canadian graduates one year following graduation.

However, the earnings differential shrinks over time, to reach 9% ($5,300) after five years, according to the report.

The difference in earnings is by far the greatest at the master’s level, where international graduates earn $25,700 (or 38%) less than Canadian graduates in the first year, with this gap narrowing to $16,800 (or 20%) five years after graduation.

A 2019 Statistics Canada report also found that international graduates earn less than Canadian peers with similar educational background six years after graduation.

But when field of study is taken into account, there were some surprising findings.

Analysing all college and university graduates from publicly-funded Canadian post-secondary institutions from 2010-2014, the LMIC report noted that international graduates of mathematics, computer and information sciences, and health and related fields masters courses tended to earn more than Canadian graduates.

After five years following graduation, maths and information technology international masters graduates earned 7.8% more ($5,800), while health graduates were earning 6.0% more ($4,600).

This was starkly contrasted to business, management and public administration, and education masters graduates, who were earning 35.5% ($37,800) and 40.0% ($32,400) less than Canadian graduates.

International student and graduate employability is becoming an increasingly important issue within the Canadian sector, according to Larissa Bezo CBIE president and chief executive officer.

Students from overseas may be disadvantaged due to not having the same work rights as their Canadian counterparts while they study, she explained.

“International students may be less likely than Canadian students to combine school and work because of the work restrictions imposed by their study work permits which determine how much time a student can commit to working while studying,” she told The PIE News.

A 2018 CBIE survey found that 57% of the students surveyed were unemployed, with 56% claiming they were having difficulty finding work.

“The most commonly cited challenges of respondents when approaching the labour market were that they lacked work experience, followed by not finding appropriate jobs for their skill sets, and finally struggling to fit employment into their study schedule,” Bezo said.

“International student and graduate employability is becoming an increasingly important issue”

“At present, there is considerable effort being undertaken by Canadian post-secondary institutions to ensure that they have support and mechanisms in place to help international students achieve successful employability outcomes,” she added.

International students can join co-op programs available within their institutions that allow them to gain valuable paid work experience while completing their degrees in Canada, according to the CBIE president.

Those co-op opportunities can also encompass international opportunities in some instances, she said.

“CBIE will be administering the next wave of its international student survey in 2020 and looks forward to gaining further insights into barriers and opportunities related to international student and graduate employability later this year.”

The post Canada: int’l grad & Canadian counterpart pay gap narrows over time appeared first on The PIE News.

Korean MoE sends delegation to Scotland

The PIE News - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 03:08

A group of 10 delegates selected by the Korean Ministry of Education travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland recently for a three-day ‘Understanding Social Enterprise’ program, aimed at strengthening social enterprise links between Scotland and South Korea.

The program is supporting specially-selected educators from across South Korea to learn about social enterprise approaches and the ecosystem in Scotland.

“This program will allow educators to deepen their understanding of social entrepreneurship”

The visit was arranged by Kickstart Investment in partnership with the Social Enterprise Academy and was supported by the Korea Entrepreneurship Foundation and the Korea Development Bank Foundation.

As part of the program, delegates visited local social enterprises in Edinburgh, taking part in social enterprise tours, learning sessions and Q&A sessions.

Delegates also learned about the social enterprise support ecosystem in Scotland and explored how they might use this learning in their own context in South Korea.

“Scotland has an attractive ecosystem for social enterprise, with the Social Enterprise Academy enabling social enterprises all over the world to learn from the Scottish context,” said Taeje Park from Kickstart Investment.

“We have many social enterprises in Korea, but this program will allow educators to deepen their understanding of social entrepreneurship.

“Some of the professors in this group studied in the United States, so it is a chance to compare the entrepreneurship ecosystems for them. The delegates are all entrepreneurship educators, so they will be learning methods and skills to teach social entrepreneurship to people in Korea.”

Senior partnerships officer at the Social Enterprise Academy, Jess Kemp, added: “We are delighted to be supporting this delegation from South Korea.

“It is hugely important for us to facilitate social enterprise learning between partners around the globe, and this programme will allow us to do just that. It’s also a great chance to showcase all the fantastic work being done by our partners within the Scottish Social Enterprise ecosystem.”

The post Korean MoE sends delegation to Scotland appeared first on The PIE News.

Language app Busuu acquires Verbling

The PIE News - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 02:42

Popular language-learning platform Busuu has announced that it has acquired the live video tutoring company Verbling as part of a double-digit million dollar acquisition.

Busuu recently surpassed 100 million users globally, acquiring one new user every three seconds. The company, which reached cash flow break-even last year, plans to generate over $40 million in revenues in 2020, eyeing to go public in the future.

Verbling was founded in San Francisco in 2011 by Swedish co-founders, CEO Mikael Bernstein and CTO Gustav Rydstedt.

 “Offering live video tutoring… is a natural progression for our business”

After attending the Y-Combinator program, Verbling raised over US$4.4million from investors such as Learn Capital, DFJ and Bullpen Capital.

The platform has over 10,000 pre-vetted live teachers and offers interactive 1-1 lessons in nearly 60 different languages.

Bernhard Niesner, co-founder and CEO of Busuu, Bernhard Niesner, said that no matter how smart technology becomes, language will always be about human interaction.

“[This] is exactly why Busuu was built around a learning community,” he said.

 “Offering live video tutoring through our acquisition of Verbling is a natural progression for our business, and gives us the potential to expand beyond just language learning in the future.”

“We are very excited to be joining forces with Busuu’s talented and experienced team,” added Bernstein of Verbling. “Combining our world-class tutors with Busuu’s AI-powered platform will enable language learners across the globe to reach proficiency even faster.”

Following the acquisition, Verbling’s team members, including Bernstein and Rydstedt, will join Busuu.

In addition to its expanded team, Busuu will also open a new office in Madrid, where the company was initially founded in 2008 before moving its headquarters to London in 2012.

Busuu will launch Busuu Live using Verbling’s platform, which will be made available to the company’s 100 million consumer users and 200+ corporate clients in the coming months.

The post Language app Busuu acquires Verbling appeared first on The PIE News.

Texas A&M's beef with Harvard

Inside Higher Ed - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

John Sharp, president of Texas A&M University, on Wednesday took the extraordinary step of sending a public letter of complaint to Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow. At issue is what’s been called an ongoing “food fight” between researchers at both institutions over whether or not it's healthy to eat red meat.

Sharp's letter cites a recent article in JAMA that accuses several Harvard public health researchers of trying to strong-arm another journal into pulling papers questioning longstanding guidance on beef consumption.

As these matters "undermine the values espoused by your institution," they "must be corrected immediately," Sharp wrote to Bacow. Meanwhile he said, “I can assure you that Texas A&M’s research is driven by science. Period.”

Sharp’s note also includes a photo from a recent cardiology conference, supposedly of a graphic used by Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The image accuses Texas A&M and Patrick Stover, a vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences there who co-authored the meat study, of being aligned with "big beef." Rejecting that notion, Sharp told Bacow he hoped to “work together to resolve this problem.” Such a resolution “should include a serious assessment by Harvard” of its affiliation with the True Health Initiative, he said, “and a comprehensive ethical review into any Harvard faculty involved” with it.

True Health is a global, independent organization that seeks to promote healthy lifestyles and eliminate preventable diseases. Willett and his Harvard public health colleague Frank Hu sit on True Health's governing council and are discussed at length in the JAMA piece.

In closing, Sharp said that Texas A&M wants Harvard to “join us for a purely scientific approach to nutrition for the sake of public health and public trust and reject the politics and unethical actions" that "have sought to discredit science and interfere in the scientific process.”

According to JAMA, things got tense around September, when the Annals of Internal Medicine planned to publish a group of articles on beef consumption. You may have heard of them -- they made headlines for suggesting that red meat isn’t all that bad for you. More specifically, they said that the overall evidence linking beef eating to heart and other diseases is overstated to tenuous.

The articles received immediate criticism, including from the past chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee, who called the research “fatally flawed.” Harvard's School of Public Health also released a statement against it, saying that the "new guidelines are not justified as they contradict the evidence generated from their own meta-analyses. Among the five published systematic reviews, three meta-analyses basically confirmed previous findings on red meat and negative health effects." 

The True Health Initiative went a lot farther than that, though, JAMA says. The publication accuses it of purposely breaking the meat papers' embargo and asking that they be censored, purposely flooding the Annals’ editor with complaint emails to the point that she had to shut down her account, and other behaviors unbecoming of academics.

“We’ve published a lot on firearm injury prevention,” Annals editor Christine Laine told JAMA. “The response from the NRA [National Rifle Association] was less vitriolic than the response from the True Health Initiative.”

Laine reportedly added, “It’s really frightening that this group, which includes people like Walter Willett and Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health, which happens to be my alma mater, were aware of this and assisting it.”

Questions about conflict of interest emerged shortly after the meat papers' publication. Speculation centered on the lead researcher, from Dalhousie University in Canada, who responded that he had received funding from an industry trade group in 2015, outside of the three-year disclosure period. The new JAMA article, meanwhile, questions whether any of True Health's industry partners present a conflict of interest and questions the validity of some of the research it promotes. Ultimately, JAMA highlights the fact that nutrition research is notoriously difficult and open to criticism, as it tends to rely on human self-reporting about something as messy as diet over a long period time. Drawing nutritional guidelines from that research is even more difficult, the article points out.

Willett of Harvard said Wednesday that it's important to keep the focus of this story on health. 

Nutrition is complex, he said, "and the perfect study is usually not possible for practical or ethical reasons, in part because disease like cancer, heart disease and dementia develop over many decades." The same applies to other important issues that can't be studied by randomized trials, "such as air pollution, climate change, environmental hazards and environmental chemicals," he added. 

Still, Willett continued, through a combination short-term randomized trials concerning outcomes such as cholesterol levels or blood pressure and long-term observational studies, "we can learn much about aspects of diet that enhance or undermine health." Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard, did not provide immediate comment.

The True Health Initiative did not respond to a comment request. David L. Katz, head of the initiative and founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, is quoted in the JAMA piece as saying that he and his colleagues only circulated the press release about the study prior to the embargo, not the papers themselves. And the initiative is not anti-meat, he said, just pro-science. In a lengthy post to LinkedIn on Wednesday, Katz and Sten H. Vermund, Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health and dean of Yale University's School of Public Health, responded to Sharp's criticisms, arguing that the question shouldn't be why there was opposition to the meat papers, but why there wasn't more opposition to them. Particularly concerning, they say, was some framing of the data as new providing "guidelines" about meat consumption. (Vermund is not associated with True Health.)

A Harvard spokesperson said only that Bacow received Sharp’s letter.

JAMA notes that 44 Farms, a producer of Black Angus cattle, established an endowment within Stover’s unit to support Texas A&M's International Beef Cattle Academy. But the beef industry provides only about 1.5 percent of AgriLife’s funding, Texas A&M says.

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An intelligent argument on race

Inside Higher Ed - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

The journal Philosophical Psychology is taking flak for publishing an article in defense of race-based science on intelligence. The publication’s editors anticipated blowback, writing an accompanying note as to why they approved the piece by Nathan Cofnas, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Oxford. But some critics of the article say that the editors’ note raises as many questions as it attempts to pre-empt, and they want a formal response to their concerns.

Cofnas’s paper “disingenuously argues that the best explanation of differences in IQ scores between racial and ethnic groups is genetics,” reads a petition posted by Mark Alfano, associate professor of philosophy at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and professor of philosophy at Australian Catholic University. In so doing, Cofnas “completely neglects the role played by environmental injustice,” such as documented racial disparities in exposure to lead, housing segregation and other factors.

Calling on the editorial team of Philosophical Psychology to answer in some meaningful way -- perhaps via resignations -- Alfano wrote that philosophers and other scholars should boycott the journal in the interim. The fact that Cofnas’s paper was ever approved shows a fundamental breakdown in the editorial process that must be addressed, he argues.

“If the editors and referees at Philosophical Psychology had competently reviewed the paper, they would have noticed this glaring error and insisted on revisions (or simply rejected the paper),” Alfano wrote. “Instead, it was accepted and published alongside an editors' note defending the decision to publish that refers to the value of free speech and free inquiry.”

While “we also support free speech and free inquiry,” the petition says, “free inquiry should be guided by norms of accuracy and expertise. Indeed, that is the point of academic peer-review.”

In their journal note, editors Cees van Leeuwen, professor of psychology and education sciences at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, and Mitchell Herschbach, lecturer in philosophy at California State University at Northridge, responded at length to the three main criticisms they foresaw: Cofnas’s hereditarian stance that IQ differences between racial groups may be the result of genetics; his flying leap of an assumption that neuroscience and genetics will be unified within “several years”; and his inclusion of highly contested empirical evidence on race and intelligence -- including the work of Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.

Van Leeuwen and Herschbach weigh each point but determine that none disqualifies the paper for publication. As to Cofnas’s fundamental argument that race and IQ may be linked, for example, the editors wrote that many researchers “argue that everyday racial groupings have no biological grounding and that the ancestral populations used in behavioral genetics research have little to do with our socially constructed racial categories.” At the same time, they continued, “biological racial realism certainly has its defenders in the sciences and philosophy.”

Cofnas’s paper “certainly adopts provocative positions on a host of issues related to race, genetics, and IQ,” the note concludes. “However, none of these positions are to be excluded from the current scientific and philosophical debates as long as they are backed up with logical argumentation and empirical evidence,” and they “deserve to be disputed rather than disparaged.”

In and of itself, Cofnas’s article doesn’t break new ground: it mostly cites existing research surrounding race and intelligence, including a large body of work supporting the idea that race is a social construct. But it also discusses what Cofnas describes as another, largely ignored or rejected body of work suggesting otherwise -- that race does matter when it comes to intelligence. His main point is that when (soon, he says) and if (likely, he asserts) advances in science reveal “genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence,” we won’t be ready for it.

In that case, Cofnas warns, “social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences" in intelligence “may fail to achieve their aims. Large swaths of academic work in both the humanities and social sciences assume the truth of environmentalism and are vulnerable to being undermined.”

In a statement this week, the journal’s editors said that Cofnas’s initial submission met the minimum conditions to go through their standard review process. Per normal procedure, they said, two independent reviewers read the paper. Two rounds of revisions followed, as did approval and publication.

In an academic journal such as Philosophical Psychology, van Leeuwen and Herschbach continued, “the role of the editors is to monitor the scholarly adequacy of the reviewing process -- not whether we, or the readership, endorse the values behind the paper.” Readers of our journal, therefore, “get to read papers they may find offensive, or papers by authors whose other statements or behaviors they may find objectionable.”

Addressing Alfano’s concerns about an insufficient discussion of environmental causes of group differences in IQ, Van Leeuwen and Herschbach said that would be relevant if Cofnas’s article had been a review on the most likely causes of the IQ gap. Instead, they said, Cofnas’s focus is to “defend the moral imperative of research into the possible genetic causes of the gap." Given that, "Cofnas attempts to show that the hereditarian thesis is a scientifically serious possibility.”

Precisely because the issue is so complex, van Leeuwen and Herschbach said, “we welcome responses to what is empirically and normatively controversial about Cofnas’s paper." Efforts to "silence unwelcome opinion, however, are doing a disservice to the community.”

Ongoing Discussions, and Why Humans Aren't Like Fruit Flies

Alfano said this week that he hadn’t yet heard back from the journal’s editors directly. He did spar, ad hominem, on social media with Cofnas -- probably in a way that didn’t help his argument. Asked about his Twitter style, Alfano said that when he participates actively in online discussions, he finds a need to distinguish between “people with whom I can have an actual conversation” and “trolls.” Of the latter group, he said, “I treat them with the contempt that they deserve.”

As to why Alfano didn’t submit a rebuttal for the journal to consider, he said this case called for a different response. Cofnas’s paper, he said, is a “Trojan horse” and not a “genuine contribution to the scholarly discourse.” 

Ultimately, he said, free speech for Cofnas “just means the right to push his views about racial hierarchies without pushback or consequences. And free inquiry is what the actual scientists who study intelligence already enjoy.” Noting that Cofnas also has espoused nonconsensus views on climate change, Alfano said accused him of spreading "fringe right-wing views about race from alt-right circles and publications to the mainstream, which lends them credibility and plausibility.”

What does Cofnas want? Cofnas said this week that he is not trying to be a provocateur and that he doesn’t in fact enjoy the backlash he’s experiencing.

“I wrote about this because it’s important, and if we fail to deal with these issues, I believe the long-term consequences could be disastrous,” he wrote in an email. “People who think this area of research is ‘pseudoscience’ are in almost all cases uninformed about the relevant science." Statements such as "‘IQ tests only measure your ability to take an IQ test’ are flat out wrong. IQ tests measure cognitive abilities that are involved in performing real-life tasks both inside and outside the classroom.”

There is more to intelligence than just IQ, “but IQ tests measure something important,” and IQ has been proven to be heritable, he added.

As for race, Cofnas cited his own paper, saying that “no completely environmental explanations of IQ gaps in the U.S. have been successful. There is no scientific basis for rejecting the theory that genes play a significant role in these gaps.” And any scientific basis to support that would bring “very difficult moral challenges,” he said, underscoring his thesis.

Cofnas has certainly raised big philosophical questions. But there are others who are perhaps better situated to address whether or not we face an impending moral crisis about genetics and neuroscience -- namely those philosophers and natural scientists who work in this area every day. Among them is Quayshawn Spencer, Robert S. Blank Presidential Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Spencer studies the philosophy of science, biology and race and was inspired to become become a philosopher by reading The Bell Curve.

Spencer said that Cofnas’s article appeared -- as described in the editors' note -- not to address the very nature of race. That’s a common oversight among hereditarians, and “particularly frustrating to philosophers of race like myself who specialize in researching and publishing on exactly this topic.” In other words, Spencer said he didn’t see how it’s not a “fatal flaw” for an article on hereditarianism not to discuss the race schema used in the psychological research at hand and whether the existence of racial groups is based in scientific reality.

Even if one does have good reason to think that the “folk races" used in IQ research are biologically real, Spencer said, referring to the way we talk about race in everyday life, there are many different ways of being biologically real -- and some of them don’t lend themselves to the hereditarian hypothesis.

What hereditarians need is a clear, nonaccidental, causal link between group DNA and so-called cognitive capacity, Spencer said. And that doesn't exist.

Joseph L. Graves, professor of biological sciences at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering North Carolina A&T State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said that there wouldn’t be a problem with Cofnas’s line of inquiry if it were “being done in a way that adheres to what we really know about the genetics of complex traits.” Complex traits aren’t solely determined by the environment or by genes, but are rather always a "complex interaction" between genetic and environmental effects.

The real question, then, for those who study complex traits, is the split: how much is environmental and how much is genetic. And currently, Graves said, that’s impossible to estimate or “partition” because people are, well, people.

The kind of certainty that Cofnas seeks would require us to “grow human beings in controlled ways,” such that they all experience the same environmental, genetic and combined environmental and genetic effects, Graves said. To boot, we’d need to do that for at least two generations to eliminate maternal effects on the complex traits. (Graves has studied complex traits in fruit flies but published on why his approach won’t work with humans.)

“I’m not against the study of complex traits in humans,” Graves said, “but what I am against is pseudoscience masquerading as the study of differences in complex traits in humans.”

As to Alfano’s petition, Spencer, the philosopher of race, said he didn’t condone censorship, as it was The Bell Curve that inspired his own career path. That book had some glaring problems, he said, but it “wasn't, in my judgment, anything so below the industry standard of social science that it didn't warrant being allowed to be read.”  (Other philosophers have disagreed with the premise of the petition, including in a discussion thread on the popular philosophy blog Daily Nous.) Pointing to other issues plaguing academic publishing, Spencer also said it’s also increasingly difficult to find expert readers -- including subfield specialists on, say, race and intelligence -- to referee journal articles.

Sensitivities surrounding race are heightened in the current political climate, and science is surely no exception. But is race-based science, or eugenics, making a comeback, along with white supremacist political activity? A 2018 investigation by the Associated Press, for instance, determined that the Pioneer Fund -- founded in 1937 to promote research on eugenics -- was still supporting a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. The London Conference on Intelligence, running since 2014, also has attracted international criticism for hosting panels on eugenics. 

Graves said it was a mistake to think that race science ever went away.

The majority of biomedical researchers still think that humans have biological races, and race differences are still taught in medical schools, he said. To understand why that’s wrong -- why our geographically based genetic variations can’t be “unambiguously apportioned into biological races” -- requires a specific sort of training, in evolutionary and population genetics. The majority of graduate students who exit Ph.D. programs in biology never receive that training, Graves said, while genomics often attracts those with a computer science background.

Of course, he added, the “overall shift towards legitimacy of white supremacy also helps.”

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Trump's claim about saving HBCUs was false, but his administration has largely backed sector

Inside Higher Ed - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

Fact-checkers quickly corrected the record after President Trump, during remarks Monday at the Davos economic conference, declared that he had rescued historically black colleges and universities.

“I saved HBCUs. We saved them,” Trump said. “They were going out, and we saved them.”

The president’s brief comment appeared to refer to bipartisan legislation, dubbed the FUTURE Act, that the U.S. Congress passed in December. The legislation made permanent $255 million in annual STEM funding for minority-serving colleges, including roughly $85 million specifically allocated to HBCUs.

While many of the nation's 102 HBCUs face financial pressure and the funding stream is important to them, it isn't responsible for keeping their doors open.

Congress passed the legislation after a months-long negotiation over several higher education bills. Trump signed the law in December. So, as fact-checkers rightly noted, it’s a stretch at best for the president to claim he single-handedly saved the colleges by signing the law.

However, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education can make legitimate points when touting their support for the sector.

“Things continue on the right path,” said Ivory Toldson, a professor of psychology at Howard University and editor in chief of The Journal of Negro Education. “I can’t say that the administration has been obstructive.”

Some HBCU leaders, for example, point to the March 2018 move by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to cancel the repayment of more than $300 million in federal relief loans that four historically black colleges took out after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005.

“She was genuinely interested in working on our behalf,” said Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, which received loan relief from DeVos. “That’s their big win” with HBCUs, he said of the administration.

National groups that represent HBCUs have sought to cultivate close ties to the Trump administration. While those efforts have been controversial on HBCU campuses, the sector’s leaders have had some successes.

In particular they point to increases in key funding streams. For example, during the last three fiscal years, federal programs that the United Negro College Fund deems most important to HBCUs have seen a collective increase of more than $200 million in funding, said Lodriguez Murray, UNCF’s senior vice president of public policy and government affairs.

For example, the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges program, which is part of Title III, increased from $245 million in federal support in 2017 to $325 million this fiscal year.

Advocates for black colleges also had been quietly opposed to the Obama-era borrower-defense rule. When DeVos rolled back the rule, provoking sustained condemnation from consumer advocates, the department cited a letter from UNCF that challenged several provisions in the rule.

In addition, Murray cited a successful push for the federal government to provide financial relief through deferments to private HBCUs that saw their enrollments decline due to changes made to the Parent PLUS loan program during the Obama administration -- a decision that infuriated HBCU leaders. Congress and the Trump administration backed the deferments.

HBCU leaders also have pointed to the Trump administration's support of the return of so-called year-round Pell Grants as well as symbolic moves such as the transfer of the White House HBCU Initiative from the Education Department to the administration’s executive offices.

“When these items have gotten to the president’s desk,” Murray said, “the president has signed each and every one.”

‘A Seat at the Table’

Yet Kimbrough and others said the administration’s overall record with HBCUs has been mixed.

The White House under Trump has each year proposed steep cuts to higher education and scientific research. And some of those suggested cuts, such as the 2018 White House proposal to restructure and slash TRIO programs by 40 percent, would disproportionately affect HBCU students. Trump also has sought to eliminate the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges program.

Congress has ignored virtually all the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to higher education. TRIO programs, for example, which feature outreach and student services aimed at low-income and first-generation students, have seen budget increases in recent years.

The administration’s rhetoric also has at times angered students, faculty members and administrators at HBCUs.

Perhaps most notably, DeVos in 2017 upset many for what they said was a tone-deaf statement linking historically black colleges to her signature issue.

“HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” she said in a written statement. “They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

Beyond his claim this week to have saved HBCUs, the Trump administration appears to have overbilled other purported achievements with HBCUs.

For example, last September Trump said he would lift restrictions on capital financing funds for faith-based HBCUs and seminaries. He said that move would free up funding for more than 40 colleges and seminaries.

But it wasn’t clear at the time if any colleges would receive new federal funding. Kimbrough said he has studied the issue and that Trump’s pledge had no impact on HBCUs.

Trump’s fanciful statements can be “useful hyperbole,” Kimbrough said. “Of course it’s not grounded in reality.”

Toldson said some of the administration’s achievements with HBCUs, including the hurricane loan cancellation, were in the works during the Obama administration.

He also cited federal data showing that HBCUs have seen declines in competitive grants to academic institutions during the Trump administration. Federal science and engineering support to HBCUs has been down for three straight years, the data showed, with a total decline of 17 percent since 2016.

The challenge for HBCU leaders and their advocates, Toldson said, is to balance the objective of having fair representation in Washington while maintaining the sector’s status as a “conscientious entity.”

So far, Murray thinks HBCUs have managed that balancing act.

“These students on our campuses need resources to complete their educations,” said Murray. “Our goal is to make sure our students and our schools have a seat at the table.”

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Conservative student groups say process for official recognition risks viewpoint discrimination

Inside Higher Ed - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

Syracuse University junior Justine Murray was angry when she and other students were denied permission to form a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, or YAF, on Syracuse's campus.

The student panel that rejected the bid for YAF to be formally recognized made clear that it disagreed with the philosophy of the self-described "ideologically conservative youth activism organization."

"Requiring students to agree in the superiority of the U.S. Constitution is exclusionary to international students and other individuals," said the February 2019 rejection email from the majority-student panel authorized to review and approve or decline student organizations seeking to be officially registered at Syracuse. "The Board recognizes that the parent organization, Young America’s Foundation, has demonstrated a pattern of past practice of supporting discourse via printed materials and/or other means that are deemed inflammatory."

It wasn't the first time that politically conservative students felt unfairly sidelined on campus. Murray said they often feel like their ideas are shut down by peers and professors, and the denial of YAF's application to become an official student organization was a clear example.

Although the organization was subsequently granted registered status in September 2019 after a second attempt, conservative students like Murray and free speech advocates are increasingly voicing their opposition to what they consider "viewpoint discrimination" in the approval process for student organizations to be formally recognized on campus.

"We’re another group for conservatives … to freely express their views without feeling like they have to stay quiet, without feeling like they are being judged for it," said Murray, who is now chairwoman of the YAF chapter at Syracuse. "We really shouldn’t be making decisions on whether groups can be on campus based on if we agree with their viewpoints or not. All chapters and all people should be able to voice their views, even if you think it’s hateful or so-called hate speech."

At institutions with strong student government associations, the authority to approve or deny official status to organizations lies with student leaders, said Butch Oxendine, executive director of the American Student Government Association, or ASGA, which represents 1,500 student government associations across the country​. Being officially registered not only grants organizations formal recognition and even legitimacy in the eyes of other students, but on some campuses it can also guarantee the organizations benefits such as the ability to reserve space to host speakers and hold events or post advertisements or messages on campus, and in some cases, funding from student activities and service fees paid to the colleges.

“There are so many free market and independent outlets for conservatives to express their views … given that the administration allows these groups to happen,” said Charlie Copeland, president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, or ISI. The institute aims to add conservative and libertarian thinking into higher education by connecting students to professors and educational materials that reflect those ideologies.

Anecdotes of rejection provided by chapters of national conservative student groups such as Turning Point USA, Young Americans for Freedom and ISI have drawn the attention of media and free speech advocates. The regularity with which official recognition or registration of these groups are voted down is widely unknown, Oxendine said.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, commonly known as FIRE, collects examples of student organizations that are shot down by either student leaders or administrators.

“Universities can make clear in advance that when the student government is given the authority to approve it, they have to do it with content-neutral decision making,” said Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE’s individual rights defense program. “When it comes to freedom of expression, the university should be facilitating, and there shouldn’t be examples of these groups overcoming these burdens.”

FIRE has recently focused on a chapter of Turning Point USA, or TPUSA, at the University of Scranton, a Catholic liberal arts institution in Scranton, Pa. The chapter was denied a charter by members of the student senate after TPUSA failed to receive a required two-thirds majority vote of approval in October 2019. Before the chapter’s application hearing, Fahad Ashraf, president of the student government, recused himself from the process because of a comment he'd made on social media suggesting he would veto the senate’s vote if TPUSA Scranton was approved, according to minutes from the Oct. 4 meeting.

The student senate members questioned the goals and viewpoints associated with TPUSA’s national organization, including its support for President Donald Trump, and debated whether a group that sells merchandise depicting firearms should be affiliated with Scranton, according to the meeting minutes.

“If I was in your shoes, I would go back to the drawing board,” Student Senator Aaron Asiedu-Wiafe said. “Associating yourself with this club is just going to be too stigmatizing.”

Noah Kraft, treasurer of TPUSA Scranton, called the outcome of the hearing “an unfair decision based on bias” and said other organizations have not received the same type of scrutiny.

“I understand why they have that power, but it doesn’t mix well with people having their own views and bias,” Kraft said. “The decision they made on our charter kind of shows that they aren’t representing the students.”

While the student government’s decision not to charter the chapter at Scranton did turn some students away from joining the group, it retained 25 to 30 interested members, Kraft said. The Scranton chapter continues to be officially recognized by TPUSA's national headquarters.

The student senate has the authority and responsibility to make charter recommendations, Robert Davis Jr., the University of Scranton's vice president for student life, said in a Nov. 26 letter to FIRE responding to calls for university administrators to overturn the decision.

Scranton is “dedicated to the freedom of inquiry and personal development fundamental to the growth in wisdom and integrity of all who share its life,” a university spokesperson said in a statement.

“The proposal to establish a Scranton Chapter of Turning Point USA did not receive the required two-thirds majority vote and, as a result, was not chartered as a club,” the statement said.

Steinbaugh​ said the mishandling of the TPUSA chapter's application should serve as a learning opportunity for student leaders, who he says should have authority over student affairs decisions. But if the student government does not correct its mistakes, the university should step in to uphold its policy, which states, "freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of the individual must be preserved," he said.

Oxendine said the ASGA helps student government leaders attain such authority, granted by the colleges and universities, and provides them with resources and training. But most student governments are not at that level and struggle to even get the student body to vote in student elections and attend SGA events on campus, he said. These weaker student government organizations are not "up to the task" of evaluating student organization applications, he said.

Oxendine said viewpoint neutrality should be a priority of the few student governments given authority over student organizations on campus, and there are some examples of student leaders failing to meet that priority.

"But it’s probably not happening at a level that some people think," he said.

And it's not only happening to conservative student groups, Steinbaugh said. A student at Truman State University, a public university in Kirksville, Mo., applied in December to form a club advocating for animal rights and was denied by a panel made up of students employed by the university’s student life department and some student government members. The denial was based on the club’s association with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the "reputational" and "emotional" risk affiliating with the national organization could pose to students.

In response to criticism about the denial of the animal-rights club, Truman State has “undertaken a review and remission of that process” for approving official student organizations, said Janna Stoskopf, vice president for student affairs.​ She would not comment further on the specifics of the plans to revise the process.

“It is not university staff members engaged with this process. They happen to be student employees, but it is a student process,” Stoskopf said. “That’s an important distinction in my mind … From the student affairs perspective, it’s best to involve students in the processes that involve students.”

The Animal Alliance has since been “granted full charter status” with Truman State, Stoskopf said.

Steinbaugh, the FIRE director, said college administrators have appropriately overruled student government decisions when his organizations has gotten involved in such cases. He also said it's easier to fight such decisions at public institutions like Truman State, where First Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution are well established.

“They recognize that sometimes students will make mistakes, and they’ll be happy to try to make it a learning experience,” Steinbaugh said. “In some cases where the student government is not going to correct its own mistakes, the administration will intervene. On the other hand, you have schools like Scranton, who are unwilling to explain or defend their mistakes.”

Editorial Tags: DiscriminationFree speechImage Source: Turning Point USA University of ScrantonIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: Syracuse UniversityTruman State UniversityUniversity of ScrantonDisplay Promo Box: 

Michigan provost placed on leave for sexual misconduct allegations

Inside Higher Ed - jeu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

University of Michigan provost Martin A. Philbert was placed on administrative leave pending an outside investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, the university announced Wednesday.

Michigan president Mark Schlissel said the university “received several allegations of sexual misconduct by Dr. Philbert” last Thursday and Friday and began an internal investigation Friday.

“Over the next three days, the university retained an outside law firm which immediately launched an investigation of the allegations, our Division of Public Safety and Security was engaged, and Dr. Philbert was directed not to report to work. I placed him on administrative leave Tuesday,” Schlissel wrote in a universitywide email.

The university did not disclose details about the allegations against Philbert.

Philbert did not respond to messages sent to his university email and to a cellphone number identified via a public records search.

Philbert was appointed provost in 2017. A professor of toxicology, he previously served as dean of Michigan’s School of Public Health. He first became a professor at Michigan at 1995.

Schlissel said an acting provost will be appointed in the coming days.

"The U-M Board of Regents and I are committed to a full and thorough investigation, and we will continue to work to ensure the integrity of the process, following the same policy and practices that apply to all employees at U-M," he said. "It remains early in the investigation, and no findings or conclusions have been reached."

Schlissel said that the Office of Institutional Equity, which typically handles investigations of this kind, reports to the provost’s office but had been directed to report to the associate vice president of human resources for all matters related to the investigation.

The Detroit News quoted comments made on Twitter by Michigan trustee Jordan Acker.

"I am angry and deeply empathetic to the survivors, and am committed to ensure that it never occurs on our campus again," Acker said. "Our community healing starts with first understanding the alleged activities and exactly what happened.

"For me, our investigation must be transparent, with sensitivity and understanding for the survivors and their needs, and work to make sure that something like this never happens on our campus again."

Michigan's handling of the investigation into its No. 2 administrator and chief academic officer will undoubtedly be closely watched.

The University of Oklahoma came under fire last year for its handling for sexual misconduct allegations against its former president David Boren. Other colleges that have recently dealt with sexual misconduct allegations against provosts or presidents include Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, whose president has been accused of sexual harassment, and Florida SouthWestern State College, whose former provost resigned after facing sexual harassment allegations.

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Chronicle of Higher Education: Free College, Student-Debt Forgiveness, and Pell Grant Expansion Dominate Higher-Ed Issues for Top Democratic Candidates

The Chronicle broke down the legislative agendas of the Democratic presidential candidates featured in the last debate to see where they stood on the most popular higher-ed policy issues.

Chronicle of Higher Education: Transitions: Rutgers U. Selects New President; New Provost at Washington U. in St. Louis

The next president of Rutgers comes from Northwestern University, where he has been provost since 2017.

Chronicle of Higher Education: U. of Michigan Provost Is Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Martin Philbert, who was appointed in 2017, has been placed on administrative leave as the university investigates allegations against him.

Oldest Confucius Institute in U.S. to Close

The Chronicle of Higher Education (Global) - mer, 01/22/2020 - 14:55
The University of Maryland at College Park plans to shut down its 15-year-old institute. And other news of global higher ed.

Sixteen new British independent schools to open in China in 2020

The PIE News - mer, 01/22/2020 - 10:59

Despite only four British independent schools opening in China in 2019, a new report from Beijing-based consultancy Venture Education is predicting that the next few years will be “extremely positive for UK schools and investors” in the country, with the opening of 16 new school campuses planned for 2020 alone.

Some 17 British independent schools currently run 36 schools in the country. The oldest, Dulwich College Shanghai Pudong, opened in 2003. Unlike many of the earlier schools, which were geared towards the children of expats, newer ones are aiming to tap into the lucrative Chinese market.

“It’s really just a numbers game in China”

“The amount of expats and foreigners in China is falling and companies are hiring locally so there’s just not the demand anymore,” Venture Education’s Julian Fisher told The PIE News.

There are two types of “international schools” in China, according to Fisher.

He explained that the market for those that can only take on foreign passport holders has been struggling as “a sense in the market that tightening regulations, new laws to comply with and the potential of new laws and regulations around foreign staff, pricing and admissions have slowed growth and presented new challenges”.

“China’s one-child policy means it’s not just the parents but it’s also the grandparents that are paying towards education.

“10 years ago, the people applying to these sorts of schools were high net worth individuals and very wealthy, but I think that’s shifting, especially in third and fourth-tier cities,” he added.

Graph: Venture Education

By 2022, it is expected that Harrow will have 11 schools in China, Dulwich College will have eight, Wellington College six and Hurtwood House four, with 15 more schools planning to enter the China market for the first time over the next few years.

Surprisingly, however, there are no new schools slated to open in Shanghai and Beijing in the next two years.

Instead, schools are eyeing areas like the Greater Bay Area in south China, whose Guangdong province is expected to have the highest concentration of British independent schools by 2022 with 13.

Lower-tier cities and the country’s central areas are also in the spotlight, with Sichuan province getting three new schools this year.

This attempt to break into China’s interior has been seen across many industries, as Fisher explains: “it’s really just a numbers game in China.”

While cities in these regions are considered small by Chinese standards, they can still have a population of millions.

“We will be opening five more campuses in September 2020”

“We will be opening fine more campuses in September 2020 in Haikou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Chongqing and Nanning,” said Harrow Beijing director Shelley Zhao.

According to Zhao, Harrow ILA schools plan to create Belt and Road Education Scholarships to allow students in Belt and Road countries to receive education in 

“Through education, we can tell the Chinese story, achieving the Chinese government’s vision of ‘facing the whole country and marching towards the other parts of the world’,” she added.

Most British independent schools in China teach IGCSEs and A-Levels or the IB, meaning that students will effectively be unable to enter a Chinese university due to not sitting the gaokao and will most likely continue their higher education abroad.

However, the schools still need to incorporate certain elements of the Chinese curriculum – particularly in the fields of politics, history and geography – into their courses.

While this has attracted criticism over how politically sensitive content is taught and local authorities requiring the school to change its motto before it could be used in China, the controversy has done little to stem the flow of new schools.

“Our China dream is now becoming a reality especially with Reigate Grammar School Nanjing opening and our second school in Zhangjiagang on its way,” said Sean Davey, the head of international business development at Reigate Grammar School.

“Although a challenging environment, China remains exciting and vibrant,” he added.

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Egypt: AMIDEAST buys American Center Alexandria

The PIE News - mer, 01/22/2020 - 07:16

US education organisation AMIDEAST has announced it has purchased the American Center Alexandria, which will enable educational, training and language test services in Egypt’s second-largest city.

Specialising in training, and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa, AMIDEAST works in 11 territories and countries in the region offering services including workforce development and English language program.

“This is the latest step in our long-range plan to expand and update our facilities”

“This is an important moment in our continuous commitment to serving Egypt and its people since 1956 and Alexandria for over 35 years,” Shahinaz Ahmed, AMIDEAST’s country director for Egypt, said.

Purchasing the former home of the US Consulate in Alexandria which AMIDEAST had been renting since September 2016, the organisation’s permanent home in the city will “enable us to serve more people, more effectively as we strive to expand opportunities and positively impact the lives of Egyptians, especially youth”, she added.

“We are particularly excited about prospects for expanding programs in workforce development, English language acquisition, and English language assessments such as the TOEFL ITP and TOEIC.”

The facility’s test centre offers a wide range of academic and professional tests, and its expanded English language program will benefit the needs of Alexandria’s governmental, nongovernmental, and private sector clients as well as the general public.

Courses being offered include English for general communication, conversation, English for the workplace, and English for kids and teens.

“This is the latest step in our long-range plan to expand and update our facilities in the 11 countries that we directly serve across the MENA region,” AMIDEAST president and CEO Theodore Kattouf said in a statement.

“The opportunity to acquire this historic property in Alexandria underscores our longstanding commitment to providing quality educational and training programs in Egypt.”

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WES supports Philadelphia initiative

The PIE News - mer, 01/22/2020 - 05:00

Philadelphia employers are being urged to offer opportunities to engage immigrant talent in the region, thanks to an initiative supported by World Education Services.

The 18-month program, Engaging Immigrant Talent, is run by Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, in partnership with the City’s Office of Workforce Development, and aims to help businesses tap into a “culturally and linguistically diverse talent pool”.

“We hope the data and resources generated through this initiative can be leveraged by other cities”

WES has provided a US$242,000 grant to the initiative through its Mariam Assefa Fund, which was launched in 2019 to assist immigrants and refugees to contribute to their new communities.

“Increasing opportunities for Philadelphia’s extraordinary and diverse immigrant population is key to realising the goals outlined in our citywide workforce development and inclusive growth strategies,” Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.

“I greatly appreciate the WES Mariam Assefa Fund for funding this opportunity, and I look forward to driving positive results for our city through this partnership with Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.”

The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians has delivered development programs focusing on increased access for immigrants and refugees for 16 years.

An International Professionals Program provides training to connect residents with their career pathways, while the Immigrant Fellowship Program is a 12-week paid work-based learning opportunity with the City of Philadelphia departments and private sector employers.

The new talent initiative will evaluate and expand existing programs’ impact, as the Welcoming Center will continue to advocate for more inclusive recruiting, hiring and retention practices across the city.

“We are thrilled to support this innovative partnership among the Office of Workforce Development, Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, and Philadelphia employers,” said Monica Munn, senior director of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund.

“This initiative showcases the economic and social impact that can be achieved when you bring together municipal leadership, an outstanding nonprofit service provider, talented immigrant and refugee workers, and committed employers.

“We hope the data and resources generated through this initiative can be leveraged by other cities in their immigrant workforce programs.”

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Andy Dowling, Chief Executive, Digitary, Ireland

The PIE News - mer, 01/22/2020 - 03:58
As students, graduates and workers becoming more globally mobile, translating and verifying credentials and achievements are becoming more important than ever. Andy Dowling, chief executive of Digitary shares his thoughts on the future of digital credentialing.


The PIE: What does Digitary do?

Andy Dowling: Digitary was launched in Dublin, Ireland in 2005. Since then, Digitary has grown to become the leading online platform for certifying, sharing and verifying academic credentials. We’ve been learner-centric since the very beginning and have enabled millions of learners to access their verified achievements and to share them globally with whomever they choose, whenever they want.

Digitary enables instant verification of records with full learner consent, maintaining regulatory compliance and eliminating the hassle of manual verification. I am proud to say that many of the world’s most respected higher education providers use Digitary to eliminate credential fraud, improve service levels and increase efficiencies.

The PIE: Digitary has been around for 15 years and you have 20 years experience. Why did you start looking at using digital verification so early on?

AD: I wasn’t very good at football when I was a kid, but I was great at programming computers. I spent a lot of time developing security software systems in industry and I also spent time as a university lecturer in computer science.

Between the two of those threads, I saw an opportunity whereby records are being stored in digital format at universities, but they’re being printed out on paper whenever they’re handed to a learner. I thought the technology, the digital signatures and the crypto were all there, let’s apply it to this particular niche area and make a positive impact.

Turns out that took a little bit longer than planned but we were probably a bit ahead of the market.

The PIE: As a discussion point, blockchain in education has only just started to pick up. You were there long before anyone was really talking about in a meaningful way, though.

AD: Blockchain is very interesting and attracts a lot of attention at present. Some of the narrative at the moment is that blockchain has sort of created the capability to digitally certify and verify credentials. That hasn’t really been the case in my view. The technology has been there for quite some time. Blockchain is another way of doing it.

“We’ve gotten used to the cloud and having someone else take responsibility for the keeping of our data”

The way we see it is just like any other technology, blockchain is not a solution by itself. It is a technology with pros and cons. How you apply that technology and how you build it into your overall solution, it’s incredibly important.

That’s why we didn’t jump on the blockchain bandwagon just to get some PR; we were actually quite analytical and slow to embrace it. Using SSI and our relationship with Evernym for blockchain came about after about 18 months to two years of evaluating how we could implement it in a meaningful way.

The PIE: How is technology changing education?

AD: Delivery is one point where we’re actually seeing quite a change as a result of technology. If you look at learning at the moment, learning in terms of the delivery is changing from bricks and mortar to distance learning and MOOCs and so forth.

The other aspect would be granularity. We’re seeing much smaller micro-level courses being taken, particularly in the distance learning space. That’s changing the frequency and the granularity at which people are being credentialed.

Technology then would also affect the certification and the means by which achievement has been certified. There’s a move towards digital credentialing generally, not only for what you call macro credentials, which are traditional three or four-year degrees, but also micro-credentials, open badges, for example. That’s why we’re very conscious of all of these and very proactive in this space.

On the converse, the increase in the use of digital also has impacts on the prevalence of fraud. Photoshop makes it easier to create very convincing, fake degree certificates, for example.

With all of these different things that are emerging to verify credentials, it’s important that communication is taken into account because ultimately those who need to verify someone’s credentials need to know how to do that. What are the right ways to verify a credential and what are the wrong ways?

The PIE: Is there a possibility digital credentialing won’t become a major disruption in education?

AD: In my view, there are two primary elements to it. There’s getting your business case right. Why blockchain, for example, over anything else and why would we do that? Blockchain doesn’t necessarily provide you with any huge amount of functional benefit. It’s the non-functional; the privacy of an individual’s personal data and giving them more responsibility and being custodians of that data. The functionality you can implement in a number of different ways.

“Like any other technology, blockchain is not a solution by itself”

The second thing is standardisation. Standards are being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, who push internet standards out, and they’ve got the verifiable credentials standards recommendation at the moment, which is likely to be the workplace form of choice going forward.

We’re seeing a number of projects that are embracing that particular recommendation at the moment and that’s something that we’re working on at Digitary as well. By having enough players involved, that will create sufficient momentum amongst stakeholders in the digital credentialing landscape for this to take off. Overall it needs to go hand-in-hand with a compelling business case.

The PIE: What is the business case for digital credentials?

AD: My opinion is that it starts with student mobility and the protection of privacy. There are many things too of course which play a part, but the primary focus should be on the learner. The learner should have the control to export their credentials in a standard format, consolidate them into their own online digital wallet and then have a view for presenting to third parties who need to utilise the information. That mobility and portability is the key benefit of online credentials, provided they are done in a standard, compliant way.

The PIE: Where do you see the future of digital credentials?

AD: There is a lot of momentum. The whole idea of digital credentialing is changing. It’s changing in terms of how credentials are represented on the granularity. Who certifies credentials? Is it just the institutions, is it MOOC providers, is it employers certifying someone’s experience? How is it recorded under a standards-based digital format? Where is it stored? How is it shared with the learners when you think of GDPR? How is it independently verified in a decentralised way? And with the UNESCO global convention and recognition of qualifications, how are our digital credentials actually recognised across borders themselves?

“Photoshop makes it easier to create very convincing, fake degree certificates”

There are very exciting times ahead. We want to accelerate the benefits of digital credentialing to learners and the way in which we found to do that is to look at going to the learner directly.


The PIE: There is a lot of momentum, but equally a lot of questions that remain to be answered?

AD: Absolutely. There are definitely challenges for all of the parties in terms of issuers, learners and verifiers. One key consideration is that issuers are going to be coming to terms with the tussle between who owns the actual record of the learner.

Universities and issuers can typically think it’s their records to be presented with their brand in a particular way. That’s sort of at odds with this idea of the learner curating their own record and presenting it as they see fit.

Learners could accept the challenge and be responsible for their own records and their crypto key in the face of an identity world. As individuals, we’ve gotten used to the cloud and having someone else take responsibility for the keeping of our data. If we lose access to it, it’s just a forgotten password.

In the world of crypto, that won’t exist anymore. There’s much more of a mindset shift to support and enable the learner to have control and own the responsibility.

The challenge of verifiers is the mindset shift change of trusting what you can get from the learners because technology allows that to be independently verified without the issuer getting involved. But they need to know how to verify. Communication is key in all of this.

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