WENR, May 2014: Europe


University Mergers to Appease the Rankings

Twenty French colleges and research institutes are merging to create Université Paris-Saclay [1], soon to be one of France’s largest universities, at a cost of about EUR6.5 billion (US$9 billion). The mega-merger is part of France’s bid to crack the top of the rankings that increasingly dominate international higher education, reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

“Countries from Finland to Portugal are shaping their higher education policies based on outside rankings, eager for the validation and attention the annual lists bestow, even while they are criticized as flawed or misleading.”

“Our ambition is to be among the top 10” in the rankings compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said Dominique Vernay, chairman of the foundation creating Paris-Saclay. “The first goal is to be the top university in continental Europe.”

Because bigger is perceived as better in these lists, governments are merging campuses in hopes of attracting research money and higher caliber faculty and students. Finland has already combined 10 institutions into four universities, partly to attract foreign students and faculty through improved rankings.

However, rankings aren’t the only motive for merging universities. Governments also hope to improve efficiency and expand science departments to attract more research funding.

“I want to change how French universities work, but it’s to make them better, not for the rankings,” Genevieve Fioraso, France’s minister for higher education and research, said in an interview. “We want more research, we want our universities to be more open to the world, more international, more open to companies.”

Bloomberg Businessweek [2]
March 13, 2014


Only 6 in 10 Graduate from Chosen Programs at Italian Universities

Forty percent of students who enroll in an Italian university fail to graduate from their chosen program, a report released in March has shown.

After the first year alone, 15 percent of students on three-year undergraduate programs drop out altogether, while the same proportion switch programs, the report by educational agency Anvur found. The remaining 10 percent abandon university at a later stage of their program.

The government agency put the high figure down to the difficulty students have in moving from school to university life. There has been “ineffective orientation, a deficit in preparing students [and] a weakness in training staff [to help] those enrolled,” the report said.

The overall number of Italians going to university has, however, gone up in recent years. The number of young graduates, aged between 25 and 34, has jumped from 7.1 percent of the population in 1993 to 22.3 percent in 2012.

The Local [3]
March 19, 2014

Republic of Ireland

Four English Language Colleges Barred from Enrolling International Students

Visa issuance has been suspended for four English language colleges in Ireland, following an investigation [4] by The Sunday Times which found that staff at some schools claimed they were willing to alter attendance records, allowing students to flout visa regulations.

Following the report, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and Garda National Immigration Bureau announced the suspension and have opened an investigation into Eden College, National Media College [5]Millennium College [6] and the Business & Computer Training Institute [7].

An undercover reporter found evidence that “some international language schools in Ireland will agree to falsify attendance records for students,” allowing them to circumvent visa regulations requiring them to attend 80 percent of their classes so they can work longer hours.

Marketing English in Ireland [8] CEO David O’Grady told The PIE News that Ireland’s reputation as a study destination has been “greatly hampered” by a growing number of institutions offering extremely low fees and, “under the guise of being educators,” acting as funnels for migrant workers.

None of the suspended colleges were accredited by Accreditation and Co-ordination of English Language Services (ACELS [9]), the body responsible for regulating Ireland’s English language sector.

The PIE News [10]
April 17, 2014


Russia Considers Fast-Track Citizenship Program for Talented Russian Speakers

Proposed legislation that would give native Russian speakers abroad a fast track to Russian citizenship appears designed to lure highly qualified specialists and successful entrepreneurs.

The draft legislation, in the form of new amendments to existing citizenship law, would pave the way for eligible, Russian-speaking applicants to get Russian passports within three months, skipping an otherwise lengthy and complicated procedure.

In introducing the legislation on March 6, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that it would allow Russian speakers who had lived in territories that were subjects of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union to obtain Russian citizenship without getting permanent residence permits.

Rather than sparking a wave of immigration or the large-scale provision of citizenship to Russian speakers abroad, however, analysts say the most controversial thing about Medvedev’s bill is the potential brain-drain effect it could have on Central Asian states.

Some of the Central Asian countries struggle to retain qualified specialists, many of whom studied in Russian universities. The new legislation would make it much easier for such candidates to emigrate to Russia. According to new amendments, skilled specialists who have studied at state-approved universities in Russia and Russian territories after July 2002, and have lived in Russia for at least three years, would be eligible to apply.

According to Russian media reports, there were more than 30,000 Kazakh students, 13,000 Tajik students and nearly 11,000 Uzbek students studying in Russian universities in 2013. Central Asian countries send hundreds of students to Russian universities annually to study for high-demand professions that – in many cases – are not taught at universities at home. In return, the students are required to return to their home countries and work there for at least three years.

RFE/RL [11]
March 12, 2014

Russia Plans a Federal University in Crimea

Russia plans to convert Tavrida National University, in Crimea, into a tenth federal university in the Russian system, The Voice of Russia Radio News [12] reported. Some other higher education institutions in Crimea may be merged into the university.

Voice of Russia [12]
March 19, 2014

In the Wake of Crimea Annexation, Authorities Introduce New Patriotism Class

It will take some time to revise Russia’s history textbooks to reflect the annexation of Crimea, but that’s not preventing the authorities from moving quickly to ensure the country’s school curriculum sticks to a politically – and patriotically – correct line on the issue, reports RFE/RL.

In recent weeks, a new course titled “We Are Together” has been introduced in high schools throughout the country. The course presents the annexation as a “reunification of Crimea with Russia” – the exact phrase used by Russian authorities. Officials from the ruling United Russia party, which is spearheading the educational campaign, have joined teachers to give lectures on patriotism as part of the course.

RFE/RL [13]
April 9, 2014


Sweden Amends Immigration Policy Favorably for International Students

After instituting strict post-study work laws, and facing vocal outcry from university leaders, Swedish politicians are readying to extend the period for which international students can stay and look for work after they have graduated. The government also plans to make it easier for foreign PhD students to gain permanent residence.

As of June 1, when the legislation will come into effect, foreign PhD students will be allowed to apply for a permanent residence permit upon completion of their studies, provided they have spent four out of the last seven years living in Sweden on a study permit. Current regulations stipulate that PhD students must have spent four out of the previous five years in Sweden.

Migration Minister Tobias Billström said that the amendment is “very important” and aims to make Sweden a more attractive study destination for international doctoral candidates. He added that students should have the option of moving back and forth between their home country and Sweden without jeopardizing their chance of applying for permanent residence.

Until now, post-study work provisions for international students in Sweden have been extremely restrictive, with graduates being forced to leave the country just 10 days after completing their studies. The period for which foreign graduates will be allowed to stay under new regulations is as yet undecided.

The PIE News [14]
April 4, 2014


New Quality Assurance Measures and University Autonomy Under Reform Bill

There are currently 1.7 million students in Ukraine’s 345 universities, a nigh number for a country of 45 million people. But the system that left institutions “free to develop as they wish” and allowed student numbers to triple in just over two decades now requires tougher regulation to stamp out abuses that have become all too common, reports Times Higher Education.

Using the Britain’s Quality Assurance Agency as its model, Ukraine intends to set up a similar independent peer review system of academic checks, particularly focused on false claims made in university prospectuses.

A draft bill is due to be discussed in the next parliamentary session and could lead to the country’s first higher education legislation since 2002. The reforms also include provisions to democratize Ukrainian universities, a move that could give students an important say in university governance.

Times Higher Education [15]
April 10, 2014

United Kingdom

UK Universities Face New Immigration Hurdles in Attracting Foreign Students

Some universities could lose their licenses to recruit overseas students if the government goes ahead with plans to further tighten visa rules. The plans were outlined in a speech given in March by James Brokenshire [16], the U.K.’s new immigration minister, in which he said the ruling Conservative Party would continue with their target of cutting net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015 – despite the figure having risen recently to 212,000.

Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, said he feared that Mr Brokenshire’s words will herald a “truly savage reduction” in the recruitment of students from outside the European Union by UK universities and called aspects of the speech “embarrassing.”

Mr Brokenshire said that the current 20 percent tolerance threshold of student visa refusals that education institutions are allowed before losing highly trusted sponsor status “may be too generous and we may need to look [at it] again.” Newspapers have reported that he wants to lower the threshold to 10 percent.

Figures cited by The Guardian, attributed to the Home Office, state that reducing the visa refusal rate threshold from 20 percent to 10 percent could lead to 105 of the 1,700 educational institutions able to recruit overseas students losing their licenses. Most would be further education and private higher education colleges, although some have speculated that some universities have refusal rates around 10 percent and therefore could be impacted.

Mr Brokenshire dismissed fears that the drive to cut immigration is harming recruitment of international students at the UK’s “world-class” universities, calling those concerns a “ludicrous fiction.”

The number of non-EU students at UK universities fell by 1 percent in 2012-13, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the first drop since records began in 1994.

Times Higher Education [17]
March 13, 2014

International Enrollments Drop at English Universities

The number of international students enrolling in universities in England has dropped for the first time in nearly three decades, according to a new report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which looks at recent changes to enrollment patterns and discusses their possible causes. The report addresses only the situation in England.

The report [18], “Global Demand for English Higher Education: An Analysis of International-Student Entry to English Higher-Education Courses,” says that the number of international students enrolling in full-time “taught graduate programs,” which include many master’s programs, declined by 1 percent from the 2010-11 to the 2012-13 academic years. According to the report, in 2012-13, 74 percent of entrants to full-time master’s programs were from outside Britain. Master’s programs, which are usually a year long, are often a significant source of income for universities, as well as a potential future source of teaching staff members. However, the key selling points of shorter programs (generally three years for undergraduate degrees) and quality are in danger of becoming undermined by relatively high tuition fees and a perception of unreceptive immigration rules.

Another development the report highlights is a sharp drop in the number of full-time undergraduate entrants from other European Union countries. Those students pay the same tuition as domestic British students who face annual fees of up to £9,000 (approximately US$15,000). Their number fell by a quarter in 2012-13. The report identifies the tuition increase as the likely cause of the decline in students from other EU countries.

Looking further afield to the UK’s delivery of higher education in other countries, the report shows a 5 percent rise in UK transnational education (TNE) numbers. This in some ways counteracts the dip in international recruitment. HEFCE suggests that students may be entering the UK as international students after a year or more of TNE study in their home country.

The report also calls attention to the growing numbers of Chinese students at British universities. They now represent nearly a quarter of all students enrolled in full-time master’s programs. That increase has taken place as the numbers of students from India, Pakistan, and Iran, which historically sent large cohorts of graduate students to Britain, have declined. The numbers of students coming from Pakistan and India have halved since 2010.

The Chronicle of Higher Education [19]
April 2, 2014

Government Pushes for Major Expansion of the University Sector

The United Kingdom’s Coalition government has said it is hoping to initiate the biggest growth in universities for more than 20 years with plans to create dozens of new campuses in higher education “cold spots.”

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, told officials to investigate the possibility of establishing universities in cathedral cities, county towns and coastal communities that currently lack provision. The move is designed to increase the number of school leavers taking degree-level qualifications combined with a drive to provide a boost to local economies.

Mr Willetts has written to the Higher Education Funding Council for England asking them to identify “where there is evidence of ‘cold spots’” and provide advice about how university provision could be established. In most cases, it is believed that existing universities several miles away would open satellite campuses in a new area or local further education colleges would be converted into universities.

The shift coincides with a decision to scrap strict controls on the number of students that each university can recruit in 2015, and it could herald the biggest expansion of universities in more than two decades since the Conservatives granted dozens of polytechnics full university status.

The Telegraph [20]
April 4, 2014