WENR, June 2011: Europe

Group Announces Rules on the ‘Approval’ of University Rankings

New rules for evaluating how university rankings are conducted were announced recently in Paris at the Unesco Global Forum, [1] “Rankings and Accountability in Higher Education: Uses and Misuses.”

The new Ranking Audit Rules were adopted by the Executive Committee of the International Ranking Expert Group [2]’s (or IREG’s) Observatory on Ranking and Excellence, which announced that it was working on an evaluation system, or audit, at its meeting [3] last fall in Berlin.

“The purpose of an audit, conducted by independent academic teams, will be to verify if a ranking under review was done professionally, and observes good practices, providing students, their parents and employers with information allowing them to compare and assess programs offered by higher-education institutions,” according to the ranking group’s press release.

Rankings will be reviewed on a voluntary basis and any rankings organization can ask to be audited. Those that pass what the group describes as its “robust evaluation” will be able to certify their ranking system as “IREG approved.” The new audit system, for which the first results will be published this fall, is intended to “enhance the transparency of rankings, give users of rankings a tool to identify trustworthy rankings, and improve the quality of rankings.”

IREG [4]
May 17, 2011

A New International Ranking of Universities Joins the Fray

The field of international rankings was introduced to a new system of evaluating and tabulating quality standards at universities around the world in June, with the introduction of a system designed to respond to the needs of the end user.

Known as U-Multirank [5], the ranking utilizes many of the same indicators used by current leaders in the field, but allows users to apply their own weightings rather than imposing their own arbitrary ones, in a bid to allow users to create ‘personalized rankings.’ Supported by the European Commission, U-Multirank was created on the assumption that there is no such thing as an objective ranking. The consortium of European organizations behind the project is led by the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies [6] at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and the Centre for Higher Education Development [7], in Germany.

The ranking relies on indicators in five subject areas: teaching and learning, research, knowledge transfer, international orientation, and regional engagement. In June, developers presented the results of a two-year feasibility study involving 159 universities from around the world, two thirds of which are in Europe. Very few universities in the United States and China participated. The consortium hopes to unveil the complete system in the fall.

The Chronicle of Higher Education [8]
June 6, 2011

Intra-European Mobility Hits Record High

A record number of European students were studying abroad during the 2009-10 academic year under the European Union’s Erasmus [9] program, according to data released in June by the European Commission. Erasmus also supports mobility among academics. In 2009-10, a total of 38,000 grants were given to university staff and teachers to teach or receive training abroad, up 4 percent over the previous year. Among students, Spain was the most preferred destination, followed by France and the United Kingdom.

“More than 213,000 students received Erasmus grants to study or train abroad a new record and 7.4 percent increase on the previous year’s figure,” says a news release [10] from the commission, which runs the program. It describes Erasmus as “the world’s most successful student-exchange program.”

European Commission [11]
June 6, 2011


Too Many Students

Already overcrowded, German public universities are getting ready for even more students as the government pushes to increase access.

Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged that Germany would become a republic of education in a widely publicized speech in 2008, and her dream is quickly becoming fulfilled. Several factors are fuelling the rise, including a desire for the life opportunities provided by a university education, the abolition of mandatory military service, and a reduction of one year in the high school curriculum.

But Professor Matthias Jaroch, spokesman for the German Association of Professors and Lecturers [12], says the government is failing to back her vision with cash, causing a crisis of overcrowding. The association demands that the state and federal governments put more money into education. “We are now working at a ratio of 60 students to one professor,” he said. “The system is no longer tenable.”

Some universities say they are trying to plan ahead by hiring more teaching staff and by providing more rooms. Academics and experts agree, however, that more government money is needed to fix an outdated system that will have to accommodate a tide of students in the years to come. About 200,000 students have been added to the university system in the past three years, an increase of about 10 percent, according to the German office of statistics. By 2020, the number of students is expected to grow an additional 300,000 students, Mr. Jaroch said.

The New York Times [13]
May 15, 2011


Faced with Dropping Enrollments, Universities Look to Recruit from Abroad

According to government estimates, the student population in Poland will drop by one third by the end of the decade. In response, universities are looking to fill vacant places by upping their overseas recruiting efforts.

“[Polish] universities are trying to make themselves known at educational fairs in various countries,” said Waldemar Siwinski, head of the Education Perspective Foundation, which along with the Conference of Academic Rectors of Polish Schools [14], has been promoting universities under the “Study in Poland [15]” initiative.

The Rzeczpospolita daily reports that the bulk of the recruitment efforts are focused on Poland’s eastern neighbors, but universities are also looking to attract students from North America and China. Currently, there are 1.9 million students in Poland, although only a fraction of that number, 17,000, are foreign.

Polskie Radio [16]
May 30, 2011


British Students Consider Spain

In a bid to attract more international students, the Spanish government recently sponsored the Universidad.es [17] Foundation, an agency set up to promote the country’s universities worldwide.

While Spain has long been one of the top short-term study destinations for short-term study ‘exchange’ programs, it remains an unlikely choice for undergraduate students looking to complete entire degrees overseas – particularly British students, who are often deterred by the fact that few Spanish universities run entirely English bachelor’s programs. But with newly raised tuition fees and a cap on available places back in the United Kingdom, British interest in studying abroad is on the rise.

“So far, we haven’t done anything to promote Spanish universities in the UK,” says José Manuel Martínez Sierra, general director at the Universidad.es Foundation. But this is about to change. Spain’s Strategy University 2015 is investing in the internationalization of the country’s campuses – actively recruiting students from around the world. Universidad.es Foundation, for example, is working with the British Council [18], and is set to start a promotional tour of Scottish universities.

At Spanish universities, British students pay the same as Spanish students. According to studyabroaduniversities.com [19], the cost of a bachelor’s degree is about £872 (US$1,400) a year – compared to the UK’s new £9,000 ($14,400) maximum. And even though degrees at private institutions are considerably more expensive, many give large scholarships and/or fellowships to encourage international students – many equaling up to a 50 percent reduction in tuition fees.

Independent [20]
May 26, 2011

United Kingdom

Top School Breaks Trend in Announcing Lower than Maximum Tuition Fees

The London School of Economics [21] has become Britain’s first elite university to announce that it will charge less than £9,000 ($14,400) in tuition fees. From 2012/13, the annual tuition fee for UK and EU undergraduates at the university will be £8,500.

The university said it was charging below the maximum to send “a clear message that LSE welcomes students from all backgrounds.”

Other English research-intensive universities in the elite Russell [22] and 1994 [23] Groups have said that they plan to charge £9,000. Birkbeck, University of London [24], is the only other member of those groups to have said it may charge less than the maximum. More than 90 universities in England have so far revealed their plans for undergraduate tuition fees for 2012 and the BBC has compiled a list of who is charging what. [25]

The fees increase will come into force in September 2012, with universities permitted to charge between £6,000 and £9,000 per year, an increase from just over £3,000 at present.

The BBC [26]
May26, 2011

New Elite, and Controversial, Private College in the Offing

Leading British academics are working to launch a private university that would rival Oxford [27] and Cambridge [28] and charge tuition fees of £18,000 ($30,000) a year. The new college promises many things that critics fear are disappearing from British universities, such as close student-faculty interaction and an emphasis on the humanities

A.C. Grayling, a well-known philosopher and the driving force behind the New College of the Humanities [29], in London, said in a video introduction on the institution’s website that students will have access to many resources at the University of London [30], including its libraries. However, in a statement [31], the University of London said that there was “no formal agreement between the University of London and the NCH concerning academic matters” and that there was not yet any agreement “regarding access to the Senate House Libraries by NCH students.”

The institution is slated to be modeled on elite liberal arts colleges in the United States. The university, which will begin its first undergraduate courses in 2012, is reportedly being funded by millions of pounds from private investors. Fourteen leading academics are backing the project and will teach at the university. The institution would initially look to enroll 200 undergraduate students in the faculties of English, history, philosophy, economics and law.

According to the BBC [32], however, the college faces significant regulatory issues, with a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills [33], which oversees universities, saying that the institution “is not currently a university college” and “has not yet applied to use this title.”

The Guardian [34]
June 5, 2011

Quarter Million Student Visa Cuts to Cost British Economy Billions

According to Britain’s Home Office, the number of student visas issued by 2015 will be cut by 260,000. An estimate released in June suggests the recent changes to Britain’s student visa system will also reduce the number of visas issued to students’ dependents by 100,000 by 2015.

The Home Office estimates the cuts could cost £2.4 billion (US$3.9 billion) more than they save. The figures show the total costs could be £3.5 billion, but that would be partially offset by savings of £1.1 billion. A Home Office spokesman said the measures are aimed at cutting immigration abuse by bogus students. The main costs would be an estimated £3.2 billion loss from fewer students arriving and working in the UK either during or after their program, and a further loss of £170 million in fees to educational institutions. Savings would include an estimated £840 million saving to public services, such as the National Health Service, and a further £150 million at the UK Border Agency.

Earlier this year, ministers said they would cut the number of student visas through greater scrutiny of private colleges and programs and tougher English language tests. There will also be restrictions on when students and their dependents can work. The proposals are expected to eventually reduce the number of students by 75,000 a year, down from roughly 250,000 a year at present. The government also released figures in June showing it had revoked the licenses of 33 education providers since May 2010, saying they had failed to comply with the government’s requirements. Another 32 providers have had their licenses suspended.

BBC [35]
June 13, 2011