Sunday, September 27, 2020

When will India build world-class research universities?

It is true to say that India in 2020 does not have any world-class research universities.

It does have several outstanding research institutes in various scientific fields. It also has some excellent technology and management institutions – the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management. And a few outstanding public institutions, such as the Indian Institute of Science, and some excellent private initiatives such as Manipal, Ashoka, and a few others.

But none of these are comprehensive research universities that can compare with the best universities globally – or which are recognised by any of the global higher education rankings.
Without question, India needs some world-class research universities. India has an expanding economy and plays an increasingly important role in global affairs. Indian brainpower plays a key role in Silicon Valley in the United States and Indians can be found at the top ranks of universities around the world.

But India is not yet a scientific or research power. For India to be fully successful as a global scientific and intellectual force, it needs research universities.

This requirement has finally been recognised in several of the impressive initiatives proposed by the Government of India – most importantly the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, approved by the government in August, and programmes such as the Global Initiative of Academic Networks, the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) and several others.

A differentiated academic system
Research universities are necessarily a small but central part of a differentiated academic system. India, which now has the second-largest student enrolment in the world, has a highly complex but poorly articulated academic system.

It is important to recognise the importance of having research universities at the pinnacle of that system, but to understand that the number of such institutions is a small part of the total – and that choosing which universities will be research-intensive is quite important.

The NEP suggests that about 100 universities be identified as research universities in the near future. These universities will focus strongly on research and doctoral programmes, in addition to having high quality education at bachelor and masters degree levels.

The rest of the more than 900 universities will be teaching universities, which will mainly deliver high quality education. These universities are also expected to do a modest amount of research and have small doctoral programmes.

This differentiation is extremely important, since without carefully articulating this, all universities try to do both research and education without adequate resources or the quality of faculty that is needed for high quality research, meaning they will end up being mediocre at both.

How the research universities will be differentiated from the rest must be done in a transparent manner using a sound classification framework (like the Carnegie Classification in the United States) that uses a few important measures of research, such as the size of doctoral programmes, the number of research faculty with doctorates, the level of research funding, publications and citations, among others. (The Carnegie framework was adapted for India in a paper published in Higher Education last year, which identified about 70 universities from the top 200 in the NIRF as research universities).

Some have argued that India needs to develop its own university model. While a research university, or any academic institution, must take into account national realities, the basic model of the research university is well established and necessarily reflects the patterns followed by the best universities globally.

China, which has been quite successful in developing a number of successful research universities by, among other things, spending vast sums of money on the effort, talked about “universities with Chinese characteristics”.

In fact their successful universities follow established, mainly Western, models. Indeed, the main elements that are ‘Chinese’ are negative – limitations on academic freedom, restrictions on access to some information and too much bureaucracy – and actually slow down progress.

Thus, successful Indian research universities will inevitably resemble the best universities worldwide.

Pathways to excellence
India has traditionally taken the path of creating small and specialised institutions in areas like engineering, medicine, law, social sciences, business and others – the best known of which are the Indian Institutes of Technology.

Globally, however, most research universities tend to be multidisciplinary. The reason for this is that, in the modern world, where the main challenges are multidisciplinary, high quality innovation and research require institutions to have multiple disciplines in the same university.

The NEP, in keeping with this globally successful approach, expects all research universities to scale up and become multidisciplinary, each having up to 25,000 students.

If the existing top Indian institutions and universities can expand in size and add more disciplines, this will provide them with the scale and disciplinary diversity needed to be included in the world’s top research universities.

It may also be possible to merge some existing institutions, as has been successfully done in France recently.

India has several important advantages as it emerges as an academic power. The widespread use of English means that India is immediately part of global scientific communication.

India also has a sizable cadre of accomplished academics and researchers – both within the country and as part of the diaspora. Creating a productive academic environment for the most talented academics requires careful attention, good organisation and adequate funding.

Involving the diaspora is quite important as the talent pool is immense – a significant number of Indians currently serve as university presidents and provosts of, for example, American universities, and could contribute knowledge about building research universities, even if they do not actually return to India.

Similarly, Indian professors in the diaspora can contribute to building research capacity by participating in collaborative research and other initiatives.

The research universities need substantially expanded resources for research. Current levels of funding for research in universities is dramatically insufficient – India has consistently underfunded all aspects of higher education in the past.

The NEP has correctly identified this as an area to be developed and has proposed establishing a National Research Foundation which will have significant funds for supporting research in four areas – technology, science, social science and arts and humanities.

The NEP also suggests that the different ministries should set aside funds for research, increase investment in research and enhance linkages of universities with the economy and society.

Overall, if these measures are implemented well, it will enhance the level of research in universities while making them more relevant for society and more globally competitive.

Research universities also need full autonomy – they are too complex to be governed in any other manner. That is why even the publicly funded institutions in most developed countries enjoy almost full autonomy, with little or no direct involvement by the government in the management or governance of these institutions.

The NEP has recommended making research universities fully autonomous, with self-perpetuating boards having a very limited representation of government people or government appointees, with the board selecting and appointing the chief executive.

This would be a dramatic change from current Indian practice where the government appoints top leaders and controls the purse strings.

These changes in the board structure and appointment of the chief executive, in addition to increased funding, could usher in a new dynamism in public research universities in India. The NEP also recommends full financial autonomy for universities.

The stars are aligned for India to play an important part in the global knowledge system and to build world-class research universities. The talent exists, the need is clear and there are some promising initiatives from the government. The challenge is no longer a lack of ideas – it is sustained support and effective implementation. But in the Indian context, these are indeed significant hurdles.

Authors: Philip G Altbach, Research Professor and Founding Director, Center for International Higher Education, Boston College, USA & Pankaj Jalote, Distinguished Professor and Founding Director, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology Delhi, India.

Source: University World News, September 26, 2020

Thursday, September 24, 2020

EU-China research relationship ‘unbalanced’, policy head warns

The European Union’s research relationship with China is “unbalanced”, according to one of the bloc’s policy chiefs, who has accused Beijing of failing to open up its scientific data or allow collaboration in fields where it is particularly strong. 

Jean-Eric Paquet, the European Commission’s director-general for research and innovation, also raised concerns about Chinese internet censorship. 

While stressing that cooperation should continue, particularly in areas such as climate change and sustainable development, Mr Paquet made it clear that Brussels no longer believes that scientific links with China are reciprocal. 

“The relationship is perceived, and I think rightly on the European side, as unbalanced,” he told delegates during a discussion on 23 September as part of the European Research and Innovation Days, an annual EU research conference, held online this year. 

“There is really essentially full access to Europe, but very cumbersome, and sometimes even formally limited, access to resources on the Chinese side,” he added. 

His comments mirror growing unease in Brussels with what it sees as a similarly unbalanced economic relationship between the two powers, meaning that certain European industries are excluded from the Chinese market. 

This was one of the key issues debated during a virtual summit between the EU and China held earlier this month, after which the bloc also called for “reciprocity” and a “level playing field” in science and technology. The EU’s concerns span several areas, Mr Paquet explained. 

Chinese researchers had struck up collaborations in research areas where Europe was strong, such as information technology, artificial intelligence and quantum computing, he said. 

But it had proved much harder for European scientists to do the same for areas of expertise in China, he said. “So the reciprocity dimension is very difficult to find,” he added. 

Another bone of contention is access to scientific data. In the spring, the EU created an open portal for scientists to share data and results about Covid-19. 

“This is accessible to partners around the world,” Paquet said. “But at the same time, the opposite [access to Chinese data] is much more difficult.” 

Chinese internet censorship was another example of the “difficulties” in having a “balanced and reciprocal relationship” with China when it came to research, he continued. 

And he added that he was “a bit unhappy” about uneven researcher mobility. “You [Chinese academics] are coming to Europe in great numbers, and you are bringing a lot of knowledge – you take, of course, a lot as well – but our researchers don’t go to China in the same numbers,” he said. 

His comments were echoed by Charlotte Roule, vice-president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, who also told delegates that the relationship was “relatively unbalanced”. 

Over the past four years, she said, the EU had spent far more than China on joint research and innovation projects between the two powers. “So we have a discrepancy here,” she said. 

Brussels is now creating a common framework, set to be released in the “coming months”, that should more clearly define how European universities and research organisations should partner with China, taking into account issues such as “security” and intellectual property rights, added Mr Paquet. 

Source: Times Higher Education, September 24, 2020

International students could be in NSW by early 2021, senior minister says

A senior state government minister says NSW is aiming to welcome international students by early 2021, as it shores up lessons from hotel quarantine to share with the university sector.

Stuart Ayres, the minister for jobs, investment, tourism and Western Sydney, said NSW's record of quarantining 60,000 returning travellers through Sydney had built a "strong bed of evidence that we can learn from" in managing overseas student arrivals.

"I foreshadow that we’ll be able to open borders to international students through a quarantine regime much earlier than we’ll be able to open borders to the visitor economy," he said, speaking at the ATN International Education Summit on Wednesday.

"I see no reason why we can't be optimistic here in NSW about doing something for the start of 2021. That’s definitely something that I’ll be working towards. I’ll be talking to vice-chancellors further about our lessons learned and how we can work more closely with the university sector."


For months universities have been urging governments to establish a secure corridor scheme for overseas students to return to Australia, to protect next year's planned intake and billions of dollars in revenue for both the sector and the state.

A trial program to establish a safe corridor for overseas students was put on the backburner in Julybecause of the dire coronavirus situation in Victoria, the repatriation of Australian citizens and pressure on the hotel quarantine system.

But Mr Ayres said he was now having "a number of conversations with vice-chancellors" about how to set up a quarantine system based on the government's experience and collaboration with NSW Police.

He said a 14-day quarantine was seen as a manageable request for overseas students who would stay in the country for an extended period.

A University of Sydney spokeswoman said the university looked forward working with the NSW government. "This very welcome step will be complex and require all levels of government, universities and the private sector including airlines to work together," she said.

University of Technology Sydney deputy vice-chancellor said NSW universities would welcome students as soon as possible. "This would be a win not just for the universities but of general benefit to the state's economy," he said.

Mr Ayres did not rule out the potential for a sooner return, such as the end of the year, but said student safety would be paramount.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive officer of the International Education Association, said it was vital for universities to have some international students able to return to their studies by the start of first semester next year.

"It is heartening to have a senior NSW government minister indicating proof of life for our beleaguered industry," he said.

"Clearly with South Australia and the Northern Territory already indicating they are bringing international students back, NSW want to keep their market share. Other states such as WA, Queensland and Victoria are likely to be left behind if the NSW government make good on this rhetoric."

A senior government source said the NSW government had not yet sought approval from the federal government for a safe corridors pilot in NSW, but that it was hoped international students could return as soon as it was safe for them to do so.

The Northern Territory is expected to receive a small number of international students on a chartered flight including returning Australian citizens this year, as part of its federal government approved safe corridors trial.

Mr Ayres said he thought Australia had maintained its reputation as a COVID-safe study location despite the Victorian outbreak and that all states would be glad to see the return of international students.

"I don’t think we need to have our state colours on," he said. "I think everyone around Australia… has a really strong appreciation of the value international students bring to our economies, to our cities, to our regional communities."

University of Wollongong deputy vice-chancellor of global strategy, Alex Frino, said he was "confident we can safely bring international students into the country".

A spokesperson for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment said state and territory governments are responsible for any pilot programs to return international students in their jurisdictions.

"The Australian Government does not have an active proposal under consideration from the NSW Government," the spokesperson said.

This article written by Natassia Chrysanthos and Anna Patty.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, September 24, 2020

Government briefing to allay universities' fears over foreign veto laws adds to uncertainty

Australian universities could get the green light to strike deals with international counterparts under the Morrison government’s new foreign veto laws, only to have the agreements ripped up years down the track because “foreign policy considerations are not static”.

As concerns grow within the higher education sector about the reach of a proposed bill giving Canberra the power to cancel international deals, Guardian Australia has learned that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Dfat) attempted to allay those concerns at a briefing for universities last week.

University representatives raised fears at the briefing that the new laws could have a “chilling effect” on international research collaboration – given that Australia’s foreign affairs minister could initially allow an agreement to enter into force, only to veto at a later stage.

Universities fear such wide discretion could erode international partners’ confidence to enter into negotiations with Australian researchers. Universities have begun lobbying the government to either carve them out of the legislation or make changes to reduce the impact.

The laws also targets deals states and territories make with overseas governments – and those are the types of agreements that will face the highest scrutiny.

The legislation allows the minister to scrutinise deals that Australian universities reach with foreign universities that lack “institutional autonomy”.

The definition of institutional autonomy is expected to be spelled out only when Marise Payne, the foreign affairs minister, issues more detailed rules clarifying how the bill will work in practice.

But the minister will have the power to tear up arrangements that would have “adverse effects on foreign relations” or were “inconsistent with foreign policy”.

When university representatives suggested this provided very wide latitude, and that foreign policy could potentially change day-by-day, a Dfat official is believed to have replied that “foreign policy considerations are not static”.

Government officials argued the legislation was “country-agnostic” – meaning it was not aimed against any particular country. There was no specific guidance offered when university representatives suggested no Chinese institution would meet the criteria of “institutional autonomy”.

Instead, officials noted that just because an institution was not considered to have autonomy, that would not automatically disqualify a deal – it just meant it would be scrutinised under the bill.

Universities are worried that a minister could disqualify any deal at any point after the notification – giving a wide envelope of discretion to the minister of the day, including after changes of government.

But officials insisted that “the intent is not to impede a beneficial arrangement”.

It is understood the briefing only deepened concerns among universities that the bill was onerous and unworkable in the way it applied to the higher education sector.

The briefing was a teleconference held on Wednesday last week with about 20 people on the call, including DFAT and education department officials and university representatives.

Universities have previously complained of being “blindsided” by the legislation, which the government never flagged through a taskforce it set up a year ago to deal with concerns about foreign interference in the Australian university sector.

A DFAT spokesperson said the bill was “intended to consider Australia’s foreign relations and foreign policy as it relates to every country”.

“Certain arrangements entered into by universities will also be picked up by the legislation, however the bill is not intended to impede the beneficial business of universities with their foreign counterparts,” the spokesperson said.

“It is expected that much of the routine business of universities will proceed as normal.”

But Vicki Thomson, the chief executive of the Group of Eight, said: “We have serious concerns about this legislation and the extent that it might stop international research collaboration, but we want to work with government to mitigate against that.”

In early September, Universities Australia said it held “grave concerns regarding the effect the laws may have on research collaboration, which is the lifeblood of knowledge and job creation”.

The Morrison government has made no secret of its concerns about the Victoria’s deal with the Chinese government to cooperate under Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. But Scott Morrison has insisted he will not prejudge any decision on particular agreements.

Labor has called on the government to use the proposed veto powers to unwind the sale of Darwin’s port to a Chinese company.

In addition to universities, it is understood officials have been briefing state and territory governments and councils on the legislation over the past few weeks.

This article written by Daniel Hurst.

Source: The Guardian, September 23, 2020

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

$7.6 billion and 11% of researchers: How much Australian university research stands to lose by 2024

Australian university research funding is made up of discretionary income that comes from various sources, including international student fees. This is additional to the funding, including government grants, specifically received for research activities. 

Universities spent A$12.2 billion on research in 2018. Discretionary income used to fund Australian university research that year amounted to $6 billion, of which $3.1 billion of this came from international student fees. 

This means international student fees made up 51% of all the externally sourced research income. 

We have estimated the loss of international student revenue due to COVID-19 will mean the discretionary income available to support research will decline to less than 30% of external funding for 2020 and beyond. This is equivalent to a decrease of between $6.4 billion and $7.6 billion from 2020–24. 

The associated reduction in the Australian university research workforce will be in the range 5,100 to 6,100 researchers. This includes graduate research students, research assistants and academic research leaders. This amounts to around 11% of the current research force. 

 We relied on cost of teaching data used by the Australian government to determine funding rates for domestic student places to make our estimates. 

The universities most affected 
All Australian universities will be affected. But our modelling identifies 13 universities likely to be most at risk because of the size of their research effort and their international student programs. 

These are the research-intensive Group of Eight universities: The University of Sydney, The University of Melbourne, UNSW, Monash University, The University of Queensland, ANU, The University of Western Australia and Adelaide University. These universities account for 70% of the total research funding shortfall. 

Five other universities account for 18% of the research funding shortfall: UTS, Deakin University, Macquarie University, QUT and Griffith University. The impact of the fee losses on the other 25 universities is just 12% of the total. 

Some of the 13 universities are facing significantly greater risk to their research programs because they are committing a proportionately greater amount of discretionary fee income than the sector average of 51% to fund research. 

We have rated UTS, Deakin and Macquarie at extremely high risk. For Sydney, Melbourne, UNSW, QUT, Griffith and Queensland the risk will be very high, while for Monash, Adelaide, ANU and UWA, risks will be moderately high. 

Research rankings and global university reputations are at risk if effective mitigation actions are not achieved. 

What needs to be done 
Given their reliance on international student revenue to sustain research, universities must place a high priority on restoring, as quickly as possible, existing international student markets or building new markets in other countries. The government can help by promoting stronger international engagement and fast-tracking student visas when borders reopen. 

Universities will need also to identify savings in other spending areas such as infrastructure investment, and identify alternative revenue sources such as increased donations, royalties and investment income. 

Broader collaborations between industries, universities and government research agencies such as CSIRO, DST (Defence, Science and Technology) and AIMS (The Australian Institute of Marine Science) are in the national interest, as it pools expertise across sectors. 

Unfortunately, enhanced collaborations between industry and universities will be limited because Australia’s current level of business research and experimental development is low, compared to the OECD benchmark. In 2018, Australia’s research and development investment was 1.97% of GDP compared with the OECD average of 2.4%. 

Establishing an independent “research and innovation council” representing private research institutes, universities, publicly funded government research agencies and industries with a strong research and development focus has considerable merit. 

Such a body could provide governments with independent strategic research advice to underpin internationally competitive programs. This includes proposing national research priorities important for economic development and social well-being. This council could also play a valuable advocacy role in promoting the national benefits of investment in research. 

Individual universities should rigorously reappraise their own research strengths and potential capabilities. This could sharpen their focus on priority areas and increase research performance. 

These actions can be combined with an analysis of other university spending — including on administrative services and corporate overheads — to reduce the need for further savings in high-performing research areas.  

The federal government needs to acknowledge there is a crisis in university research funding. To date, a coordinated policy response has been muted. While the government has established a research sustainability working group — made up of vice chancellors and others who are to provide advice to the education minister — no other initiatives have been announced. 

Undoubtedly, the most vexed issue is the under-funding of the indirect costs of research linked to competitive grants and contracts. This is a critical unresolved policy issue sought by universities for at least two decades. 

The pandemic highlights the research contribution universities are making to state and regional economies. State governments should also be identifying initiatives they can take to mitigate the research disruptions universities are confronting. 

Fundamentally, increased collaborative investment across industry, governments, universities and private research institutions are essential to alleviate the research funding shortfall and protect Australia’s international research and innovation standing in a post COVID-19 world.

Source: The Conversation, September 23, 2020

UK universities recruit record numbers of international students

UK universities are on course to recruit record numbers of international students during the global pandemic, defying predictions of financial disaster, the latest admissions figures reveal.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) said UK universities enjoyed a 9% increase in the number of undergraduate students from outside the UK and the EU starting their studies this autumn, rising to a new record total of 44,300.

The increase marks a remarkable turnaround from earlier this year, when vice-chancellors feared there would be a collapse in international student numbers and warned that a sector-wide financial crisis was likely to follow.

Ucas’s figures usually include fewer than half of the more than 100,000 international undergraduates coming to the UK, with the remainder and postgraduates applying directly to individual universities rather than through the admissions service.<
Admissions officers have also been celebrating record numbers of first-year students coming from disadvantaged areas in the UK, with 22.5% of students from areas with the lowest educational attainment now continuing on into higher education.

The overall proportion of the UK’s 18-year-olds entering higher education will reach 36%, itself a new record. That will also come as a relief to many in higher education, after the bungled efforts to assess entry grades using statistical models to replace exams. In most cases the grades were replaced with school assessments, meaning more students are likely to have met entry requirements.

“Overall demand for higher education has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, and there are currently a record 515,650 students with a confirmed place, up 4% on last year,” Ucas said, noting that the increase followed three years of falling enrolments.

But the figures also show a drop in acceptances from new EU undergraduates, down 2% compared with 2019-20, to just under 30,000.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “The data clearly tell a very positive story. It was always clear that domestic demand would be up, despite the reduction in 18-year olds, because the alternatives to more education are so poor this year.

“It was also always likely that EU numbers would be down, given the Brexit uncertainties and shenanigans. No one predicted such a big increase in non-EU international students and we have to wait to see if they will all actually arrive and then stay the course.

“But it is a great testament to the underlying strength of our higher education sector, as well as a reflection of the improved migration regime and rising geopolitical tensions between China and the US, that so many people still want to come and study at our fantastic institutions.”

Fears that a significant proportion of students would defer entry because of campus restrictions on socialising have not been borne out: the figures showed only a slight uptick in the proportion of deferrals, 5.7% compared with 5.4% in 2019.

Separately, the Student Loans Company said it had processed and distributed more than £1bn in maintenance loans to 414,877 students by this week, marking its biggest single payment date.

This article written by Richard Adams, Education Editor.

Source: The Guardian, September 23, 2020

Australian universities cower as disaster looms

By the time you read this, I fear it will be too late to stop the federal government blowing up universities. Not the buildings. Those sandstone wonders, those sturdy red brick boxes, those glorious fantasies of Frank Gehry, they will still stand, memorials to critical thinking. 

This tragedy is not a product of any real ideological war. It is not developed enough for that. It is anti-university partisanship, a judgment made by those in the Coalition who think that university employees would never vote for the Coalition so why bother to protect them. What better time to punish them than straight after the damage wrought by COVID-19? By all means, put the boot in when the victim is down, when it can't even defend itself. 

Those who work within those buildings, they will soon be gone and for the purpose of Australian life and culture and, indeed, our future, they may as well be dead. The ideas, the energy, the research, the ability to make your children, and maybe even you, sit up and think, so many of the people who provoked, inspired and guided will be gone, lost forever. By December, I calculate that at least 30,000 jobs across the university sector will be lost and the people who worked there will have joined Centrelink queues, fed into the gaping maw of this recession. 

Not all of those jobs are full-time jobs – we know at least 5000 permanent positions have definitely disappeared already and that number is likely to double by Christmas, according to the National Tertiary Education Union's president Alison Barnes. Included in my number are also 20,000 casuals or sessional staff. They are the ones who bring special expertise into universities, so students can be taught by those with the latest big ideas; they are newly minted PhDs bringing their most recent research into the classroom, they are PhDs in training for a sector which, behind primary school, is the most important in the nation. In the professions many of them are women (and men) trying to keep their hand in with childcare responsibilities. It is sad for those who have been in the sector for decades but devastating for those who were making higher education their future. 

This is a tragedy wrought by an arrogant government, doubling down on its decision to refuse JobKeeper to all but private universities, and introducing the most flawed higher education funding bill Australia has ever seen, the Higher Education Support Amendment( Job-ready Graduates package). It is so bad in its design that the impacts of COVID will look like a bruised knee in comparison, so terrible even the exceptionally calm Grattan Institute chief executive Danielle Wood described it as one of the worst-designed policies she has ever seen. Never mind its design, modelling reveals humanities students will be paying off their student debts for 20 years. How lucky for our current crop of politicians to have avoided that kind of impost. 

The Australian National University's Andrew Norton, professor in the practice of higher education policy at the Centre for Social Research and Methods, says the government has been dangling various carrots so that uni chiefs will mute their criticism and no individual vice-chancellor nor university peak body will "want to ruin their chances". Keeping quiet and compliant is an implied condition of the research funding, he says. 

The universities should be trying to block the Job-ready Graduates package, says Norton. It will cause grief for many years to come; and Norton, with decades of experience in the sector, thinks there is a good chance the crossbench could be persuaded. 

Yet the bill persists. This can only be a continuation of the mindset revealed when we all discovered former minister for education, Simon Birmingham, rejected grants for research he didn't like the look of, well after the expert panel thought those grants should be funded. The university sector knew then this government wanted to wage a war against higher education. In 2017, when Birmingham's reforms were on the table and then defeated, it had notice worse was coming. 

Instead, the sector is sitting by, hoping October 6, Budget Day, will save it. Every single institution fears retribution and so will not speak up. Every single segment of the higher ed market, from the Group of Eight to regional and rural universities is being bought off by promises, promises, few enshrined in the enabling legislation. That research money. That special funding for regional unis. This small change and that small change. 

Universities do a terrible job of communicating what they do. As Sally Kift, visiting professorial fellow at the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education and formerly deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at James Cook University, wrote in the Times Higher Education on Sunday, "As a national sector (let alone as a global community), our disparate and visceral institutional self-interest is such that we find it exceedingly difficult to 'do' holistic." 

And instead of uniting behind the peak, Universities Australia, there is nothing. It has barely raised its voice since this disaster began. UA's submission to the Senate committee is meek. Instead of standing up and fighting back, it writes: "Universities Australia has some further proposals to make for amendments to enshrine key aspects of the package in legislation and to improve particular elements of the Bill." 

No vice-chancellor or deputy vice-chancellor with whom I communicated thinks this bill is any good. Tinkering won't fix this mess. 

The university sector has a number of peak bodies each representing different segments. In this instance, when Australia needs it most, each of the segment peak bodies is quieter than a lab rat although the worst might be those who spoke up. Innovative Research Universities's executive director Conor King decided to tweet: "At a personal and old fashioned democratic level I believe an elected government should be able to get on with governing – as it thinks best and with approval or not at following election." What kind of university lobbyist writes in a press release, "Rejecting the bill is not an option." King again. 

Silence won't save you folks. Only mobilising, organising, campaigning, at all levels will fix this oncoming disaster. Only enlisting every company which ever benefited from your research, every friend you ever had, every powerful alumnus, maybe even the university enrolled children of politicians. Take the government on. Because it has taken you on and it is winning. 

This article written by Jenna Price, an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist of SMH. 

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, September 23, 2020

Monday, September 21, 2020

More job losses planned at Australian universities

The University of New South Wales has announced that it will reduce staff numbers by another 256 this year in order to save A$39 million. 

In an email to staff on 16 September, UNSW estimated that it had originally faced a A$370m budget shortfall for 2021 but had made up all but A$75m of that from reserves. Voluntary redundancies covered 47 per cent of the remainder, and the newly announced losses are likely to be forced departures. Vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs said he felt “deep regret” at the impact on staff. 

On the same day, the Australian National University announced that 215 more positions would go, in addition to around 250 “voluntary separations” already in motion. ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said in a message to staff that “the stark reality is: we need to save money, and this will mean spending a lot less, both on our non-salary expenditure but also on salaries”. 

The 215 jobs have not been identified but are expected to come from across the university and affect both academic and professional staff. The ANU’s recovery plan calls for savings to be found by attrition and other means, but concedes that involuntary departures may be needed. 

Michael Thomson, the National Tertiary Education Union’s secretary for New South Wales, told Research Professional News that the union was in urgent talks about its response to the UNSW cuts. “The union strongly opposes these cuts. The union believes that university management should look at cutting other costs rather than making staff pay.” 

Thomson said union figures showed that more than 10,000 jobs had been lost from Australian universities this year. 

The University of Melbourne’s National Tertiary Education Union branch is also campaigning against cuts. On 15 September, it released a draft motion urging members to “continue to campaign for a pandemic response that puts staff and students first, and…oppose any management plans to cut jobs or conditions of staff”. 

RMIT University in Melbourne said in a statement that it had received 355 applications for redundancies, adding that it “regularly reviews the requirement for casual staff taking into account student demand, resourcing requirements and available budget”. 

On 17 September, the University of Adelaide’s interim vice-chancellor Mike Brooks told the Senate committee inquiry into the Job-Ready Graduates fee reforms that the university was expecting to lose 200 jobs over the next nine months through “turnover”. Flinders University reported that it was not planning forced redundancies but would rely on reductions to contract and casual staff to make savings. 

At the University of Sydney, some students and staff protested on campus on 16 September against planned cuts and were asked to move on by mounted police. Staff in Sydney’s faculty of arts and social sciences launched a campaign under the banner “For people, against austerity”, calling for cuts to executive salaries and reinstatement of around A$1m that has been cut from the budget for casual teaching staff in the second semester. 

“Instead of compromising both the careers and livelihoods of casualised staff members, management should draw on the university’s extensive capacity to borrow money to protect both staff and courses,” staff said in the letter. They also demanded that senior executives take pay cuts, specifying a 20 per cent cut for anyone earning over A$400,000. 

On 15 September, Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence clashed with a member of the Senate inquiry over the university’s spending. Liberal senator Matt O’Sullivan asked Spence how much of the university’s budget was spent outside teaching and research. Spence responded: “I really don’t understand your question. What we do is teach and research.” Spence told the inquiry he had taken a 20 per cent pay cut to assist the university’s budget problems. Spence’s salary was around A$1.5m and he is due to leave the university at the end of the year. 

Source: Research Professional News, September 21, 2020

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Thousands of Indian students in US lose visa power


President Donald Trump’s order directing foreign students to leave the US if they are not attending in-person classes will affect thousands of Indians, according to immigration experts, who said the controversial move could trigger a spate of legal challenges.

In a statement on Monday, US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) said students with non-immigrant visas cannot take a full online course load while remaining in the country. ICE has warned that students who don’t comply with the rule could be removed.

Numbering over 200,000, Indians constitute the second-largest foreign student community on US campuses after the Chinese, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE), a US government-funded body. Immigration lawyers, while questioning the motive behind forcing students to attend in-person classes amid a raging pandemic, said it could lead to the US Citizenship & Immigration Services being slapped with fresh lawsuits.

“If taken to court, US government will have a tough time explaining itself. I think a number of varsities will file lawsuits, especially smaller ones,” said Rajiv Khanna, managing attorney of Immigration.com.

The US will also not issue fresh visas to students whose colleges have announced online-only courses from later this year. The administration has asked schools that offer online-only classes or those planning not to reopen for the fall 2020 semester to update their status by July 15.

The new rule will, however, not affect students who are on the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme, which allows graduates in science, technology, engineering and math to work for an additional 24 months in the US. Also unaffected are those who work in research labs.

In a study conducted in May, the IIE found that except for three of the 599 institutions in the US that collectively house half the total number of foreign students, most had shifted to teaching students virtually since the Covid-19 outbreak. These institutes are unlikely to offer in-person classes this year, the study reported. It also found that 15% of Indian students were unable to travel to the US in the spring of 2020.

Revenue Fall
Legal experts reckon the Trump administration’s move could lead to a fall in revenue for US universities this year. Foreigners constitute around 5.5% of students enrolling in US colleges, and they contributed over $41 billion to the US in FY19, lawmakers told the US administration in June.

“I think there will definitely be a dip in demand for US student visas this year… Universities will face a fall in revenue if a large number of Indian students stay away,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner of LawQuest, an immigration firm with offices in Mumbai and Florida. “We anticipate that universities will quickly offer ‘hybrid’ courses to lure foreign students and may also reduce tuition fees for some of those,” she said.

Typically, universities rely on tuition fee and donations to dole out scholarships, fee waivers, subsidies, living expenses or other incentives to retain or attract stellar students. The tuition fees are often collected from foreign students.

Prominent universities such as Harvard are among several institutions that have shifted to an online teaching model, until a vaccine is found for Covid-19. This has resulted in students across the country enrolling for these courses.

Online Campaigns
Overseas students currently studying in the US have launched online campaigns denouncing the move. An Indian student at Georgetown University, Washington DC, told ET: “The new policy assumes that students have the ability to travel to their home countries or the financial ability to take a leave of absence.”

Another student, who has deferred his application at Emory University, Atlanta, by a year, said the latest move adds to the uncertainty already faced by prospective students regarding visa norms.

“The anti-immigration sentiment is clearly very high in the US. The UK, Canada and Australia have issued clear and specific communication on student visas while there is no transparency in the US,” the student said.

Source: The Economic Times, July 8, 2020

Friday, June 26, 2020

Lack of higher education vision will 'kill' universities, says ANU vice-chancellor


A leading vice-chancellor is warning the federal government's failure to articulate a vision for higher education will destroy universities, and a lack of new investment in research will tank Australia's long-term economic forecasts.

Australian National University head Brian Schmidt's comments came as several vice-chancellors backed a potential research funding model that would allocate money to fewer, higher quality projects, and cover more of their cost.

University research has been subsidised by fee revenue from overseas students, which has plunged due to COVID-19. Education Minister Dan Tehan is consulting sector leaders and is expected to make an announcement on research by the October budget.

But Professor Schmidt said that would be too late as universities must plan for 2021 now, and important research was on the chopping block.

"There is an opportunity to fix this but we'd better fix it soon," he said. "I don't think they can do it without adding some extra money to the system. Anything budget neutral: someone is going to lose ... and lose badly.

"I really want to see a vision of what the government wants out of its university system and then we design the future around that vision, rather than just quite frankly not having that vision because it's going to kill us.

"And if we know what the government wants us to be, we will be that, even if there's a painful transition. I'd rather quit guessing, which is what I'm doing now."

If it decided the country did too much research, "that would tank Australia's long-term [economic] forecast," Professor Schmidt warned. "If they want that, model it, put it in forward estimates."

Vice-chancellors approached by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age backed moving to a model similar to that of Britain, which treats research funding as separate to teaching money, covers more of the cost, and gives priority to those with a track record of success.

Australia has a mix of research funding ranging from salaries, which allow about 40 per cent of an academic's workload to be devoted to research, to a complex grant system that only covers part of the cost. Universities have subsidised both with international student revenue.

If Parliament passes the government's shake-up of domestic student funding, designed to match the value of student and government contributions to the actual cost of teaching, universities will also lose the portion of that revenue that has been used to fund research.

Monash University vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said universities understood funding was constrained. "We might end up funding, through the various government schemes, less projects but they have to be very high-quality projects and they have to be funded sustainably."

Professor Schmidt said a UK-style system made policy sense, "because then you don't have these distortions where we ask humanities students to pay for scientific research, which is sort of what is going to happen here [under proposals to increase arts fees and cut per-head funding for domestic STEM places]."

Paul Wellings, vice-chancellor of the University of Wollongong, which is not in the Group of Eight, said "the beauty of that model is you end up funding excellence."

But executive director of the Regional Universities Network Caroline Perkins said smaller, newer universities needed to develop their research activities, and her members only received about 3 per cent of government grants "so we don't have too much more to lose".

"We don't mind rewarding excellence," she said. "However, there must be some guarantee of funding for universities such as ours to build their overall research strength, given that we haven't got the history of research the Group of Eight have."

A $700 million transition fund announced as part of last week's overhaul is intended to shield universities from losses under the new system until 2023.

Mr Tehan acknowledged a new way of supporting research was required after the collapse of international student fee revenue and funding changes. He is establishing a small group of vice-chancellors, led by Curtin University's Deborah Terry, to lead consultation on a new model.

"We will look at all the data. I will take their views and consult within this group of vice-chancellors but more broadly, to see what we need to do," he says.

This article written by Jordan Baker and Fergus Hunter.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, June 26, 2020

Friday, June 19, 2020

Australia: University fees to be overhauled, some course costs to double as domestic student places boosted


The cost of studying humanities at university is set to double, but "job-relevant" course fees will be slashed under an overhaul of tertiary education announced by the Federal Government today. Education Minister Dan Tehan also announced an extra 39,000 university places for Australian students will be funded by 2023.

Demand for 2021 is already soaring, with the estimated 20,000 year 12 students who usually defer university now less likely to take a gap year because of travel restrictions and the poor jobs market.

The rising unemployment rate is also driving demand — in a recession, many unemployed people typically turn to universities. "We are facing the biggest employment challenge since the Great Depression," Mr Tehan said. "And the biggest impact will be felt by young Australians. They are relying on us to give them the opportunity to succeed in the jobs of the future."

Humanities students to pay as much as med students
The Government is using a carrot-and-stick approach to funnel students into the industries it believes will drive job growth.

Subjects in nursing, psychology, English, languages, teaching, agriculture, maths, science, health, environmental science and architecture will be cheaper. The Government will increase its contribution to the cost of these classes, so students can expect to pay between $3,700 and $7,700 per year. However, students enrolling to study law and commerce will have fees raised by 28 per cent. For humanities courses, fees will more than double, putting them alongside law and commerce in the highest price band of $14,500 a year.

Critics of Australian universities decry their increasingly business-oriented focus, and this policy shift will add to those concerns. Humanities staff will also worry about job security as a $45,000 arts degree will likely see some students change their plans.

The Minister says this will give the taxpayer best value for money. "Students will have a choice," Mr Tehan said. "Their degree will be cheaper if they choose to study in areas where there is expected growth in job opportunities."

Aim to increase employment rate of graduates
The Government says its priorities have been defined by pre-pandemic modeling showing 62 per cent of employment growth in the next five years will be in health care, science and technology, education and construction. The policy aims to increase the graduate employment rate of 72.2 per cent, which is lower than for vocational education, at 78 per cent.

Students studying to be doctors, dentists or vets will see no change in the cost of their degrees, which are about $11,300 a year. The Government says no current student will pay increased fees. Students enrolled in courses where costs are going up will have their fees frozen.

However, students enrolled in courses that are getting cheaper will be able to take advantage of the fee reductions from next year.

'Universities are not job factories': student union
The National Union of Students (NUS) says the lowered fees will give some students a "positive opportunity", but at the expense of hundreds of thousands of others whose degrees are not deemed "worthy".

"Universities are not job factories and tailoring fees around that premise will hurt our sector in a time where we are already facing billions of dollars lost and hundreds of staff cuts," the union said in a statement. "We need funding, not attacks on students. "Being a student should not be a debt sentence, but the Government has decided to force tomorrow's workers into a lifetime of further debt."

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) president Alison Barnes said "gouging students" won't fix a "funding crisis". "The future of Australian research and learning demands a substantial funding package, not a cynical attempt to gouge certain cohorts of students for more money," Dr Barnes said.

"Dan Tehan has effectively told students studying humanities, law and commerce that they should fund the cost of the pandemic. This is unconscionable."

Susan Forde, from Griffith University's journalism department, was among a number of academics to attack the plan on Twitter, calling it "another blow to the humanities when we need to understand our world more than ever". But Catherine Friday, education lead at global accounting firm Ernst and Young, said the change would be good for the economy and jobs.

"As public education delivers both public and private good, there is a strong nudge here towards maximising both, and discouraging ongoing high enrolments in courses like law, where demand for lawyers isn’t growing at anywhere near the pace of the numbers of new law graduates every year," she said.

Government denies extra bailout to unis
The announcement comes amid strong but fruitless lobbying from universities for an extra bailout, after it estimated a revenue decline of between $3 billion and $4.6 billion due to international students not arriving.

According to the Education Department, 276,498 students were offered a place at universities this year, so the extra 39,000 Commonwealth-funded places is an increase of about 14 per cent.

Government funding for student places will also return to being increased in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), ending what some universities considered a freeze on funding.

It is estimated this will cost the Government around $550 million, with some of the costs offset by reduced spending in the non-priority courses. By 2030, the Government hopes to have an extra 100,000 places.

Deluge of uni applications as students no longer taking gap years
Already battling with a pandemic, some students have had the additional worry of whether they would get a spot at university next year.

Western Sydney year 12 student Amelie Aiko Loof is nurturing her dream to become a gynaecologist in the science lab of the Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta. Fascinated by the human body and motivated to help women through their pregnancies, Amelie's university goal has long been locked in and while her fees will not rise, her plan to "find herself" overseas is on hold.

"I was hoping that I would study in Germany overseas, but before that obviously I would take a few months of travel, and kind of see the world. Maybe go see Europe and America as well," she said. She has now applied to study medicine at the University of Sydney.

At least a dozen of her friends are grappling with the same dilemma, and in some states university applications are already double what they would usually be.

It is the same story right across the country, where students have altered their plans and now also need to consider the Government's fee cuts or hikes. "I do think there will be more competition than usual to get into the course that people want," Ms Loof said. "That is another whole added stress to the pandemic for us this year."

By education and parenting reporter Conor Duffy

Source: ABC News, June 19, 2020

Australia: Cost of priority degrees to be slashed, some fees to soar in funding overhaul


Fees for university courses in health, teaching and science will be cut while the cost of popular humanities, law and commerce degrees will soar under sweeping changes to higher education funding aimed at producing graduates for high-priority employment areas.

The overhaul of student and government contributions to be announced on Friday will fund an extra 39,000 university places by 2023 and 100,000 by the end of the decade in response to surging demand for tertiary education.

The cost of humanities and communications courses will more than double, with a year of full-time study costing $14,500, up from $6684 this year. Fees for law and commerce will increase 28 per cent to $14,500 a year, up from $11,155. A full three-year program in these disciplines will cost students about $43,500 as the government slashes its funding contribution.

Teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, English, languages, maths and agriculture courses will cost $3700 a year, down by 46 to 62 per cent. Fees for science, health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering will drop 20 per cent, with a year of study costing $7700.

"To deliver cheaper degrees in areas of expected employment growth, students who choose to study more popular degrees will make a higher contribution," Education Minister Dan Tehan will say in an address to the National Press Club, according to a draft of the speech.

"A cheaper degree in an area where there's a job is a win-win for students ... It's common sense. If Australia needs more educators, more health professionals and more engineers then we should incentivise students to pursue those careers."

In anticipation of a backlash to fee increases, Mr Tehan will declare: "This does not mean fee deregulation. This does not mean $100,000 degrees."

Students facing increased costs for law, commerce and humanities "will still pay less for those degrees in Australia than they would for a similar degree in similar countries, like the USA and the UK," he will say.

The government predicts 60 per cent of students will see reduced or unchanged fees. No current students' fees will increase as the changes will be grandfathered. Fee reductions will apply to existing students.

The fees will apply at the unit or subject level, not to the overall degree, meaning students can choose cheaper electives from different disciplines.

"We are encouraging students to embrace diversity and not think about their education as a siloed degree," Mr Tehan will say.

"Students will always have the freedom to choose what they want to study – and because the government continues to offer one of the world's best student loan schemes, no student will be denied a place because they do not have the capacity to pay."

The spending reallocation will allow the government to fund hundreds of thousands of extra university places as demand increases because of economic downturn and a demographic bulge set to hit by 2023.

"To do this, we will address the misalignment between the cost of teaching a degree and the revenue that universities receive to teach it," Mr Tehan will say.

Designated student contributions in different subject areas will be rearranged into four bands based on private returns and national priorities. The government's funding contribution will be sorted into four clusters, with the lowest priority receiving $1100 and the highest priority receiving $27,000.

This article written by Fergus Hunter.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, June 19, 2020

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The curious case of Indian students who planned to study abroad


The year 2020 has been a year of uncertainties. While the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has hit economies and institutions everywhere around the world, the plans of Indian students looking to study abroad this academic year have also been thrown out of gear.

Indians are the second-largest nationality on university campuses globally, with over 750,000 of them studying in colleges across continents. If not for Covid-19, thousands would have gone abroad for admission this year, too. According to the recent Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) report, Indian Students Mobility Report 2020, the pandemic has affected the decisions of 48.46 per cent of Indian students aspiring to study abroad in 2020.

Even as the new academic year, to begin in September, is fast-approaching, the students have been left in the lurch. Their concerns are wide-ranging — from high fees without a rounded campus experience, to a decline in or loss of income for parents who would funded their education, health and well-being, and a growing protectionism in the US and other countries jeopardising post-education employment prospects.

For their part, universities are also deciding while keeping in mind the immediate ambiguities around international travel, status of student visas, lockdowns in different cities, and education delivery models. But, as with most sectors right now, there seems to be no clear path ahead.

Universities formulating policies autonomously

As regards the academic year ahead, every university has a different response to the pandemic. In the UK, University of Cambridge has decided to deliver all classes exclusively online until the summer of 2021. In Canada, University of British Columbia and McGill University have decided to keep classes online when the new academic year begins.

In the US, Harvard University has offered students the option to defer their admissions. Those like University of Virginia's Darden School of Business are planning to begin the academic year in August but allow international students to enrol until January, to accommodate visa applications. Some others are still in the process of understanding and devising ways to have students on campus and offer “blended classes” — both live and online sessions.

In an emailed response to queries from Business Standard, the United States-India Educational Foundation (USEIF) says there are more than 4,700 accredited universities and colleges for higher education in the US. Each of these formulates its policies autonomously, keeping in mind the welfare, health and safety of students and the academic community. "Universities are exploring a range of possibilities and instructional paradigms to assist students at this time.”

Janaka Pushpanathan, British Council’s director for South India, explains that universities in the UK are doing scenario planning and looking to use high-quality platforms while maintaining the quality of teaching, engagement and interaction. “The whole idea of face-to-face teaching is interactivity. Now, thanks to technology, there is a huge scope to create and simulate similar environments online, and then resume face-to-face teaching sometime later,” she says.

However, not all students are convinced. A media professional accepted into a postgraduate journalism programme in the UK is unsure about deferred admissions as the way forward. Concerned about healthcare aspects and a rounded campus experience, she emphasises that the experience of studying abroad is not about online lectures. “This is not the best time to go abroad in any situation. Taking a break from work and studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and I don’t want to dilute it. I may re-apply in two or three years, when things start getting back to normal,” she says.

Academic choices mostly based on employment prospects

There are several reasons why Indian students choose universities abroad, but the primary incentives are the advantage that one gets in post-study work visas and employment opportunities.

According to Unesco, in 2017 there were 5.3 million internationally mobile students. China and India were the top two countries of their origin, and the US, Australia, and the UK the top destinations. In 2019, the number of Indians studying in the US crossed 202,014, or 18 per cent of all international students there. In Australia, 15 per cent of all international students were Indians. They were outnumbered only by the Chinese. In the UK (in 2018) Indians, at 19,750, were again the second-largest nationality among international students. In Canada, the largest number of international students on campuses was that of Indians, who accounted for 34 per cent of the total 642,000.

A survey by QS reveals that a majority of Indians prefer to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects abroad, with 41 per cent of them choosing business & management, and 33 per cent engineering and technology. This choice is directly linked to employability abroad. It is easier to get jobs and work permits through these disciplines than with non-STEM subjects. In the US alone, 90 per cent of H-1B visa requests in 2011 were for jobs that required high-level STEM knowledge.

The Indian Students Mobility Report 2020 by QS also highlights the fact that 47.38 per cent of students in STEM fields have changed their plans to study abroad because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Among non-STEM students, this figure stands at 51.59 per cent.

Undergraduate concerns: Wasted year, no fallback

High cut-offs, competitive exams, and lack of specialised academic streams in India push many high-school students to apply to universities abroad for their undergraduate studies. For them, the present uncertainty does not match up to the fear of wasting an academic year, or not having something concrete to fall back on.

“My friends and I have got into colleges we really wanted to join, and we are willing to take any risk,” says a student whose father works in a multinational corporation and has decided to take a transfer to the US while she applied early to University of Texas, Austin, to study biochemistry. Once accepted, she did not apply elsewhere.

Earlier, her parents, who are funding her education, had different cost calculations. But Covid-19 has impacted their transfer to the US, and the tuition fee, converted into rupees, has strained their finances. Despite this, she says: "Neither my parents nor I want a wasted year at home, so we will manage.” The university has assured her that classes will commence, with blended teaching. She has decided to enrol, and is hopeful that things will return to normal in the future.

With concerns about health and safety, other students Business Standard spoke to are looking to Indian private universities as a fallback, should they not be able to go abroad this year. According to Ali Imran, vice-president, external engagement, Ashoka University, in the recently completed application round, the university has received the highest number of applications since 2014. “While this could be because of increased awareness about Ashoka University, there is a fair chance that students who would have otherwise gone abroad are also applying,” he says.

Many private universities, including Ashoka, accept Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT) results, necessary for undergraduate admission in the US. They also have an internal aptitude test, so students do not have to wait for their board exam results to be considered. “Because of the pandemic, there is more interest in staying back, as parents and students are not sure of the value in going abroad right now,” Imran adds.

The US and work visa: OPT and H-1B

The US is the first choice for Indians planning to study abroad. When it comes to employment and work visa in the US, the two programmes that impact Indian students are the Optional Practical Training programme (OPT) and the H-1B Visa. The OPT programme is considered a direct path for international students to gain work experience, as it allows them to work for a year in the US after graduation (or three for STEM disciplines).

According to a PEW research finding, Indians were the largest group of foreign students who studied and utilised the OPT programme between 2004 and 2016, accounting for 30 per cent (441,400) of total. The OPT programme also allows employers to gauge a foreign student before they sponsor an expensive H-1B temporary skilled worker visa.

In 2019, according to the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), 132,967 H-1B Petitions for Initial (New) Employment H-1B visas were approved, and 256,356 H-1B Petitions for Continuing Employment were approved. External Affairs Minister S Jaishakar had informed Parliament in 2019 that Indian nationals had received between 67 per cent to 72 per cent of all H-1B visas issued by the US in the five previous financial years.

However, the overall number of denials of H-1B visas has increased under the Donald Trump administration. According to an analysis of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data by NFAP, the denial rates for H-1B for initial employment in the US rose from 6 per cent in 2015, to 21 per cent in 2019. The denial rate for continuing employment rose from 3 per cent in 2015 to 12 per cent in 2018 and 2019.

The analysis highlights that new H-1B petitions (initial employment) for top-7 Indian-based companies declined by 64 per cent between 2015 and 2019. The companies (TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL America, Larsen & Toubro, Tech Mahindra and Mindtree) had only 5,428 H-1B petitions for initial employment approved in FY19, which was 6 per cent of the 85,000 petitions. The decline is not just because of H-1B denials, but also due to the choice by companies to build up their domestic workforce in the US, and rely less on visas.

The future may be getting more uncertain because of the pandemic. On April 22, 2020, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation suspending the entry of certain migrants who present a risk to the US labour market during the economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. This order triggered a review of the non-immigrant visa programmes, including the OPT and H-1B visas. Last month, Republican senators wrote to the President, urging him to suspend the issuance of new guest worker visas, which include H-1B visas and the OPT programme, until unemployment figures in the US returned to normal levels.

The changed situation in the UK since last year

The situation in the UK with respect to students has changed since last year. Over 57,000 Indians were granted Tier-II skilled work visas in 2019, which accounts for over 50 per cent of the total skilled work visa granted globally. According to UK Home Office statistics, there had been a 136 per cent jump in the number of student visas issued to Indians in the year ended March 2020, compared with that a year earlier.

British Council’s Pushpanathan says: "The United Kingdom had previously seen a drop in international enrolment because of restrictions imposed on the post-study work visa. But this year, the universities were expecting sharper growth in enrolments, with the introduction of the Graduate immigration route, which offers students the option of up to two years of post-study work in the UK, and which holds for 2021."

She points to a recent survey of international students conducted by the British Council in April which revealed that there was still interest among students to go to the UK — with 22 per cent of the respondents planning to apply for this academic year. The survey further revealed that while 29 per cent who applied were likely to cancel their plans because of Covid-19, 43 percent were not.

However, the survey also highlighted that the main concerns among Indian students were health and safety. While 67 per cent respondents said health & well-being was their main worry, 63 per cent chose personal safety, and 57 per cent cited financial constraints.

To go or not to go — funds will be a decider

A volatility in the job market and uncertainty with work visas has exacerbated the worries of Indian students who accepted for admission to universities abroad. Many are recalibrating their thoughts on whether it makes sense to take heavy student loans or to dip into personal savings.

What should students do in this situation? Vibha Kagzi, founder and chief executive of ReachIvy.com, a study-abroad counselling company, says students should enrol. “Given that global economies have slowed down and unemployment is rampant, there will be minimal job creation and no pay hikes or promotions this year. Therefore, it is an ideal time to go back to school and earn a degree. By the time a student graduates, the job market will resume normalcy and take in fresh candidates.”

However, Sahil Anand (name changed), who was accepted into a top management school in the US for an MBA, has decided to defer. “We don’t know what will happen next. When will international travel open up? What happens to summer internship placements, and post-study work visa, which was a big incentive for studying management abroad?” He had planned on taking a student loan in the hope of landing a high-paying post-study job. The insecurity over post-study visa changes, and employment opportunities have made him reconsider.

Under the Reserve Bank of India’s Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS) education remittances (money going abroad for tuition fees only) were increasing in the past. In 2018-2019, education remittances were 25.9 per cent of the all outward remittances, (worth $13.8 billion). This increased to 26.9 per cent of the total (worth $17.4 billion) from April 2019 to February 2020.

However, the past three months, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a sharp drop in remittances for studying abroad. These fell from $510 million in January 2020 to $497 million in February, $312.68 million in March, and $78.76 million in April 2020. The remittances for April last year had been $252.84 million, and for April 2018 $115.68 million.

While there are multiple reasons explaining the decline, given the situation across the world in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the double-digit figure for April 2020 reveals that money going out of India towards higher education might not be the same this year. Nor would the number of students on international campuses. Nobody knows what the future holds, and each student accepted into universities abroad will have to make their choices while keeping global realities and long-term future implications in mind.

This article written by Sarah Farooqui.

Source: Business Standard, June 18, 2020

Friday, June 12, 2020

Top 100 Indian universities to start online courses: UGC Chairman


University Grant Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof D P Singh said that top 100 universities of the country will be permitted to automatically start online courses under the 'PM e-VIDYA' programme as part of self-reliant India campaign.

In an exclusive interview with ANI, the UGC chairman told that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced e-Vidya programme to promote online education.

"We will soon bring out an integrated version of open and distance learning and online regulation after the approval of the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD). Under Atmanirbhar Bharat, top 100 Universities according to the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) ranking, will run online classes without prior approval of UGC for 20-21 session," he said.

"Under this PM e-Vidya programme, we will have more online universities and it will strengthen online education in the country," he added.

The government is expanding e-learning in higher education - by liberalising open, distance and online education regulatory framework.

"Top 100 universities will start online courses. Also, the online component in conventional Universities and ODL programmes will also be raised from the present 20 per cent to 40 per cent. This will provide enhanced learning opportunities to nearly 7 crore students across different colleges and Universities," read an MHRD release dated May 18.

Focusing on education in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic on May 17, Sitharaman has announced to launch a comprehensive initiative called PM e-VIDYA.

This programme will enable multi-mode access to education and includes DIKSHA (one nation-one digital platform), which will now become the nation's digital infrastructure for providing quality e-content in school education for all the states/UTs.

According to an official release, under this programme, a TV (one class-one channel) where one dedicated channel per grade for each of the classes 1 to 12 will provide access to quality educational material.

The government said that this programme will benefit nearly 25 crore school-going children across the country.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), June 12, 2020

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