WENR, January/February 2005: Europe




EU, India Sign Scholarship Deal

The EU and India in November concluded an agreement that will boost economic, political and scientific ties between the 25-member bloc and the world’s largest democracy.

The pact paves the way for the EU and India to co-operate on a number of important political and economic issues. The two sides also signed an accord worth €43 million to extend European scholarships to 3,000 Indian masters degree students over the next three years – the largest EU program of its kind.

The Union already has comparable accords with the United States, Canada, China and Japan, and is negotiating a similar one with Russia.

Dec. 9, 2004


Court Lifts Tuition Ban

The Supreme Court in January overturned a ban on the introduction of tuition fees, which many believe will lead to the biggest shakeup of Germany’s tertiary education sector in decades. The ruling puts an end to the principle of free education that has been in place since the 1960s (see Sept/Oct issue of WENR [2]). Three states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemburg and Hamburg – immediately indicated that they would introduce fees of approximately US$675 a semester as soon as possible.

Opponents of the measure say students with limited means will be deterred from going to universities. Supporters suggest that German universities are in dire need of the extra funding. They also point out that added financial pressure may encourage students to work harder and graduate sooner.

Germany was one of the last bastions of free tertiary education in Europe. Britain introduced fees in 1998 and the Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Italy and Portugal all followed suit. Although Scandinavian countries still charge no fees, the Swedish have started to make noises suggesting that the introduction of tuition fees may be on the horizon (see Sept/Oct issue of WENR [2]).

Deutsch Welle [3]
Jan 27, 2005

Elite Universities Initiative Hits Roadblock, Junior Professorship Initiative Moves Forward

The German government has failed once again in its bid to establish a system of elite universities intended to compete against the world’s best such as Oxford, Stanford and Harvard. The idea, first introduced in January 2004 (see Jan/Feb [4] issue and July/Aug [5] issue of WENR) by Federal Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn, was thwarted in December by the CDU/CSU coalition, the main opposition to Chancellor Gerhard Schroder’s SPD party.

Mixed Bag of Results for European Nations in International Student Assessment

Finland has taken first place in a comparative, tri-annual study of the abilities of 15-year-old students in 41 countries. The standardized assessment entitled the Programme for International Student Assessment [6] (PISA) was administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and included the 30 OECD member states as well as “partner countries” and regions, such as Russia and Brazil.

Students were tested in mathematics, reading and science. The objective of PISA is to evaluate the extent to which students nearing the end of compulsory education are acquiring the skills essential for full participation in society, rather than simple academic competence. More than a quarter of a million people participated.

Most countries’ relative positions remained the same as in 2000 though some, such as Poland, showed great improvement. Finland either improved upon or retained its standing from 2000, topping the tables in reading and taking second place in science and mathematics. In the latter Hong Kong took first place, while Brazil placed last and the U.S. 33 rd.

The top positions generally tended to go to wealthier countries. Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden ranked in the top spots consistently and across the board. Others such as Korea, with a national income 30 percent below the OECD average, performed better than their particular economic indicators suggest that they might. Taken in conjunction with poor performances from Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and the U.S, many have concluded that high spending on education is not necessarily the key to achieving high results.


The Guardian [7]
Dec. 7, 2004

The plan, which has received broad support in the education and science community, would see ten universities in different fields receive € 25 million (US$32 million) a year for five years. Funding would also be provided for graduate schools and the creation of ‘excellence centers’. The Federal Government would fund 75 percent of the € 380 million total, while the country’s constituent state governments would fund the remainder. However unanimous agreement among the states was needed and at least one CDU/CSU controlled state government objected to the plan.

Bulmahn had some success however with the approval of her ‘junior professorships’ plan (see Sept/Oct issue of WENR [2]). The plan, which came into effect in January, is intended to increase the flexibility and independence of young scientists and make German universities more attractive to researchers at home and abroad.

The Scientist [8]
Dec. 23, 2004


Returning Scientists Receive Cool Welcome

Hungarian scientists are returning to their homeland in ever-increasing numbers, heralding a long awaited “brain drain” reversal, or “brain gain”, researchers told a meeting in Vienna in November. Unfortunately, they are not always receiving a warm welcome.

Andras Dinnyes of the Agricultural Biotechnology Center [9], which encompasses four research-intensive institutes, said the development is a much-needed boost to science in the country as returning scientists bring new techniques, international connections and a good publication record.

Dinnyes estimates that as many as 5000 scientists left Hungary after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 when the lure of better funding and better-equipped facilities in the US and elsewhere proved too great. Today, EU funding and international grants in Hungary have given many scientists good reason to return.

Nevertheless, the cash-strapped Hungarian government is doing little to help scientists come back. The country has relatively poor research facilities and a lack of job opportunities, but there is strong evidence that many overseas scientists would gladly return were the conditions better. There is disappointment in this regard that the Hungarian government is doing little to remedy the situation. The EU has provided almost all funding so far. However, early December saw the Ministry of Education [10] sponsor a conference on these and other obstacles

The Scientist [8]
Nov. 26, 2004


Influx of EU Students Leads to Calls for Quotas and Equivalency Standards

Irish universities may be forced to consider reserving places for domestic students as the number of highly qualified EU applicants continues to rise and high-demand programs may soon be “flooded,” it was claimed in January.

Applications to healthcare programs such as medicine, pharmacy and dentistry have been soaring at Trinity College Dublin [11], according to admissions officers. In response they may have to introduce quotas to reserve places for graduates of the Irish school Leaving Certificate. Applications are expected to continue rising for a number of reasons. These include the introduction of increased fees in England next year, EU enlargement and the fact that Ireland’s image is becoming ever more attractive as a study destination.

Entry to universities in Ireland is based on academic merit alone, and other EU candidates with top grades in their secondary-level qualifications are entitled under EU law to be considered under the same terms as Irish candidates. Admissions officers have been quick to point out that establishing accurate equivalencies is often difficult because the structure of secondary education, assessment, and grading vary greatly from one country to another. No final decisions on maintaining adequate places for Irish students have yet been taken.

Unison [12]
Jan. 12, 2005

Agreement Reached with Officials as Ireland Seeks to Attract More Chinese

Educational exchange and access agreements were signed in January as part of more than 70-million-euro worth of agreements by Irish firms and colleges as part of Ireland’s largest-ever trade mission to China.

Minister of Education Mary Hanafin said she is planning to invite Irish colleges to teach Chinese to students through a government-backed initiative to set up a Chinese studies institute jointly at University College Dublin [13] and University College Cork [14]. In terms of attracting Chinese students, the minister said she was mainly looking to attract university-level students rather than language students. The remarks drew criticism from English language schools that believe she is not doing enough to protect them from a visa crackdown on Chinese students by the Department of Justice (see Nov/Dec issue of WENR [15]).

Ms. Hanafin admitted that Ireland continues to lag behind in attracting Chinese students with less than 3,000 studying in Ireland out of the approximately 500,000 who are currently studying abroad worldwide. In January, to encourage greater numbers of Chinese to study in Ireland, the minister signed a new protocol on the mutual recognition of credentials. When concluded – expected by the end of the year – both countries will have expressed their satisfaction that each other’s higher education awards are comparable. China already has similar agreements with Britain, France, Germany, New Zealand and Australia.

Unison [16]
Jan. 20, 2005

High-Profile MIT Research Center to Close

Media Lab Europe [17], the Dublin-based research facility which is an offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Laboratory [18] in Boston, is closing its doors after being in operation for only four years.

The Irish lab relied on government funding and private investment to keep it going, but ran into intractable financial difficulties. It was hoped the facility would become self-sustaining, with revenue coming from patents, licenses and continual private-sector support. The Irish government has spent more than US$10 million on the lab, which it hoped would be the central plank of an effort to kick-start information-technology research and encourage the development of high-tech businesses.

Observers have noted that the Lab’s biggest drawback as far as private-sector supporters were concerned, was the lack of near-term commercial potential for technologies developed there

presenting problems for cash-strapped companies asked to contribute. In 2003, the MIT Media Lab abandoned a similar venture in Bangalore, India, following a run-in with the Indian government.

ENN [19]
Jan. 14, 2005

Serbia and Montenegro

Serbs Introduce Bologna Legislation

A law that aims to harmonize Serbian higher education with European norms is scheduled to come before the Serbian Parliament in February.

Draft legislation, drawn up by a panel of academics, is already open to public scrutiny. Officials from the panel have admitted there might be some areas of dispute at the upcoming Bergen ministerial summit that will review progress member countries are making towards the Bologna Accords. Most significant is the status of the country’s highly autonomous university faculties. Under the proposed draft, they may remain single entities or all come under central control. Critics say Belgrade University [20] is so huge – with 31 faculties, five research institutes and 80,000 students – that such a move would make it unwieldy. The Bologna Accords call for a European Higher Education Area by 2010. Serbia and Montenegro were latecomers to the reform movement, becoming signatories in 2003.

The new Serbian law aims to address many of the anomalies and inefficiencies of a system that grew up during the Milosevic era and left the country’s higher education system out of step with the rest of Europe. Issues such as recognition of qualifications, university organization and governance, and the hours and length of time students must study before completing a degree are key elements of the legislation.

The Times Higher Education Supplement [21]
Dec. 24/31

United Kingdom

Universities Wary of Potential Visa Price Rise

Plans to double the cost of renewing student visas have been met with strong resistance from university leaders who say that increased visa costs would damage their ability to raise income from foreign students. Students are currently charged US$290 for visa renewals by mail, and $460 for same-day service. Until 2003, visa extension applications to study for postgraduate courses were free.

Universities UK [22], the vice-chancellor’s umbrella group, has written to Prime Minister Tony Blair to ask him to step in to make students exempt from the fees, arguing that they will be deterred from studying in the UK if they face increased visa charges. The government is trying to balance a need for increased visa revenues with targets set in 1999 by Mr. Blair to increase overseas student numbers.

The debate has emerged hot on the heels of the University of Oxford [23]’s announcement that it is planning to decrease the number of UK and EU students it enrolls in favor of international students, to help increase income (see next piece).

Guardian [7]
Jan. 28, 2005

Oxford Looks for Greater Percentage of International Students

Oxford University [23] has announced that it will cut the number of UK students it recruits and appeal to a greater number of students from abroad to combat a financial crisis. Announced in a January Green Paper on the university’s future, the move calls for a gradual reduction in undergraduate numbers over the next five years to help the university retain its world-class status, which it says is crucial in order to attract top-caliber staff.

The paper continues that in order to be able to compete with the likes of U.S. Ivy league schools, Oxford needs to be able to attract top-class academics by offering compensation and conditions similar to those available in the United States. By reducing the number of students from the UK, the university is seeking to increase the percentage of international students – who pay fees of up to US$35,000 a year – from 7 or 8 percent of total undergraduates to between 12 and 15 percent. The paper also calls for an increase in recruitment to more lucrative graduate programs – where 40 percent of overseas students are enrolled. Oxford has a much higher proportion of undergraduates than any Ivy League university with 11,000 compared with an Ivy League average of around 7,500.

In related news, the University of Manchester [24] – the UK’s largest institution of higher education – released a strategic plan in October that envisions the trebling of revenue from foreign enrollments by 2015.

The Independent [25]
Jan. 25, 2005

Foreign Graduates in Scotland Granted Extended Stay

Under a new deal between the Home Office and the Scottish Executive, foreign students from 46 colleges of further education in Scotland will be permitted to stay in the country for up to two years after they graduate, an extension of 21 months on current legislation. Under the new scheme, due to start in 2006, 4,500 foreign students annually will be eligible to apply. This is in addition to the annual 4,000 foreign graduates of Scottish universities who will also be eligible. After two years, graduates without a valid work permit must depart the country.

The development is part of Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell’s ‘Fresh Talent’ scheme, an effort to bring 8,000 people a year to Scotland over the next five years to help combat Scotland’s declining population. Some predictions see Scotland’s population falling from its current 5.05 million to 4.77 million by 2030.

Some critics of the plan feel that given the present tightening of immigration controls in the rest of the UK, nothing short of total devolution of immigration policy to Scotland will solve the problem.

Scotland on Sunday [26]
Dec. 5, 2004

Great Britain Warned of Over-reliance on Foreign Students

British universities are in danger of becoming over-reliant on the recruitment of foreign students as a way of supplementing government-capped fees on education the Economist newspaper warned in January.

Of the total number of foreign students coming to study in Great Britain, nine percent come from outside the EU, an increase of 25 percent on the previous year. Many universities are heavily reliant on their foreign student population – who pay three times that of domestic or EU students in fees – in order to balance the books. At the London school of Economics [27] the ratio of foreign students to home students is 1:1. With the growth of foreign markets such as China, and the decline of the US as a desirable destination following the tightening of visa regulations, prospects continue to look good. However, the Higher Education Policy Institute [28], a think-tank, has warned of the volatility of this market and the slackening of recent growth.

Three factors are involved. One is the aggressive marketing and growing competition from European as well as American universities for graduate students. China is also developing rapidly, and is fast becoming something of a hub for other Asian students. Secondly, British universities have put so much time and effort into recruitment that the quality of student life for international students has suffered somewhat. Difficulties in finding work, opening bank accounts and renewing visas combine to make for a less than welcoming environment. Finally, many students are simply not prepared to pay such high costs considering what is on offer. They want value for money and if it can be found elsewhere they will take it. Some argue that an increase in home student fees would allow British universities to offer better value for foreign students.

The Economist [29]
Jan. 13, 2005

London is New Home of US Business School

The University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business [30] is relocating its Barcelona campus to London this summer, a clear sign of the British capital’s position at the center of European business.

The university’s relocation will add another US$1,3 00,000 to the school’s annual costs but management feel the number of alumni working in London will more than cover the cost in the long-run. The strategy differs from that of some other business colleges who choose to become partners with local schools in Europe or Asia. The advantage of Chicago’s approach is that it retains total control over course content and quality.

The Guardian [7]
Jan. 24, 2005