WENR, January/February: Europe
University Mergers in Europe Prompted by Quality Concerns
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that a wave of university mergers happening across Europe in recent years has been driven by concerns over economic competitiveness, research quality, and international reputation.
Aalto University in Finland is one of the country’s newest institutions of higher education, resulting from the merger of three institutions—in arts and design, business, and technology. By bringing together such seemingly disparate fields, Aalto’s founders hope to stimulate new research and maintain the economic competitiveness that Finland has earned largely through the success of its technology sector.
In Finland, the number of universities has decreased from 20 to 15 in just a few years. In Denmark, since 2007, 25 universities and research institutions have been reduced to eight universities and three research institutions. In France, the University of Strasbourg—the country’s largest institution—was formed in 2009 through the merger of three universities that had been loosely linked before being broken up in the early 1970s in a national trend at that time. And last month the merger of two universities—one of which had itself been formed from two institutions early last year—to create a new “super-university” was announced in Wales, where the government has pledged to reduce by almost half the number of institutions through mergers.
In those and other countries, including Belgium, Germany, and Sweden, universities of varying size and reputation have joined forces with or been subsumed into a single larger institution. In some instances, the impetus for change was largely from the bottom up. Elsewhere the mergers resulted from changes in national policy to streamline university financing and concentrate disciplinary expertise. Global university rankings have also been cited as motivating factors, as have shifts in attitudes about university autonomy and funding, and whether all institutions are—or should be—considered equal.
– The Chronicle of Higher Education
January 2, 2011
Is European Mobility Program Meeting Its Stated Goals?
Europe’s Erasmus student mobility program was launched in 1987 with a goal of promoting intra-European academic mobility, enabling students to study for a semester anywhere in the region. But Times Higher Education has reported that the program has significant financial inequities.
Students receive scholarships from their home countries. Since relatively few British students want to study abroad, they receive generous grants. However, in countries in Eastern Europe, the program is more popular, so the limited supply of funds is divided among more students. Further, since it is far more expensive to live and study in London than in Bratislava, the article suggests the idea of true open access throughout Europe isn’t really being met.
This academic year (2010-11) the allocation per student is €225 ($300) a month, but the British Council, which oversees the scheme in the UK, carries out a half-yearly review based on final participation numbers, and expects the allocation to rise to between €300 and €350 a month. This may not sound like a lot for a student living in an expensive city such as London, but according to one Slovakian academic, it is enough to “live like a king in Bratislava”.
The financial difficulties faced by students with lower stipends may help explain why many choose not to travel far, sticking instead to neighboring countries arguably undermining the overall aims of the Erasmus scheme.
– Times Higher Education
January 15, 2011
European Business Schools Continue to Prosper
According to two recently released reports on graduate business education, European business schools continue to make up ground on American business schools when it comes to attracting international students, while job prospects are improving in both regions.
A report from the Graduate Management Admission Council on where international students are applying and sending results from the Graduate Management Admission Test found that over the past five years, European business schools have seen a 90 percent increase in the number of test scores they received. That compares with a 30 percent increase in the number of test scores sent to all business schools worldwide during that period. The report says this is largely because students are attracted to the shorter duration of most graduate business programs in Europe—one to one and a half years, instead of two—and the global makeup of their student bodies.
The second report, by the MBA Career Services Council, found that employment prospects were picking up for business-school graduates. Sixty-three percent of the business schools that responded to a survey had seen an increase in on-campus recruiting for full-time jobs during the fiscal year that ended last June, compared with the previous year. In 2009, by comparison, 79 percent of the responding schools reported a decline in recruiting.
– The Chronicle of Higher Education
January 16, 2011
90% of Universities to be ‘Autonomous’ By Year’s End
Under the 2007 Universities Freedom and Responsibilities law, an additional 22 French public universities will be granted control of their budget and personnel choices in 2011 under a third round of autonomy announcements. This will move almost 90 percent of universities to become “autonomous” from the central government. Under the reform, in late December, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research announced that the remaining universities must switch to autonomous status by August 2012. However, schools will continue to depend upon state funding.
The changes come as part of a 2007 reform, brought by the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, that aims to see the country’s 83 public universities managed as independent institutions. Historically, the central government has maintained control over each university’s spending, personnel and real estate management, and even course offerings. Meanwhile, the selective grandes écoles are adopting new rules designed to make entry more accessible to less privileged young people. Under the agreement, each school has an ‘objective’ of recruiting 30 percent of students on state grants, compared with the usual 10-15 percent.
– International Herald Tribune
January 2, 2011
Top French University Joins College Board
In January, the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, or Sciences Po, one of the most prestigious universities in France became the first French public institution to join the College Board, the non-profit American organization that oversees the SAT exam and Advanced Placement program.
“This is an important step forward for us,” Francis Vérillaud, deputy director of Sciences Po and head of the International Affairs Division, said in a press release, adding that “40 percent of our students already come from 130 countries.”
As a new member of the College Board, Sciences Po, which specializes in humanities and social sciences, will be better able to recruit students in North America and beyond. Sciences Po has a total of 9,600 students. The university also offers dual degrees with American universities like Columbia, Johns Hopkins and Northwestern.
– Sciences Po News Release
January 12, 2011
Engineering Degrees: Diplom Versus MSc
The state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has adopted new legislation allowing graduates to apply for a diplom instead of an MSc, while a leading university specializing in engineering sciences has said it will introduce new diplom programs this year. These moves come despite a federal push to standardize a new degree structure based on three years of undergraduate education and two years at the masters’ level, culminating in the award, in engineering fields, of an MSc, as outlined under the European Bologna reforms.
Many in government, industry and academia are having a hard time letting go of the five-year diplom, which was introduced just over 111 years ago and has enjoyed a high level of respect internationally. Nine of Germany’s technical universities (TUs), institutions specializing in the engineering sciences, have been campaigning for the diplom title to be retained.
Calling themselves the TU9 Alliance, these institutions account for 200,000, or 12 percent, of Germany’s students and train half of the country’s graduates in engineering. Out of the 46,000 engineering students graduating in 2009, 36,000 were awarded a diplom in engineering (the Dipl.-Ing.), while the others received the new Master of Science.
Although the German universities are proud of the diplom, abroad it is often confused with the diploma, a much lower qualification that does not imply any university education. The TU9 Alliance has not received unanimous backing, even among the technical universities. For instance, TU Harburg has clearly set its sights on the new masters’ and bachelor degrees.
There is now concern that Germany could slide into a patchwork of degrees. This does seem justified, given that Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Fachhochschulen (FH), or universities of applied science, can now equate their bachelors’ degrees, awarded after eight semesters unlike the universities’ six, with the diplom, albeit a Dipl.-Ing (FH). The ‘FH’ suffix might simply be ignored in other European countries, which would put the Fachhochschul bachelor degree on a par with the universities’ master’s degree, via the diploma supplement.
– University World News
January 7, 2011
German Students More Mobile than Most in the Region
According to a recent survey, there were almost twice as many German students studying abroad in 2008 than in 2000. The survey showed that German students are much more mobile than students from most other countries, with only China, India and South Korea sending more students abroad. At the same time, the number of students from other countries coming to Germany to study rose by around 250 percent in 11 years.
The survey, which was conducted by the German Student Welfare Service, DSW, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, found that the number of students going abroad almost doubled from 52,200 in 2000 to 102,000 in 2008. As a proportion of the almost two million-strong student body, 15 percent had spent a period abroad as part of their studies. The most popular countries for a study period were Spain, France and the UK, while favored destinations for practical training or internships abroad were the US, the UK and France. The number of students coming to Germany from other countries rose from 100,033 in 1997 to 245,522 in 2008, putting Germany third worldwide as a study destination after the United States and the United Kingdom.
– University World News
January 16, 2011
Controversial University Reform Bill Passed by Parliament
Italy’s parliament gave final approval in December to a controversial set of reforms for the nation’s universities. The reforms involve evaluating the quality of university research and of university efforts to train students for available jobs – and funding formulas would change to reward institutions that do well and to cut funds to the others.
Total government support for higher education is expected to drop significantly over the next year, and many students and faculty members who have been taking to the streets in protest say that the changes will only exacerbate overcrowding and other problems created by years of inadequate budgets.
Rectors will now be limited to six-year single mandates under the bill, and tenure for academics will be based exclusively on merit, and will include a maximum of six years of fixed-term contracts for entry-level assistant professors who must either obtain tenure during this time or leave the academy. In a bid to battle corruption and nepotism, there will be a ban on relatives working in the same university. A total of 4,500 new positions for assistant professors over three years will be created, while university administrators will face tighter financial controls.
– Wall Street Journal
December 23, 2010
Medical Schools Start English-Language Instruction
Three universities in Italy recently started offering English-language medical courses in a bid to improve the international competitiveness of Italian medical research and to draw in foreign students.
Reversing a recent trend that has seen a large number of Italian medical researchers emigrate abroad, seeking better opportunities, these universities — two in Milan and one in nearby Pavia – have managed to attract many foreigners in their first years of operation. In 2009, nine foreign students enrolled in the six-year English program at the University of Pavia — the first in Italy — along with 65 Italians eager not to learn in their mother tongue. This year, another 20 foreign students enrolled, mostly from the Middle East, China, Africa, and former Soviet-bloc countries. Courses follow the Italian curriculum but are taught in English by Italian professors who have worked and taught abroad.
The University of Pavia is public and charges from €1,000, or $1,370, to €4,000 a year, depending on the student’s income. However, getting into the program is not simple. As a public university, the admission test is administered by Italy’s Education Ministry and is in Italian. It has a scientific component and a section about Italian current affairs and culture, which makes it tough for non-natives.
The International Medical School, a program created this academic year by the public University of Milan together with the Humanitas Clinical Institute, is now also offering an English-taught medical course. The first class consists of 30 Italians, two dual citizens and seven foreigners. Meanwhile, the San Raffaele International MD Program in Milan prepares graduates to take licensing exams both in Europe and in the United States. The program, which also started this year, allows students to do their pre-residency in the school’s clinical hospital, or in other hospitals in the United States and in Canada, and to also take the first two steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination before they finish their six-year degree. The course, which costs €18,000 a year, has 11 foreign students enrolled in its first class. In an effort to broaden its global appeal, this summer the school will offer English language admission tests in various cities, probably including New York, Milan and Kuala Lumpur.
– International Herald Tribune
January 31, 2011
Republic of Ireland
Universities Spared the Hatchet
Universities will be subject to relatively modest cuts, despite severe cuts to other portfolios under the Republic of Ireland’s emergency Budget announced in December. The grant allocated to universities and institutes of technology in Ireland has been cut by 7 percent from €1.2 billion (US$1.6 billion) in 2010 to €1.1 billion next year.
The €1,500 “student-services charge” has been replaced by a flat “higher education student contribution” of €2,000 a year. The “student-services charge” was designed to cover the cost of the administration of university education, rather than teaching, and was criticized by the Union of Students in Ireland as “fees by any other name.”
With the additional income from students, this means the overall cut to the Irish academy’s core grant equates to just 2.5 percent. Students will also face a 4 percent reduction in the monetary value of student-support grants, available to roughly a third of undergraduates.
– Times Higher Education
December 16, 2010
Government Report Calls for Tuition Fees and Additional Investment in Higher Education
In light of a major review of the country’s higher education system, students in the Republic of Ireland could face upfront tuition fees and academics could be subject to a strict appraisal system forcing them to work harder.
The long-awaited report by economist Colin Hunt, published in January, recommends additional investment of up to €500 million ($656 million) in the tertiary sector. But it recommends that some of the financial burden be shared by students through the reintroduction of tuition fees, a new student-loans system, and a means test applied to student grants. Without such measures, expansion would be impossible, says the report, “National Strategy for Higher Education.”
This release of the report marks the conclusion of a lengthy and much-delayed process and offers a set of proposals designed to steer universities through the next 20 years. Although the administration that commissioned the review is likely to leave office within two months, Hunt’s recommendations may be picked up by its successor.As well as measures to boost participation, the report calls for mergers between Ireland’s technical colleges and regional clusters. Institutions would be controlled through a “contractual relationship or service level agreement” between the state and universities, with the Higher Education Authority taking on a greater monitoring role. Even before the report’s publication, four Dublin institutes of technology had made clear their intention to jointly bid to become a “technological university.”
– Inside Higher Ed
January 13, 2011
Applications to Universities from Abroad Plummet After Introduction of Fees
Applications from foreign students to Swedish universities dropped decisively following the introduction of tuition for students from outside the European Union, the European Economic Area, and Switzerland, according to data from Sweden’s Agency for Higher Education Services (VHS), which coordinates the admissions process for Swedish higher-education institutions.
Swedish universities remain free for domestic and most European students, however, beginning this fall, students from outside Europe have to pay tuition. By the January deadline for the fall semester, the number of applicants for master’s programs fell by 73 percent compared to 2010, while applications for international courses fell by 86 percent. The total number of international applicants for the fall semester was 5,772, which compares with 40,429 for the same time last year.
Tuula Kuosmanen, director of admissions for VHS, told The Local that the drop was anticipated. She noted that neighboring Denmark also experienced a similar drop after introducing fees in 2006, but the country now attracts more foreign students than ever before.
– The Local
January 18, 2011
Publisher to Offer Degrees
According to the BBC, Pearson, one of the world’s largest publishers may be given degree-awarding powers as the government seeks to open up the university sector to more private providers.
Pearson, which owns British exam board Edexcel, plans to start by offering four vocational degrees with a further education college. But it wants to award degrees itself, which would require a law change. The government says it is considering this. Universities Minister David Willetts has been quite vocal about his plans to open up the university sector to private providers. A white paper is expected to set out plans to do this soon, with legislation likely to follow.
Pearson anticipates it will be able to offer degree courses in business, engineering, IT and health and social care to begin with at “very competitive” prices. It is also considering offering degrees in nursing, education, hospitality and tourism.
December 14, 2010
Number of Welsh Universities to be Halved by 2013
There should be no more than six universities in Wales by 2013, an assembly government sponsored body says. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) said the current 11 institutions should be reduced to make the sector sustainable. The body is responsible for administering funds from the Welsh Assembly Government for higher education institutions.
Universities will be expected to merge with others in the same region, leaving two universities in the mid and north, two in the southwest and two in the southeast. The aim is to create institutions with income above the UK average. Plans for a merger between Swansea Metropolitan and Trinity Saint David are already underway. Small institutions like the University of Wales Newport and the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff appear as if they will have no choice but to look for a merger with either Cardiff or Glamorgan University.
There have been a number of university mergers in Wales in the past six years. Cardiff University and University of Wales College of Medicine merged in 2004, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama joined the University of Glamorgan Group in 2007 and the University of Wales, Lampeter, and Trinity University College, Carmarthen, joined forces this year. In December an agreement in principle was announced to create a single new university for South West Wales by merging the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University.
December 22, 2010
In 2009-10, 63 percent of students who obtained a first degree at a UK university achieved a first class or an upper second, the top two grading distinctions at British universities. More than 14 percent, or 46,825 students, gained a first. The proportion awarded good degrees has increased gradually each year, data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show. In 2005-06, 12 percent of students achieved a first and 60 percent gained a first or an upper second; while in 1970 just one in three graduates earned an upper second or better.
The results for last summer’s graduates, published in late January, will increase pressure for reform of the degree grading system in Britain, which an official inquiry has already condemned as “not fit for purpose”.
In a 2009 report, a cross-party committee of MPs raised concerns about the growth in good degrees in a report in 2009. The now defunct Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee called for more research in order to establish the reasons for the increase and “to remove suspicions of what, we hope, are unfounded misgivings that [it] may result from factors other than greater intellectual achievement.”
– Higher Education Statistics Agency
January 13, 2011
EU Students Seeking Out Free Places in Scotland
Scottish ministers claim that thousands of European students are exploiting Scotland’s free university system to avoid paying escalating fees in their home countries. The latest admissions figures show the number of students from other EU countries taking up places at Scottish universities has nearly doubled in a decade to almost 16,000 last year.
Mike Russell, the Scottish education minister, said the figures showed that European students were becoming an increasingly significant drain on the university sector at a time of deepening cuts in public spending. The number of EU students getting free places went up 17 percent in 2009/10. By comparison, the number of EU students taking up places at English universities went up by 6 percent.
Because university education is free for residents of Scotland, under EU law students from all other EU member states are entitled to the same free places. Students in some countries such as France face annual fees and other costs running to thousands of euros a year. According to eGov Monitor, an online publication, the growth in EU students represents a cost to the Scottish government “of more than £75 million a year in 2009-10, compared with £20 million in 2000-01, when 8,195 E.U. students came to Scotland.”
January 13, 2011
Enrollment Increases at English Universities Bolstered by Foreign Students
In academic year 2009-2010, enrollment at English universities continued to rise steadily, with the biggest increase coming from foreign students, according to newly released figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Overall enrollments increased by 4 percent over the previous year, with domestic (UK) enrollments up by 3 percent (from 1,701,060 to 1,758,680). Student enrollments from European Union countries rose by 6 percent (from 92,885 to 98,060), and from outside the European Union by 12 percent (from 211,900 to 236,900).
Meanwhile, final end of year figures from the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show a double-digit rise in the number of overseas students accepted into UK universities in 2009 versus 2008. The total number of accepted overseas applicants for the UCAS 2009 admissions cycle was up 10.4 percent on the year prior. Lithuania, Latvia and Romania reported the greatest increases, up 70.6 percent, 60.7 percent and 56.7 percent respectively. Other countries reporting a significant rise include China (27.8 percent), Saudi Arabia (24.1 percent) and Singapore (20.4 percent).
Overall, 62,695 overseas students were accepted to UK universities through UCAS compared to 56,791 at the same point last year.
Accepted applicants from overseas domiciled applicants by country of domicile
Students Gaining British Degrees from Foreign Branch Campuses in Huge Numbers
Hundreds of thousands of students are now studying for UK degrees at campuses around the world, many without ever setting foot in Britain, according to the first official figures on the trend.
Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) new “aggregate offshore record” reveal the scale of study at UK universities’ international branch campuses and via foreign partnerships. There are now more students enrolled in UK programs offered outside the European Union than non-EU students studying in the UK – 340,235 against 280,760. The HESA figure for overseas enrollment covers students registered at UK universities (200,800) and those studying for UK university awards (207,885). Students on these programs may be studying at independent branch campuses or at foreign universities that offer British degrees under a partnership arrangement.
According to a recent study from the Uk’s Quality Assurance Agency, more than 1,600 organizations around the world offer UK higher education awards. While 157 universities and other institutions in the UK have the power to award degrees, many more organizations offer awards on their behalf. About a third of the institutions delivering UK higher education are outside Britain. Mandy Nelson, head of the QAA’s Information Unit, said: “The results are fascinating. From Trinidad to Thailand, we found collaborative working between UK universities and local colleges, businesses and other specialist providers.”