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United Kingdom: universities comply with China’s internet restrictions

Europa/ United Kingdom/ 27.07.2020/ Source:

UK universities are testing a new online teaching link for students in China – which will require course materials to comply with Chinese restrictions on the internet.

It enables students in China to keep studying UK degrees online, despite China’s limits on internet access.

But it means students can only reach material on an «allowed» list.

Universities UK said it was «not aware of any instances when course content has been altered».

And the universities’ body rejected that this was accepting «censorship».

A spokeswoman said the project would allow students in China to have better access to UK courses «while complying with local regulations».

But in a separate essay published by the Higher Education Policy Institute, Professor Kerry Brown of King’s College London cautioned of the risk of universities adopting «self-censorship» when engaging with China.

MPs on the foreign affairs select committee have previously warned against universities avoiding «topics sensitive to China», such as pro-democracy protests or the treatment of Uighur Muslims.

Chinese students have become an important source of revenue for UK universities, representing almost a quarter of all overseas students – and Queen’s University Belfast is chartering a plane to bring students from China this autumn.

The number of Chinese students have risen 34% in the last five years

The pilot project involves four Russell Group universities – King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London, York and Southampton – and is run by JISC, formerly the Joint Information Systems Committee, which provides digital services for UK universities.

China’s internet censorship means that some websites are filtered or blocked – and there have been concerns that students in China could not study online, such as clicking on an embedded link in a scholarly article.

The technical solution, provided free by the Chinese internet firm Alibaba Cloud, creates a virtual connection between the student in China and the online network of the UK university, where the course is being taught.

But a spokeswoman for JISC says Chinese students will not have free access to the internet, but will only be able to reach «resources that are controlled and specified» by the university in the UK.

Any online information used in these UK university courses will have to be on a «security ‘allow’ list, which will list all the links to the educational materials UK institutions include in their course materials», said JISC.

This raises questions about academic freedom and free speech – but when asked about whether these principles were being put at risk, the universities have so far referred back to JISC.

JISC, which is an online services provider, says such issues are for the universities – and that «all course materials have been within regulations. Nothing was altered or blocked».

Students attending a lectureImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionUniversities have feared that the pandemic could reduce overseas student numbers

Universities UK, which is a supporter of the project, said: «We do not endorse censorship. This scheme is intended to ensure that Chinese students, learning remotely during the pandemic, can access course materials and are able to continue their studies.»

The university body said a similar scheme was already operating for Australian universities.

As well as complying with Chinese regulations, this online link is intended to create a more reliable connection, so that students can more easily watch lectures and follow their courses.

JISC says online students in China face particular barriers with restrictions that «screen traffic between China and the rest of the world, filtering content from overseas used for delivering teaching and learning and blocking some platforms and applications».

The pilot will finish this month and it could be offered more widely from September.

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Universities criticised for ‘tokenistic’ support for Black Lives Matter


 A Black Lives Matter protest at Oriel College, Oxford University, in June. Scholars say there is ‘no clear incentive for universities to take racial justice seriously’. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

More than 300 academics and students have criticised universities for their “tokenistic and superficial” support for the Black Lives Matter movement given their poor record on tackling institutional racism.

In an open letter to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, and higher education funding councils, regulators and representative bodies, the scholars said the sector had underestimated the prevalence of racism and failed to address its “systemic and structural nature”.

The letter called out universities for publicly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while racial inequalities, such as the attainment gap between white and black and minority ethnic (BAME) students, persist.

It states: “While these and other racial inequalities remain, statements that Black lives matter can at best be regarded as tokenistic and superficial.

“The sector has, to date, been overly optimistic in its assessment of the extent of the problem, it has been slow to act and, where action has been taken, it has failed to seriously engage with the systemic and structural nature of racism.”

The letter, signed by leading BAME and white academics, urges the government and higher education bodies to take urgent action to ensure universities improve their efforts.

The three authors of the letter – Richard Itaman, a lecturer in comparative political economy and development at King’s College London, Keston Perry, a lecturer in economics at the University of the West of England, and Angelique Golding, a business manager at Goldsmiths, University of London, – told the Guardian in a statement: “There is no clear incentive for universities to take racial justice seriously or consequences if they do not. However, there are disadvantages to us: black and minority ethnic staff leave, are not promoted and experience racism but these facts do not lead to the institution radically improving its practice.”

They propose universities provide training that substantially addresses institutional racism, white privilege and racial micro-aggressions, such as dismissive and stereotyping comments. Research by the Guardian last year found most did not.

The ethnicity of applicants and shortlisted and successful candidates for senior university jobs should be published, as well as a detailed breakdown of the pay gap between white and BAME staff. Universities should also introduce positive action schemes to train, hire and promote BAME staff to address their under-representation in the workforce.

Another proposal is that funding bodies should make grants dependent on universities demonstrating how they are tackling racism. The seven UK research councils recently revealed that white researchers are almost 59% more likely to receive research funding than their BAME peers.

The letter also recommends that the government provides dedicated funding for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which published a report on racism in higher education last year, to ensure that universities implement these proposals.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Racism is abhorrent and should not be tolerated anywhere in society, including in higher education. The secretary of state has received the letter and we will respond in due course.”

A spokeswoman for Universities UK, which represents 137 higher education institutions, said: “We have called upon senior university leaders to redouble their efforts to address racial harassment. This must be a strategic priority.” She added that its advisory group to tackle racial harassment would publish recommendations in the autumn.

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Kenya: KETRACO scholarships to bridge engineering skills among vulnerable girls

Africa/Kenya/05/07/2020/Author: Claire Wanja/Source:

The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company Limited, KETRACO has partnered with Kenyatta University to offer scholarships to girls from vulnerable families across the country.

The partnership will see KETRACO pump resources into the program dubbed KETRACO Scholarship for Orphans and Vulnerable Students (KSOVS).

Over the next five years vulnerable female students in KU’s Electrical or Civil Engineering faculty are set to be beneficiaries of the initiative.

Speaking during the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signing ceremony, KETRACO’s Managing Director FCPA Fernandes Barasa hailed the initiative as attempting to bridge the engineering skills gap in the country – which is one of the initiatives the transmission company has engaged in with institutions of higher education so as to fulfill its vision.

“The overall objective of the MoU signing is to jointly develop mutual collaboration in various areas including areas of research that touches on electricity transmission, support equity, access and excellence in higher education especially among vulnerable girls,” Barasa said.

“This will form a link that will see the development of new products and technology in electricity transmission through scholarships, research funding and knowledge management consultancy,” KETRACO said.

“This partnership will facilitate mutual collaboration between KETRACO and KU that will enable us to explore emerging trends in electricity transmission and research,” he KU Vice-Chancellor Prof Paul Wainaina.

The partnership will give an opportunity to young girls from vulnerable families to pursue their dreams.

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Chinese high school students have highest preference for college education

Asia/ China/ 19.05.2020/ Source:

Nearly 90 percent of Chinese high school students intend to pursue higher education, according to recent research by the China Youth and Children Research Center.

The research, jointly conducted with research institutions from the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK), aims to compare the learning performance of high school students in the four countries.

It was based on a survey covering 3,903 high school students from China, 1,521 from America, 2,204 from Japan and 1,618 from the ROK.

About 88 percent of Chinese respondents planned to go to college after graduation, 5.5 percentage points higher than those from the United States who ranked second in the survey.

However, they were not as confident as American high school students when it came to the evaluation of their overall learning performance and efficiency.

The survey also found that Chinese high school students were the most independent and best at following the rules, but not as initiative and communicative as their American counterparts.

Only 2.8 percent of Chinese students intended to start working after graduating from high school, compared with 6.6 percent of Korean students.

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China: Delocalization could be future of higher education

Asia/ China/ 12.05.2020/ By: Joshua Kobb/ Source:

The global higher education market was valued last year at $65.4 billion and has been projected to reach $118 billion by 2027.

International education represents a large part of learning activities and is a major source of tuition revenue from nondomestic students. In 2018, nearly 1.1 million foreign students were studying in the United States. Of them, 34 percent came from China, representing approximately $11 billion in fees.

Over the past several years, trends in student mobility have been changing. The US, while still the largest destination for foreign students, has seen the rate of increase in foreign students fall since 2014. As a result, some institutions have seen tuition revenue drop more than 25 percent.

With the global rise of nationalism and protectionism, students have adjusted their choice of destinations, favoring host countries with perceived greater safety and better post-study job opportunities. In a recent survey, 87 percent of high school college counselors in China reported that students and parents were reconsidering plans for studying in the US.

The COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating these trends. In the immediate term, outbound students will experience difficulties in obtaining visas, and many campuses are questioning whether they will open their fall semesters for on-site classes. In the medium term, outbound students will explore destinations closer to home, as well as foreign collaborative programs in their home countries.

Faced with this business challenge, the pursuit of an offensive delocalization strategy makes sense for universities. While delocalization generally refers to moving resources overseas, two different forces of delocalization can be identified: defensive and offensive.

In the former, a company moves resources overseas to benefit from lower production costs. In the latter, resources are moved overseas to better serve international markets. This may be due to reducing barriers to consumption or localization of the product or service to make it more attractive. An example of this strategy can be found in the Disney company, which gambled on a larger market interested in a Disney experience closer to their homes. Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai now figure prominently in the offer, with each localized to some degree.

Students from China celebrate their graduation from Columbia University. [Photo/Xinhua]

In the new normal, faced with looming declines in international student enrollments and subsequent loss of tuition revenue, the pursuit of an offensive delocalization strategy makes sense for higher education. This translates into the establishment of overseas campuses, allowing institutions to attract and serve international students more effectively by creating market proximity and reducing barriers to a US education.

This strategy is not new in higher education. INSEAD, the Sorbonne and HEC Paris, for example, operate international campuses. New York University opened its third overseas campus in Shanghai in 2013. Of the 1,600 current students, 50 percent are from China.

Chinese universities provide important support for foreign collaboration in China. NYU Shanghai is jointly established with East China Normal University, and Duke Kunshan University is a partnership with Wuhan University.

Zhejiang University recently established an international campus as a platform for university and program-level cooperative partnerships.

With an international business school and joint institutes with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Edinburgh, the new ZJU campus will host multiple foreign collaborative initiatives.

With close to 1 million outbound students per year from China, the nation is the largest single source of international students in the world. At the same time, China has become the third-largest destination for foreign students, thanks to opportunities from the Belt and Road Initiative.

Future development in transnational education will likely see an increase in the establishment of overseas campuses and university-level collaborative programs in China as a way to serve outbound domestic students and international students looking for new destination opportunities.

For institutions relying on tuition revenue from international students, in particular those in the US, delocalization to China should be a strategy to consider.

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Flexible learning during Covid-19:  how to ensure quality higher education at a distance


By Michaela Martin and Uliana Furiv, respective lead and consultant working at the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning programme specialist on a project on flexible learning pathways.

The Covid-19 outbreak closed universities and other tertiary education institutions in 175 countries and communities, affecting over 220 million post-secondary students. While some institutions moved their classes to online and distance education platforms thanks to their pre-existing experience, many others struggled. In some countries, this lack of preparedness resulted in delays in moving the courses online; in others, governments have halted higher education completely for an indefinite period of time.

In 2018, the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) launched a project to help guide countries identify policies and instruments that support flexible learning pathways (FLP) in higher education. The research included a stocktaking exercise of good practices in the field, an international survey, and eight in-depth country case studies to analyse factors for an effective implementation of flexible learning pathways. Many lessons can be drawn for the current context, now that distance learning is a key mode of education delivery, rather than just an add-on to face-to-face learning. 

India offered distance education as a major alternative mode of delivery long before the arrival of Covid-19. The country has more than 15 open universities and 110 Dual Mode Universities, which provide education through distance modes. For the period of Covid-19 outbreak, the government has also allowed top 100 India’s HEIs to provide fully online degrees. In addition, the government even integrated online learning in the New Education Policy currently under review.

One interesting practice India uses to deliver distance learning is with the Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM) platform which aims to provide access to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other e-learning content developed by various education providers. An important aspect of MOOCs hosted on the SWAYAM platform is their potential to receive recognition by higher education institutions. Under current provisions, a student entering a higher education study programme in a university can transfer up to 20 per cent of credits from relevant online courses completed on SWAYAM – something that one could imagine being a useful model for other countries to follow in current circumstances.

As we are seeing in many countries around the world, many students in rural areas are unable to access online content, and television or radio broadcasting is often more effective. The Indian government therefore created the SWAYAM Prabha programme, which disseminates the audio-visual content developed as part of the SWAYAM-hosted MOOCs through 32 educational TV channels. Within the current context, such platforms can be accessed immediately so that learning continues and is recognised when credits are issued at a later stage.

In Malaysia, the Wawasan Open University (WoU), a private university established by a consortium of Malaysian public universities, mainly delivers distance learning programmes to non-traditional learners, such as working Malaysians who have not proceeded to higher education after secondary education. In a context where most higher education institutions have been forced to close, the pandemic has not interrupted students’ learning thanks to the virtual learning platforms that existed before the crisis: We are, after all, an Open Distance Learning (ODL)  university!”, reported the Vice-Chancellor on the universities’ webpage.

In Finland, a similarly effective online system has been created. There, the national policy framework emphasises equality and quality education for all and universities and universities of applied sciences in the country offer Open Studies courses that are open to everyone regardless of education and age. The courses are offered by over twenty Finnish universities free of charge and can be recognised in students’ degrees.

Quality assurance of online learning is a challenge

Online distance learning is common in many countries. Findings from our international survey suggest that a majority of UNESCO member states (78%) already had flexible modes of delivery of programmes prior to Covid-19, even if the quality and validation of such delivery modes (e.g., through credit transfer or credit recognition of online courses) is not a straightforward issue for many.

Evaluating students’ learning acquired through distance learning has been a challenge for quality assurance, however, regarded with scepticism by some quality assurance and accreditation bodies, although it is likely that under the present circumstances these will now disappear. One good example to draw from on this point comes from the Netherlands where the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) has published a memorandum on online and blended learning. This memorandum includes the formal recognition of MOOCs by higher education institutions. Another example comes from the USA, where the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) issued a guidance document intended to provide both institutions and accreditors with flexibility regarding accrediting visits and for distance education.

There is no doubt that there are many challenges to implement and assure quality of online education. In addition to issues of access and Internet connectivity, not all programmes can be supported by online technology, such as lab-based research programmes, for example. And governments need to be aware of the inequalities that online learning can create as students from lower socio-economic strata find it more difficult to access to IT infrastructure and internet packages. There should be a coordinated approach between governments, quality assurance agencies and higher education institutions that addresses not only available resources but also a broader vision of what flexibility of learning can provide. Offering more flexible higher education in terms of delivery and pacing will be unavoidable if the Covid-19 crisis is going to be around for a while, and defining flexible quality standards for it will be indispensable as well.


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How will Covid-19 affect the internationalization of higher education?

Gem Report

University costs. It didn’t take long after universities closed their doors in the United States, for instance, for students to start advocating to get their money back. Twitter is awash with professors concerned about the impact that shutting universities is going to have on their institutions in the long-term. University is one of the biggest investments many people will make in their lifetime. But why do so when you could be paying a fraction of the price to take part in an online course? What about students and professors shut out of the countries where they are supposed to be studying and teaching? The ramifications are complex, and heavily intertwined with economics.

Many universities reduced or suspended fees in some way. The University of Chicago agreed to freeze tuition for the next academic year. Universities in Dubai slashed their fees and fees were suspended in 52 universities in Thailand. Chile also passed a bill on March 27 to suspend all tuition fee payments for as long as the coronavirus crisis lasts.

Stopping fees doesn’t stop interest related to student loans, though. In the United States, loans amount to a whopping $1.59 trillion. A $2.2 trillion stimulus plan, the CARES Act, will give some relief to some students, but with many exceptions. Student Loan Borrower Assistance, an NGO, estimates that around nine million students have at least one loan that doesn’t qualify for relief under the plan.

Even if tuition fees have frozen and some relief is given for student loans, it’s not guaranteed that the cost of this pandemic for universities will not roll over back onto students when term re-starts. Michigan State University, for instance, announced a 4% tuition increase for the upcoming year at the same time as it announced freezing tuition costs.

Student and academic mobility on lock-down

The blow will be particularly hard for those countries that have internationalized their higher education. Half of all international students move to five English‑speaking countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. This movement brings money, which is important not only for higher education institutions but the whole economy. In 2016, international students brought an estimated US$39.4 billion into the US economy.

Chinese students, in particular, are a large revenue stream for many universities, reportedly spending an estimated US$30 billion a year on overseas tuition. The University of Connecticut, for instance, hosted nearly 3,000 students from China last autumn and is now bracing for international enrolment to drop by up to 75% next year, equal to a loss of up to $70 million.

Australia is also a major destination for Chinese students, who contributed around $8 million to the Australian economy in 2019. Chinese students make up no fewer than one quarter of all students at the University of Sydney, for example.  As early as February, travel bans prevented hundreds of thousands of Chinese from returning to universities where they were studying or were due to begin courses. This saw some institutions in Australia offering Chinese students $1,500 for travelling in from a third country to get around restrictions. These sorts of tricks might start multiplying if lock downs continue.

Travel bans and restrictions will no doubt linger once confinement periods are lifted. A study of students from Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan has estimated that around 40% of students from are changing study abroad plans since the pandemic.

Just as mobility of students will be affected by travel and economic limitations, so will the mobility of academics. The United States hosts the most transient academics, which made up 25% of new academic positions. At Miami University in Ohio, which is bracing for a 20% drop in new students, officials are drafting plans that would cut at least half, if not all, visiting assistant professorships.

Can universities survive the storm?

It is hard to know whether life will return to normal or not once this phase is over. But, just like any company that has been frozen during the lockdown, it is likely that some private higher education institutions will simply not survive this lock-down. The Council of Rectors of Chilean Universities, which represents 27 state and private universities in the country, said that suspending tuition fees would have a ‘serious and insurmountable impact, especially on regional universities’, while the rector of the Universidad del Desarrollo in Chile was a bit more direct, calling it ‘a hair-brained idea’.

The losses for some individual institutions are not insubstantial: Bucknell University in Pennsylvania says it has lost $150 million from its endowment after recent investment losses. Michigan State University has put the cost of the outbreak already at $50-60 million.  The $2 trillion rescue bill in the United States includes $14 billion for higher education, but the American Council on Education, an association of college presidents, called it woefully inadequate saying that $50 billion was needed.

What the future will bring

International higher education is only a small part of the sector: just over 2% of students are mobile. But it is a part that is taking an almighty hit during the pandemic with potential knock-on effects on some host countries’ higher education systems, notably Anglophone countries and those in the Gulf, which increasingly rely on foreign students’ fees. These countries but also others, such as Japan, may spend less time trying to strategise how to recruit international students, as many have been doing recently.

Depending on where you sit, the plight of roughly 2% of the global student population with the luxury of international higher education is not something that should be a priority. Especially when the concerns are mostly about a wobble in a money market associated with education, which has been a worrying growing trend over past years. However, to this we should also remind ourselves of the vital purpose of higher education in society, and the gains in global citizenship we get from student and academic mobility. A wobble in international higher education will ripple across into the higher education systems reliant upon those funds as well, which is a worry for millions of students. Higher education is critical for countries plans for economic and social recovery; it is more than ever essential to invest in research and student collaboration that can help find the answers we need to live in such unstable and uncertain times and now would be a good time for governments and higher education institutions to make that point.


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