WENR, July/August 2004: Asia Pacific
Increased Scrutiny of Offshore Programs Causing Concern
As some overseas authorities move to tighten requirements for foreign providers, the Australian government is facing increasing pressure to guarantee the quality of courses offered by Australian institutions overseas. But universities, some of which already have been forced to reconsider their overseas arrangements, are likely to resist more regulation.
The federal government has set aside US$415,000 a year for audits of Australian universities’ offshore operations that enroll more than 73,000 fee-paying students. Although there is widespread skepticism among vice chancellors over whole-of-country audits because of the damage it could do to the export industry and the feeling that quality is already very high, audits in recent years have revealed a number of problems. Most recently, South African authorities canceled Bond University’s master of business administration (MBA) accreditation after a national audit of MBA programs. China is also tightening up on foreign institutions under laws that require provincial approval and national accreditation for degree programs, all of which must be offered in partnership with a local provider. The laws, which were introduced in September 2003, have caused many Australian providers to alter their relationships with Chinese institutions and seek accreditation where previously none existed.
One key concern Australian universities have about more government regulation of their foreign commercial operations is a fear of rankings — favored by many other countries — and the extra burden and duplication that might accompany audits. Another is the commercial fallout that might result from negative audits. In June, the Department of Education allocated US$985,000 for universities to develop good practice models for offshore delivery.
— The Australian
June 23, 2004
Australia Looks to Berlin to Build Image in Europe
Australia’s research-intensive universities have announced plans to open a center at the Australian Embassy in Berlin to promote the exchange of staff and students with European institutions.
The Group of Eight, which represents Australia’s leading research universities, opened the center July 1. It marks the first time a group of Australian institutions has combined forces to establish an offshore center. The group hopes the center will aid the development and consolidation of links with universities, governments and businesses in Europe. It is the latest in a series of overseas initiatives launched by the group, which has recently had meetings with the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Russell Group, which represents 19 top research universities in the United Kingdom. The AAU is comprised of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada devoted to maintaining a strong system of academic research and education.
— Group of Eight news release
May 26, 2004
New Law Allows Private Schools to Admit Foreign Students
As of July 1, private institutions of higher education can officially admit foreign students, according to the new Law on Administrative Licensing.
Prior to the introduction of the new law, only public universities were legally allowed to enroll foreign students. There are currently more than 80,000 overseas students in China, 40 percent of whom are studying in Beijing.
— China Daily
May 20, 2004
Exam-Takers Required to Sign Honesty Pledge
All students who took the university entrance examinations in June were required to sign a pledge promising not to cheat, according to the state-run People’s Daily newspaper.
There is immense pressure on students to succeed in the admissions exams — doing so helps secure good jobs in China’s increasingly competitive job market. China’s one-child policy has increased the pressure on students and has helped fuel a rise in attempts to buy questions or hire substitutes to take the exams.
Some test centers have installed video cameras, and anyone violating the anti-cheating rules this year will have their scores immediately annulled, according to regulations issued by the Ministry of Education. The authorities will also keep a file on cheaters, which will be open to public scrutiny.
— People’s Daily
June 6, 2004
Market for English Testing Flourishing
Increasing numbers of Chinese students are looking to English-language tests as a key factor in planning for future careers and studies. Besides widely recognized tests such as the International English Language Testing System and the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which have been offered in China for many years, new professionally oriented language tests, such as the Test of Professional English, Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) and the Business Language Testing Service (BULATS) have recently entered the market.
Many of these testing bodies are working in cooperation with government agencies to ensure their market share. BULATS is cooperating with the Central Personnel Testing Authority and is being used by many municipal authorities across the country, and TOEIC is cooperating with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. The sustained demand for English-language tests has resulted in a burgeoning industry in test-preparation centers.
According to statistics from New Oriental Education and Technology Group, China’s largest test-preparation school, more than 500,000 students annually enroll in such schools. The group, which has 12 branches throughout the country, updates its curriculum in strict accordance with the content of the various tests. According to China Business Weekly, the company is currently conducting market research on the new BULATS tests to decide if it is economically viable to start offering training programs aimed at passing the new test.
— China Business Weekly
May 31, 2004
Student Loans Turn Sour
In 1999, China introduced two crucial changes in its higher education policy. The first was a decision to expand university access, which has resulted in triple the number of new graduates this year from 1999. The other change was to order state-owned banks to lend money to students to help them pay college fees and living expenses. According to China News Weekly, approximately 20 percent of students have failed to repay their loans on schedule after graduation. So widespread have defaults become that Chinese banks in the past few months have ceased extending credit at more than 100 universities.
Since 1999, approximately 800,000 students have taken out subsidized loans averaging US$3,600 per student. The first major influx of loan recipients into the job market occurred in 2003, which was also a record year for graduate unemployment (see March April issue of WENR). Jobs were available, but not of a kind that matched the high expectations of graduates. Their predecessors, thanks to the rarity of a university education, were able to find well-paid positions easily. Last year, the average starting salary of university graduates dropped 40 percent compared with 2002, according to Chinese media.
The repayment period for the loan is short — four years after graduation, with the first installment due within six months, on average, of leaving school. A UNESCO study published in 2003 suggest that an average-earning graduate who had borrowed US$3,600 would have to hand over 20 percent to 30 percent of his or her annual salary to cover the principal and interest. The default ratio is at least double that commonly found among graduates in other developing countries, the report indicated.
— The Economist
June 12, 2004
International Foundation Programs Gaining Currency
Two recent announcements from Australian and Canadian education authorities that they have inked deals with the Chinese Ministry of Education to offer foundation programs in China come a few months after a similar agreement with the Scottish Qualifications Authority. As the competition for Chinese students heats up, so international education authorities continue to look for ways to ensure their slice of what soon promises to be the largest higher-education market in the world.
IDP Australia’s agreement with the China Scholarship Council (CSC) of the Ministry of Education will result in the establishment of a new university foundation program for students in Beijing who are interested in studying in Australia. In addition, IDP has also signed an agreement with the Beijing Municipal Education Commission that will allow the provision of articulation programs to students in grades 10, 11 and 12 in vocational high schools. Graduates will have guaranteed admission to Australian university programs. The Canadian International Management Institute recently agreed to a similar deal with CSC, which will see foundation programs established in China, with the prospect of advanced placement into degree programs at Canadian universities.
The Canadian and Australian deals follow an initiative signed in February between the Scottish Qualifications Authority and CSC (see Jan/Feb issue WENR). That agreement welcomes the introduction of Scottish Higher National Diploma programs to 16 Chinese universities, which will allow and encourage students to enter degree programs at Scottish universities.
Minister Discusses Education Policy
The Action Plan for Revitalizing Education is the Ministry of Education’s five-year policy outline aimed at rejuvenating education throughout the country. Minister of Education Zhou Ji answered questions from an international panel of journalists recently concerning key issues in the plan.
Noting that the percentage of spending in terms of GDP has risen from 2.45 percent to 3.41 percent since 1999, Zhou says a goal of 4 percent is reasonable by 2007. The education minister emphasized that the budget should be increasingly focused on rural education, which, although improving, is still losing ground with the more developed urban regions of the east. The action plan has set a goal of enrolling 85 percent of students through compulsory education, and reducing the illiteracy rate of adults to below 5 percent.
In terms of higher education, the plan introduced this year a new pilot provincial entrance examination in 11 provinces and cities. The examinations would replace the national entrance tests in the hope of achieving greater regional autonomy so institutions can be more responsive to local needs and opportunities.
The second major area of concern is quality assurance, which the minister believes has come a long way in recent years — pointing to the signing of a number of international agreements on mutual recognition of academic degrees with developed nations. This year, according to Zhou, will mark the introduction of a body to monitor and evaluate standards of teaching and the introduction of a five-year, university-teaching standards evaluation system, the results of which will be publicized.
— China Educational Daily
March 24, 2004
People’s Daily Recommends Quality Over Quantity
Commenting on the recent quality-assurance inspection of the nation’s institutions of higher education, which resulted in 26 institutions having their enrollment quotas reduced, People’s Daily newspaper argues that the government needs to focus more on quality provision rather than continuing to enroll ever greater numbers of students.
Ever since the government in 1999 instituted a policy to expand access to tertiary education, student numbers have been soaring. According to the Ministry of Education, 16 million students were enrolled in tertiary education at the end of 2002, compared with 7 million in 1998. The ultimate goal is an enrollment of 27 million by 2010. While an increased level of education for the general populous is no doubt in the nation’s interest, People’s Daily argues that quality should not be sacrificed, which it claims is currently the case, citing teacher and resource shortages as the major reason for lowering standards.
Reflecting on the results of the quality review, the newspaper suggests that the improving figures are irrelevant, as all data are supplied by the schools. Since 2002, no schools have had their licenses suspended, and only 30 have had their enrollment quotas reduced. In contrast, in 1991, the first year of the quality-assurance system, there were 30 suspensions and 114 enrollment reductions.
— People’s Daily
May 27, 2004
New Initiative to Promote Australian Education
IDP Education Australia recently announced it has partnered with Planet EDU and the Australian Centre for Languages to operate a network of learning centers across 22 cities that will initially provide International English Language Testing System’s English-language courses. In the longer term, IDP Australia hopes the centers will provide a toe-hold for Australian universities to offer foundation programs that will encourage Indian students to complete their education in Australia.
— IDP news release
May 31, 2004
Swinburne Given University Status
Swinburne Sarawak Institute of Technology has been given university status, becoming the second foreign private university in the state of Sarawak. It will now be known as the Swinburne University of Technology (Sarawak Campus) and will operate as a branch campus of the Melbourne-based institution. The first foreign private university in Sarawak was Curtin University of Technology, which set up a branch campus in Miri in 1999.
The conditions set for university approval by the National Accreditation Board (Lembaga Akredilasi Negara) include having a faculty with postgraduate qualifications, the conduct of research and development, complying with board regulations and preparing a 10-year strategic plan. Swinburne currently offers degrees in business studies, engineering and information technology.
— The Star
June 20, 2004
Violence, Strikes Continue to Disrupt Education
A weeklong strike called by student sympathizers of Maoist rebels in June, coupled with the destruction of school buses outside Kathmandu, the capital, closed all levels of education, from elementary school to university, and continued a pattern that has severely curtailed education provision in the country over the last few years.
In 2003, rebel-caused chaos within the education system led to the loss of 40 to 50 days of the 200-day academic year. Strikes and, more recently, student and teacher kidnappings, have been used by the rebels to spread Maoist ideology. In addition, the rebels have bombed schools and colleges that do not close when they call a strike. Seven buses belonging to a private school near Kathmandu were blown up in the most recent violence. As a result, more and more Nepalese students are going abroad to receive education, especially at the tertiary level.
June 18, 2004
Private-School Accreditation Planned in 2005
A new accreditation program for private schools will be launched in 2005 by two government agencies to help promote Singapore as an international destination for quality education.
The program will be administered by the Economic Development Board and Spring Singapore, a national agency working to sustain Singapore’s productivity growth and competitiveness. Spring Singapore will appoint experts in university administration and various disciplines to assess program content, lecturers’ credentials and teaching and learning environments. There are approximately 300 private schools in Singapore, which are required to register with the Ministry of Education. The ministry, however, does not audit program content, lecturers or examinations.
In 2003, the government launched the Singapore Quality Class for Private Educational Organisations to recognize good management practices and standards. It is hoped that the new content-related accreditations will help shake off the negative image that has been created by a number of less scrupulous private operators. This recognition is expected to reassure prospective employers and students and encourage international partners to continue linking up with Singapore’s private schools.
— The Straits Times
June 19, 2004
Drop of SAT Spurs Record University Applications
A record number of polytechnic students applied for admission to four-year programs at two of Singapore’s three universities in 2004. This followed the scrapping of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) as one of the criteria for admissions and an easing of entry rules, which now allow students to apply for admission before they graduate from their diploma programs.
Approximately twice as many polytechnic students than previous years have applied for admission at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technical University. In 2003, the SAT was introduced in the joint admissions program and accounted for 25 percent of the total admissions score; A-level results accounted for up to 75 percent. However, according to officials, many polytechnic students who performed poorly in the English, or “verbal,” section of the SAT eschewed the Singapore institutions in favor of British and Australian universities that do not require SAT scores. Thus, the SAT will be phased out over the next two years, according to the Ministry of Education.
Another reason for the increase in applicants is that students who previously missed the admission deadlines can now use the results from their previous five semesters of their three-year diploma program rather than waiting for the results from their final semester. Normally, final-semester grades come out after the admissions deadline, requiring students to wait a full year for the admissions season to come around again. As a result, two polytechnic cohorts — the class of 2003 and 2004 — have applied this year. Both the University of Singapore and Nanyang Technical University have responded by offering a greater number of places. At Singapore Management University, admission procedures remain the same.
— The Straits Times
June 14, 2004
Scholarship Program to Boost Number of Foreign Students
The Ministry of Education offers approximately 400 foreign students full scholarship to study at Taiwanese universities each year. However, under a new program — the Taiwan Scholarship Program — an additional 200 students will be offered scholarships worth approximately US$7.5 million
The program, run jointly by the Foreign Affairs and Education ministries, aims to build diplomatic relations with other countries.
There are currently 2,000 foreign students studying in Taiwan, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Preference for the new scholarships will be given to students who study science and engineering or Taiwanese culture and history. Special consideration will be given to students from developing countries and from the fewer than 30 nations — mostly in Africa and Central America — that still have diplomatic relations with Taiwan rather than China. The program will run for 10 years and will gradually grow to include 400 students.
For further information about the scholarships, see: www.edu.tw.
— The Chronicle of Higher Education
July 2, 2004
New University to Open in Muslim South
The government recently announced it will open a university in its southern region, which has a Muslim majority and which has experienced violent separatist attacks in recent months. The government hopes that increased educational opportunities close to home will discourage students from traveling to hard-line religious institutions in the Middle East, whose influence the government views as a threat to national security.
According to officials setting up the new university, the troubled Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces only have a handful of higher-education institutions, and among them there is only one Islamic-studies department. The new university, to be built around four existing technical colleges in Narathiwat, is scheduled to open next year. A second university, which would emphasize Islamic studies, possibly in cooperation with a university in the Middle East, is being planned for Yala.
— Chronicle of Higher Education
May 24, 2004