WENR, July/August 2009: Europe


Europe Lays Groundwork for Global University Ranking

The European Union has begun the process of creating its own university-ranking system by selecting a consortium of research groups to carry out a feasibility study “on the design and testing of a new multidimensional global university ranking.” The move comes in response to years of complaints from European universities that they are not fairly evaluated in currently existing rankings, such as that produced [1] by China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University. [2]

“Existing rankings tend to focus on research in ‘hard sciences’ and ignore the performance of universities in areas like humanities and social sciences, teaching quality, and community outreach,” the European Commission said in a news release announcing the study.

The winning bid for the feasibility study was submitted by the CHERPA-Network consortium, led by the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies [3] at Twente University [4], in the Netherlands, and the Center for Higher Education Development [5], in Germany. The current timetable for the new ranking would see it designed by the end of the year with testing beginning in January 2011 on a representative sample of at least 150 higher-education and research institutions focused on the disciplines of engineering and business studies.

European Commission news release [6]
June 2, 2009

Conclusions from World Conference on Higher Education

The World Conference on Higher Education [7] took place in Paris in July with more than 1,000 attendees discussing challenges and opportunities posed by the explosive growth in global demand for higher education, advances in information and communication technologies, and globalization. Among the attendees at the second such UNESCO gathering (the first was in 1998) were approximately 100 ministers or vice ministers of education.

A communiqué [8] was released after the conference, and the first bullet point on the document describes higher education as a public good, one that “is the responsibility of all stakeholders, especially governments.” The document also states, however, that while education is a public good, “private financing should be encouraged. While every effort must be made to increase public funding of higher education, it must be recognized that public funds are limited and may not be able to fully cater for the rapidly developing sector.”

And therein lies the conundrum facing governments around the world: how much public money should go towards higher education and how much latitude should be given to private providers? The growth of private higher education was a major theme of the conference (30 percent of enrollments worldwide are now in the private sector) alongside the theme that higher education should be effectively regulated by government or government-mandated agencies.

July 9, 2009


University Reform Bill Passed

The Finnish parliament passed a reform bill in June that is being described as the most radical set of reforms to the nation’s universities in decades.

The new legislation is designed to increase university autonomy and give them more responsibility for finance and staffing policy. Although universities will continue to be government-funded, they will receive a monthly subsidy that they will manage in their own accounts. The reforms also alter the way in which governing boards and rectors are constituted and appointed; rather than being elected by staff and students, rectors will now be appointed by the board, and the appointee will not need to be a professor of the university, as current requirements stipulate.

In addition, universities will become legal entities rather than continuing to be ‘accounting units’ within the government bureaucracy. University staff will cease to be government employees, and universities will have two-thirds ownership of companies that own university buildings and the government will be the minority shareholder.

University World News [10]
June 21, 2009


Students, Teachers Protest State of German Education, Despite Record Funding Increases

An estimated 200,000 school and university students and teachers took part in a series of demonstrations in 70 towns and cities across Germany in June to protest what they view as the run-down state of the country’s education system. The demonstrations represented the culmination of a week of action that included isolated strikes and protests at individual universities.

The demonstrators were protesting a series of drastic university budget cuts in recent years, including the many vacant teaching posts remaining unfilled. Students are also objecting to a policy of “neglecting the masses and promoting elite education,” a reference to increased funding for top universities and programs deemed ‘elite.’ Students are also firmly opposed to the decision by the German constitutional court in 2005 to allow state governments to implement new tuition fees. Many German states have either introduced or are in the process of introducing such tuition fees, up to a maximum of €500 per semester ($700). Students at secondary and tertiary institutions were also protesting the new, six-semester bachelor degree programs as well as plans to shorten secondary education without any substantial reform of contents in either sector.

The protests came despite a funding agreement for higher education and research reached between the federal government and the states to the tune of 18 billion euro over the next 10 years – the largest university support measure the country has ever seen. The funding will be tied to student numbers, so those states seeing the greatest increase in student numbers will receive a greater percentage of the funding. Germany had just over two million students enrolled in the 2008-09 academic year, and places for approximately 275,000 additional students are to be created through 2015.

One of the main demands of university students on Wednesday was “Free education for all,” with the vast majority of students opposed to the development of what they think will become a two-tier, income-based education system.

The other major concern of protesters are the reforms being introduced through the Europe-wide Bologna Process, which has replaced longer German first degrees with a structure based on a three-year bachelor’s degree and two-year master’s. Protestors believe the new structure is leading to restrictions in the choice of course subjects available to students, with programs increasingly orientated towards the labor market.

WSWS [11]
June 18, 2009

5 University Partnerships Get EUR5 Million in Development Funds

Five German universities and their partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America will receive as much as EUR5 million each over the next five years to build joint activities, after the results of a competitive process involving 44 projects were announced in June.

The Excellence for Development [12] program is an initiative of the German Academic Exchange Service [13] (DAAD) and the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development [14] to promote cooperation with developing countries.

“Education is essential for development, and universities form a basis of development. This is why we are promoting research for development and academic networks between institutions in developing and industrialized countries,” said Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, announcing the winners in Berlin. “Together, they are to become centers of excellence for the Millennium Development Goals.”

The aims of the initiative are to reinforce higher education structures in the developing countries as well as enhancing the status of development cooperation at institutions in Germany. The winners were chosen on the grounds of their previous work as well as the viability of their program.

The five award-winners and their respective university partners are:

  1. University: Technical University of Braunschweig [15]
    Partner Universities:

  2. University: University of Hohenheim [19]
    Partner Universities:

  3. University: University of Kassel [22]
    Partner Universities:

  4. University: Cologne University Of Applied Sciences [29]
    Partner Universities:

  5. University: Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich [33]
    Partner Universities:

DAAD news release [12]
June 9, 2009


Facing Challenges in Adopting Bologna

Serbia is facing some major challenges in adapting its higher education sector to meet the new standards of the European Higher Education Area, adopted under the Bologna Process, which Serbia signed onto in 2003.

At the recent conference of education ministers [38] in Leuven, Belgium, Serbia received 3.8 points out of five for progress it has made in implementing the requirements of the Bologna Declaration over the past three years. It ranked 24th out of the 46 countries, despite being among the last to have started implementing the declaration.

Belgrade University’s Student Parliament head Aleksandar Jovic told Southeast European Times that the biggest problem facing Serbian tertiary education is the overwhelming breadth of most programs. Many students have difficulty passing exams, despite their dedication to systematic study. However, he added, the students are “concerned … that a large number of schools have announced the possibility to increase tuition”, adversely affecting families’ standard of living.

Belgrade University Vice-Rector Neda Bokan told Southeast European Times that “both students and educators need to engage more to achieve a more efficient higher education and [produce] experts who will be able to do their job well after graduation.” To do so, the university must harmonize its tradition with modern education trends and European standards, she said.

Southeast European Times [39]


University Entrance Exam Taken for Last Time in Existing Format

Turkey’s Student Selection Exam (ÖSS), required for admission into universities across the country, was held in June for the final time in its current format, with a total of 1,349,423 students taking it.

The ÖSS has been in place since 1974, and although the exam has been renamed several times, its purpose has remained the same: to whittle down huge numbers of university aspirants to the select few getting seats. Because universities have limited capacity and cannot meet the needs of the growing population, the ÖSS is not an exam designed to assess achievement, but one designed to eliminate a certain number of students.

This year’s candidates have a slightly better chance of getting into the universities they are aiming for, as this year has seen not only an increase in the number of students universities are accepting but also a decline in the number of students taking the exam.

Today’s Zaman [40]
June 15, 2009

United Kingdom

University Applications Up 10%

According to new figures [41] from the University and College Admissions Service [42], applications to British universities have increased by nearly 10 percent over the same period last year, with the biggest growth coming from older students.

The British government capped additional spending for extra university seats earlier this year, a move that may have caused increased competition for places. The increase in working-age (21 and older) applications is likely due to the recession and high levels of unemployment.

UCAS [41]
July 9, 2009

Stringent Visa Regulations Deterring International Students from UK Universities

British universities and colleges might be facing a drop in international enrollments if the new visa system continues to cause rejections and delays, reports The Guardian.

It is claimed that thousands of international students are being warned to find a different study destination from the United Kingdom because of tough new visa rules. Up to 40 percent of international students who apply for a study visa are being turned away, say education agents in Hong Kong. Others are subject to such long delays that they miss the start of the school or college term. The agents said they were encouraging students to apply to Australia or the United States instead.

They blame the UK’s new points-based immigration system, which was introduced in April to stop fake students from entering the country. Britain’s Home Office said 30 percent of study visas from Hong Kong are being approved, down from 100 percent last year. The same is thought to be happening across the world, but particularly in Asia.

Dominic Scott, the chief executive of the UK Council for International Students [43], said that between April and June this year, 35 percent of visa applications from China were refused. Some 49 percent of applications from India and 21 percent from the United States were rejected. Students need an unconditional offer to apply for a visa, but do not receive this until they have their GCSE or A-level results. They then have to apply for the visa, which can take up to eight weeks, by which time the college or school term has started and the university term is about to begin.

Universities UK [44], the umbrella group for vice-chancellors, said a survey of their members conducted in May showed that in Japan and Hong Kong there were reports of five- or six-week delays. In China, there was a refusal rate of 80 percent soon after the new system began.

The Guardian [45]
July 21, 2009


Five Universities Break from University of Wales Umbrella

Universities in Wales have traditionally all fallen under the umbrella of the University of Wales [46] system, constituent colleges of sorts, with the parent university issuing all degrees. Now, in an unexpected move, five of the biggest 12 universities have broken away to form their own alliance designed to strengthen Welsh university research.

The March announcement came as a shock to the other seven remaining higher education institutions left within the University of Wales who were planning to announce their own alliance.

Four of the five – Aberystwyth [47], Bangor [48], Cardiff [49] and Swansea [50] – had ceased to be part of the University of Wales and brought on board the fifth, Glamorgan [51], which was never part of the University of Wales anyway. All five are universities in their own right and either award their own degrees, or have stated that they intend to do so.

The Independent [52]
June 4, 2009