English Language Feeds

India: majority of foreign-trained doctors fail exams

The PIE News - Mon, 01/13/2020 - 08:07

The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has revealed that more than four out of five doctors who return from completing a medical degree abroad fail the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam required to allow them to practise in India.

The examination is required for all doctors who undertake their MBBS abroad in countries other than Australia, Canada, the UK, New Zealand and the US. However, the ministry revealed that just 14.2% out of 61,708 test-takers between 2015-18 made the grade.

“The move to alternative destinations for Indian students is likely to be one of the big stories in mobility in the 2020s”

“Alternative destinations” in Eastern Europe and Asia have become more popular over the last decade due to their lower fees and entrance requirements, as well as an increase in the English-taught courses they offer.

However, the robustness of their courses has been called into question after students’ pass rates on the FMGE following studying in destinations such as China, Russia and Ukraine were just 11.67%, 12.91% and 14.87% respectively.

Edwise’s director Sushil Sukhwani told The PIE that students taking the exams are aware of the tough requirements, often signing up for coaching in advance. Some still fail after even the second or third attempt, leaving them with the choice between practising illegally in India or trying their luck abroad.

“[Some] Chinese, Russian and Ukrainian institutes do not go as deep academically… and [some] institutes in China and Russia are more commercial,” he noted.

“Also, [they may] not have proper facilities like operation theatres and equipment or links with hospitals for practical exposure.”

According to Amanda Gregory, lead consultant at EMS Global and COO of UNIVER, two million students competed in the NEET exam for 61,000 places at Indian medical colleges in 2018.

While the Indian government announced the establishment of 24 new 
medical colleges by 2020-2021 in February 2018, for many attempting to pursue a career in medicine, heading abroad is the only option – and traditionally popular destinations are not a financially viable option for many.

“The prediction is that the move to alternative destinations for Indian students is likely to be one of the big stories in international student mobility in the 2020s, and one that could have profound effects on the foreign enrolments of both established and emerging study destinations,” Gregory told The PIE.

India’s medical system is one of the largest in the world but it also has a severe shortage of medical professionals.

A report last year suggested the country needs at least an additional 600,000 doctors and two million nurses, with it currently only having one government doctor for every 10,189 citizens – the WHO recommendation is 1:1,000.

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US: Thousands of int’l students may have overstayed their visas

The PIE News - Mon, 01/13/2020 - 07:21

Thousands of international students may have overstayed their US visas by misusing the country’s Optional Practical Training program, according to an investigation

An extension of an international student’s visa, OPT allows graduates to work in an area related to their study for a total of 12 months, or longer if they have a STEM degree.

“The existing national security infrastructure is designed to catch bad actors”

However, the month-long investigation found that a handful of suspicious companies with unclear business dealings and virtually no online footprints were employing students through OPT. 

The 14 companies in question employed more than 5,500 students through the program in 2017, according to ICE records. 

“Higher education institutions take extensive measures to comply with federal requirements”

“There are always people who want to exploit legal immigration,” Rachel Canty, Student and Exchange Visitor Program director, said.

Canty, told NBC Bay Area that “there’s always a risk” when people tell authorities they are doing something other than what they have said they are.

“That is why we look at the companies very carefully. That’s why we do data analytics and that’s why we do investigations,” Canty added.

NBC Bay Area began its investigation following the arrest of Chinese national Weiyun “Kelly” Huang,  the CEO of a company called Findream.

An indictment filed in federal court told how Huang allegedly used two companies, Findream and Sinocontech, to provide fake employment documents for more than 2,500 students with F-1 visas.

Huang is accused of using this scheme to make more than US$2 million from students paying for falsified employment records.

Following the indictment, NBC Bay Area used OPT data and corporate records to identify 12 more suspected shell companies.

It found the companies shared a common set of traits including unreachable corporate officers, an OPT workforce comprised of 99% Chinese nationals and corporate headquarters based at either single-family homes, luxury residential high-rises or shared workspaces.

However, the report notes that while there is evidence of possible abuse, the cases represent less than 3% of the students who participated in OPT in 2017.

“The existing national security infrastructure is designed to catch bad actors, and higher education institutions take extensive measures to comply with federal requirements,” Jill Allen Murray, deputy executive director, public policy at NAFSA told The PIE News. 

The importance of the OPT program to the US was highlighted by American Council on Education vice president, global engagement, Brad Farnsworth.

“We really are experiencing a rapidly globalised market of international students, where the UK, Canada, the US and Australia are all competing for students,” he told The PIE.

“We are all trying to make ourselves as attractive as possible. I think that is a good thing for international students- the more choice the better.

“But we do know that international students very much value professional and practical experience in the country where they are studying either during or following graduation and that is specifically why OPT was designed in the US.

“The total number of students in the US still looks pretty good but that is largely owing to more students participating in OPT”

“I do know anecdotally that this makes a tremendous difference when students are selecting a country and an institution for study,” he added.

Farnsworth said that if there was a significant curtailing of OPT it would “dramatically” affect the numbers of international students who come to the US.

“If you look at the Open Doors report that came out in the late fall… what we are seeing is a real softening of students entering the pipeline in the US,” he said.

Farnsworth said that the numbers of international students have been dropping for several years which he put down to global competition.

“What we’re seeing if you look at the overall number of students in the US, that number is holding quite firm at over one million.

“That is because the students stay in the US longer. If you imagine a pipeline, entering at one end are new students, [and] those numbers are declining, but at the same time, we have students staying in the US longer to do OPT.

“So the total number of students in the US still looks pretty good but that is largely owing to more students participating in OPT.”

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US: Chinese student to face trial

The PIE News - Mon, 01/13/2020 - 03:34

A Chinese international student who allegedly tried to smuggle cancer research from a hospital in Boston is facing trial in the US, according to local news reports.

Zaosong Zheng, 29, was a graduate student at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and had entered the US on a visa sponsored by Harvard. 

“Zheng’s appointment to [Beth Israel] was not an accident”

Authorities in the US allege that he stole biological specimens from Beth Israel’s lab and, according to an FBI agent, may have been collecting intellectual property on behalf of the Chinese government. 

Court documents say that Zheng was arrested by customs officials in December 2019 after he attempted to fly from Boston to Beijing carrying the specimens his luggage.

He initially denied that vials he was carrying were biological specimens but later admitted he had stolen them from Beth Israel according to the documents. He was arrested on a charge of making false statements. 

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital. The institution fired Zheng after his arrest and his educational exchange visa has been revoked.

“We are deeply proud of the breadth and depth of our research programs,” Jennifer Kritz, a spokesperson for the hospital, told The Boston Globe.

“Any efforts to compromise research undermine the hard work of our faculty and staff to advance patient care,” she said. 

According to the report, Zheng had a laptop that belonged to another researcher at the lab who had already travelled to China. 

The FBI have alleged that Zheng and the other Chinese researcher may have worked together to smuggle research out of the lab and the country.

“Zheng’s appointment to [Beth Israel] was not an accident; he was knowingly gathering and collecting intellectual property from [Beth Israel] possibly on behalf of the Chinese government,” said Kara Spice, an FBI agent, in a court affidavit.

“This type of behaviour is expected of Chinese nationals when they travel to the United States and rewarded upon their return to China.”

Now Zheng is being held without bail after a judge ruled he was a flight risk.

US District Court Magistrate Judge David H. Hennessy said Zheng’s connections to the Chinese government, which gave him a scholarship, would make it easier for him to leave the country. Hennessy granted the federal prosecutors’ request to detain Zheng until his trial.

The court case comes at a time of increased concerns over US-based scientists working to benefit foreign governments.

An investigation by the US Department of Education into foreign funding at six US universities found that one had received research funding from a Chinese multinational conglomerate to develop new algorithms and advance biometric security techniques for crowd surveillance capabilities.

The FBI and the National Institutes of Health, the US government agency responsible for biomedical and public health research, are investigating the theft of US biomedical research by scientists with links to China.

So far, the NIH has opened more than 180 investigations into potential violations involving foreign influence in US research.

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Israeli HEIs to launch English language reform

The PIE News - Mon, 01/13/2020 - 02:30

Israeli universities and colleges are set to launch English language reforms to ensure students are equipped with the necessary English skills to integrate into the local and international jobs market.

The Council for Higher Education has approved the new reform based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and over the next five years, academic institutions will adopt a study method to ensure students gain English skills in reading, writing, comprehension and speech.

All students starting undergraduate studies as of the 2021/22 school year will take at least two courses in the English language, determined according to their level of English at the time of acceptance.

“[The studies are important] as part of… their optimal integration into the local and international employment market”

As a result of this new reform, dozens of new English taught courses will be developed in Israeli universities and colleges.

In addition to increasing the English level of Israeli students, the initiative hopes to open the gates of Israeli higher education to more international students.

This push complements the CHE’s Study in Israel program and will enable academic institutions to open English taught programs which integrate students from around the world.

The initiative was coordinated with the Ministry of Education in order to ensure that Israeli students entering universities and colleges are prepared for the new format.

Ido Perlman, deputy chair of the CHE, said the council views English-language studies as being “very important” for academic and international purposes.

“[The studies are important] as part of the provision of sufficient tools and knowledge to students during the course of their academic degree studies as well as their optimal integration into the local and international employment market after completing their studies.”

The CHE and its Planning and Budgeting Committee will assist academic institutions in preparing for this initiative and recommends establishing systems to train English lecturers to teach the four required skills according to the CEFR, train teachers to teach course content in English and to translate courses into English.

In order to ensure that all students are successful in this new program, the CHE also recommended that higher education institutions establish institutional systems to identify and assist students having trouble with English-language studies.

It also recommends establishing an institutional infrastructure to identify and assist students having difficulties in English-language studies.

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MLA discusses professors' ethical responsibilities for training graduate students

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 01/13/2020 - 01:00

SEATTLE -- The humanities’ dismal tenure-track job market has laid bare some of the profession’s other ugly truths -- namely that power imbalances are too often used against graduate students. The Me Too movement has, of course, revealed abuses of a sexual nature in academe. Yet graduate students also increasingly refuse to accept other forms of mistreatment and malpractice as they face poor faculty job prospects. 

Put another way, if the status quo isn’t a means to an end, then graduate students want graduate school to be more of an end in itself -- and an equitable one.

The Modern Language Association is listening. A fair number of the 700-plus sessions offered at its annual convention over the weekend centered on improving graduate education, not just structurally but culturally. And a large share of the association’s Delegate Assembly meeting focused on a new report from the MLA’s Task Force in Ethical Conduct on Graduate Education.

‘Faculty Hold Considerable Power’

As a number of adviser-advisee abuse cases came to light around 2018, the MLA’s Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee surveyed members about what’s wrong with graduate education -- especially where it concerned power differentials between faculty members and students.

Survey results were never made public. Generally, they involved student concerns not only about the job market and sexual harassment but also mental health, program transparency, favoritism and bias, and exploitation of labor and emotions. They prompted a major discussion at last year’s MLA convention.

Troubled, the MLA’s Executive Council charged a task force with considering the student comments and recommending related guidelines. The charge here was different than that to the task force behind the MLA’s 2014 report on doctoral study in modern language: whereas that report focused on program design and timelines, this one was about preventing abuses of power.

The new task force, led by Simon Gikandi, MLA president and Robert Schirmer Professor and chair of English at Princeton University, wrote in its eventual report that “the relationship between faculty and graduate students is a special one” that’s ideally “intellectually stimulating, long-lasting, and reciprocally rewarding.” Within that relationship, however, the report reads, “faculty hold considerable power over the graduate students they teach and advise."

Faculty members “give or withhold not only professional licensure in the forms of grades and approvals, but also their time,” the report says. They also grant or withhold “various forms of patronage, including collaboration and recommendations for coveted fellowships or teaching opportunities.” They fail, for example, “to return dissertation chapters for many months, to answer crucial emails, or to submit letters of recommendation in a timely fashion,” and they ask students to proofread their papers without compensation, collect their laundry or house sit their pets.

There are also “subtler forms of neglect, bias, or abuse,” and “pressure on students to choose them as their dissertation advisers or discriminat[ion] against students on the basis of race, ability status, age or gender,” the report continues. All of these behaviors -- on top of inadequate funding packages, lack of childcare or mental health benefits, or appropriate job counseling or training -- increase the “precarity felt by graduate students and impede their timely progress toward the degree.”


Ultimately, the task force made nine recommendations, including adopting collaborative or “networked” advising instead of the single-adviser model. Such an approach will “increase the range of professional possibilities for graduate students, reduce stress caused by reliance on single mentors and provide a check on faculty abuses of power,” the report says.

Networked or collaborative advising was discussed at several other panels at the convention. Jenna Lay, associate professor of English at the Lehigh University, offered some practical strategies during a separate panel on graduate student mentoring: encouraging students to serve on campus committees, do informational interviews with staff members and alumni in other kinds of jobs, and pursue graduate assistantships outside of one’s immediate campus home, along with other kinds of professional networking.

Lay’s co-panelist and former graduate student Emily Shreve, now associate director of academic transitions in the Academic Success Center at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, also served on the mentoring panel. At Lehigh, she worked as a graduate assistant in the Office of the First-Year Experience, participated in a committee linking different humanities programs, managed the summer reading program and developed a weekly newsletter for first-year students. That experience interacting with peers and faculty and staff members across the university, outside the classroom, helped lead her to her current position. Even so, Lay noted that this kind of experience is beneficial to all students, as those who pursue faculty jobs still need to understand service roles and the inner workings of the university.

Other task force recommendations include rejecting “all forms of sexual harassment and discriminatory behavior,” such as through the establishment of department guidelines “for treating all students fairly.” When sexual harassment claims are lodged, for example, “faculty must refrain from public comment on such matters while they are adjudicated by university bodies charged with this task.” Departments and programs also should train professors on “bystander responsibility” and the need to guard not only against impropriety but also the appearance of impropriety.

“Promote transparency to reduce bias and favoritism” was another recommendation. Faculty members should publicly set, revise and apply, in a fair and professional way, clear criteria and procedures for all matters that affect graduate students and their progress through a program. Wherever possible, graduate students should be included in department meetings and decisions that affect them.

The task force also advised “clear rules for faculty accessibility and responsiveness,” with regard to responding to papers, dissertation chapters and drafts, and requests for letters of reference in a timely fashion -- including when professors are on leave.

Other recommendations: offer students training without “exploiting” them, such as by giving them workloads that prioritize timely program progress; meet the distinct needs of master’s students, who are not “Ph.D. students lite”; provide mental health-care coverage and services and supports for work-life balance; and fund students sufficiently and pay them on time, so that they don’t need to take on second jobs.

Realities of the Job Market

Offering professionalization opportunities in line with the “new realities” of the job market was the task force’s other recommendation. Delegates selected it as the most pressing issue facing their profession during the assembly meeting.

“Graduate schools and departments -- in collaboration with offices of career services, development and alumni relations, and other institutional offices -- should offer workshops and training for diverse humanities careers as well as for the varied possibilities within the academic job market,” the report says. “Students must be supported, and not stigmatized, when they explore diverse career paths.”

In another session on graduate student admissions -- what moderator Leonard Cassuto, professor of English at Fordham University, guessed was the MLA’s first such panel -- speakers said that career diversity should start with who gets into graduate school. Citing Julie Posselt’s study of graduate school admissions, Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity and Faculty Gatekeeping, Cassuto said that too often “we default into what [Posselt] calls ‘homophily,’ which is the love of same. In other ways we seek to replicate ourselves.” Applying to graduate school and reviewing applicants is a “ritual dance” with prescribed steps, Cassuto continued. Regardless of what they actually hope to do with their degrees, “candidates need to present themselves as prospective researchers.” Faculty readers, meanwhile, “especially want for candidates to demonstrate what kind of scholars they’re going to be.”

This has consequences for diversity of all kinds, including intellectual, Cassuto said. And if “we’re going to reconceive the guiding assumption that Ph.D.s are going to become professors and nothing else, then we have to do that from the bottom up.”

Cassuto’s co-panelist John Guillory, Silver Professor of English at New York University, as a thought experiment suggested that the MLA might also help oversee a staggered moratorium on admissions to humanities programs, in which one-third to one-fourth of departments don’t admit graduate students every year. More realistically, perhaps, Sara B. Blair, Patricia S. Yaeger Collegiate Professor of English at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, said that programs must first and foremost study and make public data on outcomes for past graduate students (Michigan has been leader on this front). 

Seemingly agreeing with Cassuto on the value of admitting students with diverse goals, Blair said that there is “no shortage of talent, serious expansive talent, among real-time and often nontraditional potential aspirants for doctoral programs.”

This “doesn’t mean that the Ph.D. in English or the humanities more broadly isn’t still -- but in familiar and new ways -- a highly valuable project,” she added. The world needs “well-trained, critically adept humanists to not only to teach college students of all sorts,” but also to “make richer sense of the world we inhabit.”

During yet another panel on what professors owe their students, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of digital humanities and professor of English at Michigan State University, said that a more “generous” academic culture starts with how faculty members interact with other scholars and their work. “I’m not asking us not to disagree, not to push new ideas forward, not to think critically," she said, recalling that a group of graduate students early in her teaching career had come to class prepared with brutal critiques of a reading but shallow understandings of what it was actually about. "But I am hoping that we might find ways to remember that critical thinking requires deep understanding and even generosity as prerequisite.”

Fitzpatrick asked “what we and our students might gain by slowing the whole process down, from emphasizing the believing game before leaping to the doubting came,” when engaging with others’ ideas. “Generous argument” might make us better listeners and help "spring ways of thinking that focus on higher education as a means of fostering community rather than providing individual benefit," she said.

All of this entails moving away from a “hyperindividualistic, competitive mode of achievement in which all outcomes are understood to be individual and therefore assessed at that level,” however, she added -- a tall order. At the same session, Lay of Lehigh and Shreve of Nevada promoted the idea of "professionalism" over professionalization, with Lay defining the former as oriented on the "pedagogical missions and ethical responsibilities that we see as essential to a thriving academic community."

Paula Krebs, executive director of the MLA, said during the delegate meeting that these recommendations, along with MLA member input, will now go back to the governing council for further consideration. It’s possible that the recommendations will inform guidelines for departments on the ethical treatment of graduate students, she said. And while some of the MLA’s existing guidelines for departments in other areas aren’t widely followed, she said, some have real "teeth."

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MIT puts professor on leave over new revelations about his ties to Jeffrey Epstein

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 01/13/2020 - 01:00

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Friday that Seth Lloyd, Nam Pyo Suh Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Physics, is on paid leave for deliberately failing to report donations from the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Lloyd also was found to have received $60,000 from Epstein in 2005 or 2006, which he acknowledged he deposited into a personal bank account without notifying MIT.

The revelations come from a new fact-finding report commissioned by MIT to better understand Epstein’s interactions with MIT before and after his conviction in 2008. (Epstein faced additional sex-trafficking charges prior to his death in federal custody last summer.) MIT committed to the external review following the resignation of Joi Ito as director of the Media Lab in September over reports that he’d deliberately concealed donations from Epstein.

Epstein gave Lloyd two $50,000 donations in 2012 and $125,000 in 2017, according to the new report. Allegedly knowing that these gifts would raise red flags, Lloyd let midlevel administrators process them without discussing the move with senior administrators first.

Goodwin Procter, the law firm behind the investigation, also found that Epstein had visited MIT’s campus nine times since 2013.

Alan G. Spoon, a member of the MIT Corporation, the university’s governing board, said during a news conference that he found the campus visit information to be “very disturbing.”

Fellow board member Denis A. Bovin said that MIT allows its professors to invite whomever they wish to campus, but that that may change. The question, he said, is “where do you draw the line?” Noting that the courts deemed Epstein a Level-3, or highest-level sex offender, Bovin suggested that that was a good place to start.

MIT, working with faculty members, also plans to review its various donor policies. The new report says that the Epstein donations violated no university policy on controversial donors because no such policy exists. But the report accuses those involved in hiding the donations of exercising poor judgment. It recommends a review of conflict of interest and other gift guidelines.

President Rafael Reif has faced internal and external scrutiny over the Epstein case -- including questions about how much he knew, when. The report found that while some of Reif’s vice presidents knew about the donations and tried to cover them up, he did not. Two of those colleagues left MIT several years ago, and the third, Israel Ruiz, previously announced that he is stepping down as executive vice president and treasurer.

Reif had already admitted that he signed a standard gift acknowledgment letter involving Epstein in 2012. The report determined that he did not know who Epstein was at the time. 

Spoon said the board retains “full confidence” in Reif’s leadership.

Reif said in an all-campus memo Friday that “if we can face the institute’s flaws with honesty and build on its great strengths, we can not only make our community stronger, more equitable, more inclusive and more effective, we can offer a model for deliberate self-assessment, growth and change.”

Underscoring recommendations from the MIT Corporation’s executive committee, Reif pledged action on creating guidelines on controversial donors and encouraging whistle-blowers to come forward. He also promised to keep the campus safe from visitors who may pose a threat, to support the Media Lab that accepted Epstein funds via Ito in its path forward, and to work on broader campus climate issues.

Via email, Lloyd said he couldn't comment at the moment but planned to later this week. Spoon and Bovin said he is facing the standard faculty disciplinary process. 

Under mounting pressure, MIT said last year that Epstein had made donations totaling $800,000 and that it would donate the same amount to sexual abuse survivors. It also pledged to provide more details after a full review. 

Goodwin Procter’s investigators found that Epstein’s donations in fact totaled $850,000, starting with a $100,000 gift in 2002 to Marvin Minsky, a professor who died in 2016. Nine other donations were made after 2008, according to the report, amounting to $525,000 to the Media Lab and $225,000 to Lloyd.

The Media Lab reportedly rejected a $25,000 gift from Epstein last year, as he attracted more media attention.

Epstein reportedly said in 2014 that he’d arranged major donations to MIT from Bill Gates and Leon Black of Apollo Global Management. But the report found no evidence to support that. The Gates Foundation also denied the claim.

Those MIT administrators involved in concealing Epstein’s donations reportedly developed an acceptance “framework” that involved smaller, unpublicized donations. But Epstein repeatedly ignored that requirement, the report found, and even claimed credit in 2014 for gifts he did not make to MIT.

Investigators also determined that Ito in 2016 tried to get Robert Millard, chair of the MIT Corporation, to woo him as a donor. Epstein invited Millard to dinner, but he declined.

MIT is working with faculty members to determine where it will donate the new figure of $850,000 to abuse survivors. 

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Florida lawmakers launch investigation into 'foreign meddling' at state research universities

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 01/13/2020 - 01:00

Florida lawmakers are launching an investigation into the "extent of foreign meddling in taxpayer-funded research" at the state's research institutions, in what seems to be the first inquiry of this sort at a state level. The state-level probe is happening in parallel with similar inquiries by Congress and national research agencies into the threat of intellectual property theft by foreign actors.

Florida’s House Speaker, José R. Oliva, a Republican, announced a new committee that would lead the investigation in December. He cited in his announcement “recent revelations” regarding the freestanding Moffitt Cancer Center.

Moffitt’s CEO and the center director resigned in December for what the cancer center described as “violations of conflict of interest rules through their work in China.” Moffitt said that its compliance review “also prompted separation of four additional researchers.”

Moffitt said it launched its review into researchers' ties with China after the National Institutes of Health warned of efforts by foreign actors to influence or compromise U.S. researchers. The cancer center's review focused on individuals’ participation in the Thousand Talents program, a Chinese government-sponsored recruitment program for scientific talent.

"We don’t want to be in a position where the Florida taxpayer is inadvertently subsidizing research and development for a foreign country," said Chris Sprowls, the Speaker-designate and the chair of the bipartisan committee, which holds its first hearing later this month.

Most taxpayer-funded research dollars flowing into universities come from the federal government, but Sprowls argued that states have an important oversight role.

“These institutions have been created and funded by the state of Florida, so we have an oversight role in making sure that the funds we are investing in these institutions are going to research, are things that are there to benefit Floridians, benefit Americans, and not to subsidize intellectual property development for foreign governments," Sprowls said.

He added, “I think it’s a unique opportunity for the state and federal government to work together, to figure out what is the state in a best position to do that maybe the federal government is not, and try to fill those gaps and come up with a plan that makes sure these institutions have the level of vigilance we want them to have.”

Congressional bodies, federal research agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have all been looking into these issues as well.

In November, a U.S. Senate subcommittee released a report about the Thousand Talents Plan, which it described as one of about 200 talent programs run by the Chinese government that "incentivizes individuals engaged in research and development in the United States to transmit the knowledge and research they gain here to China in exchange for salaries, research funding, lab space, and other incentives."

The subcommittee found that some participants in the program "willfully failed to disclose their affiliation with China’s talent recruitment plans to U.S. institutions and U.S. grant-making agencies. In some cases, TTP members received both U.S. grants and Chinese grants for similar research, established 'shadow labs' in China to conduct parallel research, and stole intellectual capital and property. U.S. government agencies also discovered that some TTP members used their access to research information to provide their Chinese employer with important information on early stage research."

The NIH has also been cracking down on researchers for failing to disclose foreign ties. As of October, the agency reported that it had investigated at least 180 scientists at more than 65 institutions for violating policies requiring disclosure of foreign ties. The NIH's investigation also focused on the Thousand Talents Plan.

University officials say they have taken proactive steps in response to concerns voiced by the NIH and other federal agencies. Steve Orlando, a spokesman for the University of Florida, said that the university "maintains a robust and vigilant program to safeguard our technology and intellectual property from undue foreign influence." He said that while "longstanding programs and processes have been in place to manage these challenges," the university has recently taken a number of additional steps in response to concerns from the NIH, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and members of Congress.

Orlando said these steps include outreach and communication efforts focused on disclosure obligations. Florida also developed a new international risk-assessment process that Orlando said "provides for screening of activities with foreign institutions, as well as an assessment of conflicts of interest or commitment, and provides approval or denial for the activity."

"Since implementing this process, with few exceptions, the university does not approve participation in foreign talent programs as an outside activity," Orlando said.

"Universities really want to do the right thing," said Gary K. Ostrander, the vice president for research at Florida State University. "We want to protect the intellectual property. Faculty develop inventions, they disclose the inventions, the universities get patents. Universities certainly lose if their patents and their technology are disclosed to foreign governments inappropriately, and then there’s no market from any company for their technology. There’s no resistance that I’m aware of on the part of research universities to working with the federal government, with state governments, with anyone that's concerned about this, in a positive and productive way."

"The concern," Ostrander added, "would be that state agencies might be very well intentioned and put in place additional layers of bureaucracy that would perhaps be redundant with what the federal agencies are already doing, and it could make it very hard to do the work, to do the research."

Indeed, as Florida launches its probe, national association leaders warned of potentially duplicative oversight at the state and federal levels.

"As state governments consider their role in supporting public universities in this endeavor, we encourage state legislatures and agencies to carefully consider the guidance and directives that have already been provided by federal agencies, Congress, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy," said Peter McPherson, the president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. "We respectfully caution against new state oversight that could be duplicative and conflicting with federal processes."

Tobin Smith, the vice president for policy at the Association of American Universities, said it’s the prerogative of Florida state lawmakers to look into this issue. He added, however, "It would be my hope that they try to understand what is already being done at the federal level, what the universities are doing in this space, and the work that’s happening with key agencies such as NIH and NSF and other funding agencies."

"And the other important point about Moffitt is the system was working effectively," Smith said. "The awareness has been heightened … Going forward I think you will see that researchers will think twice about whether certain relationships are ones they want to enter into."

At the same time, Smith emphasized the value of reciprocal collaborations and the importance of U.S. science continuing to benefit from foreign talent. "I just hope -- like we are encouraging with at the federal level with members of Congress -- that as they look closely at this, they do no harm," he said.

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Canada mourns victims of Iranian plane crash

The PIE News - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 09:40

The Canadian higher education community is reeling after discovering students and staff were among those killed when Flight 752 from Iran crashed on January 8.

All 176 people onboard the flight were killed when the plane, headed for the Ukrainian city of Kyiv, crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.

Among the victims were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians including nine crew, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Britons and three Germans.

“Universities across the country are working to support the families and friends of those who perished”

In a statement, Universities Canada said the nation’s universities join in mourning the crash victims.

“We are deeply saddened by this loss of life and potential,” it said.

“Universities across the country are working to support the families and friends of those who perished, many of whom were students, faculty and others connected to the university community.

Victims connected with at least 17 Canadian HEIs are believed to have died in the tragedy, including from the University of Alberta, University of Toronto and Western University.

“It is with profound sadness that we have learned that several members of our University of Alberta community died in last night’s tragic aeroplane crash of Flight PS752 in Iran,” the university’s president and vice-chancellor David H. Turpin said in a statement.

“Words simply cannot express the loss I know we all are feeling. On behalf of the University of Alberta, I wish to extend our deepest condolences to the families, friends, colleagues and loved ones of the victims of this tragedy.”

Roja Omidbakhsh, a first-year student at the University of Victoria on Canada’s west coast, was one of the victims of the crash.

“Roja was very positive and had a keen interest in marketing. She was on the pathway to complete a bachelor of commerce,” her professor Mark Colgate said.

Struggling to think of a tragedy that has affected Canadian PSE more widely than Flight 752. Watching universities across the country report the loss of their students and staff – we’re up to seven now that I have seen, I think, maybe more – is just incredibly sad.

— Alex Usher (@AlexUsherHESA) January 9, 2020

“We’re heartbroken that this happened and our condolences go to her family and classmates.”

Iranian citizens headed for Halifax in Nova Scotia were also onboard the flight.

Dalhousie University master’s student Masoumeh “Masi” Ghavi was travelling with her younger sister who was coming to begin studies of her own in the area.

International graduate and member of the faculty of dentistry, Sharieh Faghihi, was also on the flight, as were Maryam Malek and Fatemeh Mahmoodi who were Saint Mary’s University students.

Six students of the University of Toronto appear on the flight manifest. Flag are being flown at half-mast at institutions across the country.

The post Canada mourns victims of Iranian plane crash appeared first on The PIE News.

King’s House School to open in Pakistan

The PIE News - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 09:00

King’s House School and Nursery is the latest UK independent school to announce a branch overseas, with classes to begin at its location in Pakistan in September 2020.

Based in the diplomatic quarter of Islamabad, the preparatory school will start by teaching approximately 60-70 pupils aged 4-5.

“Schools need to look at alternative revenue sources”

King’s House School is also seeking to open branches in Morocco, Ghana and later China, its headmaster Andrew Cook told The PIE News, which the school hopes to open within the next five years.

The recruitment of staff, as well as a headteacher for the school in Pakistan’s capital, is underway, he explained.

“Schools need to look at alternative revenue sources,” Cook told The PIE.

Like other providers, King’s House School wants “to spread [its] wings” internationally.

In 2019, Rugby School announced a school in Japan and Malvern College said it would open a pre-school in Hong Kong. Kent College also announced a school in Hong Kong in 2018.

The school in Luton, UK, has been approached by an increasing number of potential partners to set up locations in a number of countries, Cook said.

Working with reliable partners, King’s House hopes to increase revenue streams, which will not only benefit the school, but also the UK economy.

The countries the private education provider is planning on teaching in are “stable and [have] open arms to British education”, he added.

“There has been growing demand for UK education in these countries.”

The post King’s House School to open in Pakistan appeared first on The PIE News.

Chinese gov’t boost int’l school support

The PIE News - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 04:15

China’s Ministry of Education is planning to provide more support and resources for Chinese international schools abroad, local media have reported.

As more and more Chinese people – many of whom are involved with the Belt and Road Initiative – head abroad for work, demand is increasing for schools with Chinese as the medium of instruction that follow the domestic curriculum.

The government is also hoping that the schools will appeal to overseas Chinese and those of Chinese descent.

According to the country’s MoE, there are currently around 20,000 schools abroad offering some form of Chinese education and 60 million Chinese stationed and living around the world.

“Our… expansion is in line with the fast-growing demand for quality Chinese education overseas”

Many of these schools work closely with the MoE and local Chinese embassies for support in delivering their curriculums and supplying resources.

The ministry has said it will increase financial support for such institutions. Ideas around equipping some already existing training centres and Confucius Institutes with facilities for teaching Overseas Chinese have also been mooted.

Zhuge Academy, part of Beijing-based Lanxum Inc, currently has two international schools – one in the US and one in Canada. Its head of international business, Shang Mei, told China Daily that the company has plans for greater expansion, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.

“Our quick overseas expansion is in line with the fast-growing demand for quality Chinese education overseas,” said Shang.

“Some Chinese have strong cultural anxiety since they moved abroad. They don’t have an environment to learn Chinese history and culture. Some are afraid that their children will abandon the culture.”

Several countries also have bilingual or Chinese-medium schools unaffiliated with the Chinese government.

Malaysia, whose population is just under a quarter ethnically Chinese, has a number of Chinese-medium schools, although schools geared towards specific ethnic groups in the multicultural country do attract criticism.

The UK’s first bilingual prep school teaching in both English and Mandarin, Kensington Wade, opened in 2017, charging a hefty £17,925 a year.

“An increasing number of English schools are starting to offer a modest amount of Chinese language teaching,” wrote headmistress Jo Wallace on the school’s website.

“But given the nature of the Chinese language and the demands of the existing curriculum, the time and energy devoted to learning Chinese is insufficient to learn both the language and the culture properly.”

The post Chinese gov’t boost int’l school support appeared first on The PIE News.

Navitas shifts to student and partners focus

The PIE News - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 01:40

Global education provider Navitas has flagged its ambitions to shift focus towards students and higher education partners, in a bid to improve learner outcomes and increase value from its established relationships.

The ambitions, outlined by new chief executive Scott Jones, mark Navitas’ first strategic change of plan after being taken over by a consortium led by BGH and co-founder Rod Jones.

“We need to listen and learn a bit more to shape where it needs to go”

“Relationships are always stronger… if you’re willing to support one another,” Jones said.

“Transactions come and go and that’s not what we want to be as an organisation. We want to be a relationships focussed business, we want to work closely with our partners and we want to support those growth initiatives through the good and bad.”

Speaking at Navitas’ annual conference in Kuala Lumpur, Jones said the company wanted to work with its university and higher eduction partners as well as students to stay ahead of upcoming change in the education space.

“Too often we feel like we’ve got the solutions without actually asking the questions,” he said.

“We can try and make those decisions, be at the forefront, but we need to listen and learn a bit more to shape where it needs to go.”

Among the changes identified, Jones said digital literacy needed to improve in the classroom, as well as pedagogy and better plans for student mental health and wellbeing.

His comments came shortly after his first 100 days in his new role, and Jones said the shift in Navitas’ focus stemmed from meeting with partners around the world leading to three guiding principles of strategic planning, agent focus and effective sales and marketing.

“We’re seeing these sophisticated and mature markets becoming more of an import market… than an export market,” he said.

While Jones highlighted potential opportunities to develop further TNE partnerships in addition to those already in Singapore, Dubai, and Sri Lanka, he said the company would remain solely within the higher and tertiary education, rather than looking to new areas of study

The change in outward focus will also be coupled with more internal work, Jones added, including additional professional development opportunities for staff, the development of a corporate responsibility plan, and continued work within its education trust to assist developing countries.

Jones added the company wanted to shift its aim form being “one of the best” to “the best”.

The post Navitas shifts to student and partners focus appeared first on The PIE News.

SNHU steps up state-level competition

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 01:00

Students at Pennsylvania’s 14 public community colleges can now easily pursue an online degree at Southern New Hampshire University, thanks to a new credit-transfer pathway.

An articulation agreement announced Wednesday will enable students to transfer up to 45 credits toward an associate’s degree -- which requires a total of 60 credits -- or up to 90 credits toward a 120-credit bachelor’s degree at SNHU. Pennsylvania students transferring to SNHU will receive a 10 percent discount on their tuition.

All community college students transferring to SNHU are offered a 10 percent discount, a SNHU spokeswoman said. But SNHU's degrees will nonetheless undercut ​most universities in Pennsylvania on price. At $288 per credit, including the 10 percent discount, SNHU is significantly cheaper than Pennsylvania State University's World Campus, which charges transfer students upwards of $576 per credit.

The credit-transfer agreement could put pressure on Pennsylvania’s four-year public institutions to lower their prices. Public universities in Pennsylvania are some of the most expensive in the nation, charging nearly twice the U.S. average of $6,368 for tuition and fees in 2019. Other states could soon feel the same pressure, as SNHU hopes to reach similar deals across the U.S. -- expanding the institution's impressive national reach. SNHU currently enrolls more than 130,000 students online.

Statewide agreements are unusual, as such deals are usually struck between a single community college and a university on a program-by-program basis, said Russell Poulin, director of the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, which focuses on technology-enhanced learning in higher ed.

“This is kind of a wake-up call for Pennsylvania’s public institutions,” said Poulin. “They may be struggling, but they need to make sure they’re meeting the needs of the state.”

Poulin predicts that the statewide agreements could be the first of many not just for SNHU, but other large online institutions operating at a national level.

“In some states four-year institutions are not always willing to transfer credit from community colleges,” he said. “If there’s a smoother path being offered by SNHU or other online institutions, that would be very attractive to students.”

The statewide deal is the third of its kind for SNHU. The online behemoth also has partnerships with community college systems in Kentucky and Massachusetts. Melanie Plourde, a SNHU spokeswoman, said the university will be pursuing more statewide partners. ​

Western Governors University, another large online nonprofit institution, also has a strategy for partnering with community colleges at the state level. WGU has satellite branches in eight states. Two of these state branches, WGU Indiana and WGU Washington, have transfer agreements with state community college systems. Students at these colleges receive a 5 percent discount on WGU tuition.

The movement of SNHU into markets traditionally dominated by regional players, “really illustrates the tension between the traditional and nontraditional space,” said Josh Pierce, CEO of Acadeum, a company that helps colleges share online degrees.

“Traditionally these two segments of the market would have attracted very different students; the markets were very regionalized. That’s not the case anymore,” said Pierce. “It’s becoming increasingly competitive at the margins to find students.”

State institutions may find it challenging to compete with SNHU’s pricing, Pierce said. “SNHU is competing at a national level,” he said.

SNHU’s willingness to accept up to 90 credits is a smart move for an institution focused on attracting adult students, Pierce said. It’s not uncommon for community college students to enroll in programs that don’t fit a particular degree path, sometimes racking up more credits than they need in order to achieve an associate’s degree, he said. With SNHU’s generous credit-transfer policy, those excess credits won’t go to waste if the student pursues a bachelor's degree.

Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (and an Inside Higher Ed opinion columnist), said many universities will only accept up to 60 transfer credits for bachelor’s degrees. Systemwide transfer agreements, especially ones that offer a discount on tuition, are “highly unusual and will certainly have an impact in Pennsylvania and other states where they are implemented,” he said.

Both Schroeder and Pierce agree that with unionized state institutions and budget constraints making it hard for public institutions to start charging students less, it seems unlikely that a price war will emerge in Pennsylvania. Pierce added that many state institutions are on “difficult fiscal ground” and would find it challenging to compete with SNHU on price.

On Twitter, Trace Urdan, managing director at the investment banking and consulting firm Tyton Partners, asked why a state-subsidized system would encourage students to complete their degrees at an out-of-state institution. “From the taxpayers’ perspective, this is idiotic,” he said.

According to the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, which drew up the agreement with SNHU, nearly 500 community college students transferred to SNHU in the 2018-19 academic year, and SNHU awarded 166 Pennsylvania community college students bachelor’s degrees.

“Thousands of articulation agreements are already in place with higher education partners here in Pennsylvania to help students realize their postsecondary achievement goals and we fully expect those longstanding partnerships to continue,” Elizabeth Bolden, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, said in a press release.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, a system of state-owned institutions that does not include well-known publicly supported universities such as Penn State or the University of Pittsburgh, provided a statement, which said the system has a “rich history of community college partnerships that expand educational and career opportunities for students right here in Pennsylvania.” Of 5,885 students that transferred to Pennsylvania’s public universities in 2018, almost half, 2,795, transferred from the state’s community colleges.

Gloria Oikelome, interim vice president of academic affairs at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, said she welcomed the SNHU agreement. Her institution previously had credit-transfer agreements with SNHU, but they were limited to three degree programs. Now the options for students are much broader, she said.

A lot of the students at Montgomery County are working adults who would appreciate the opportunity to study fully online, she said. But online education won’t be the right fit for every student, as some will want to study on campus at an institution they know.

Oikelome doesn’t believe the SNHU agreement will necessarily result in fewer students opting to complete their degrees in state. “The more options we can offer our students, the better,” she said.

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Jersey City economic development drives changes at Saint Peter's University

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 01:00

Saint Peter’s University has long embraced its reputation for having an efficient approach to education.

Until five years ago, when it formally went from being a college to a university, the private Jesuit institution in Jersey City, N.J., was known for providing students a solid, no-frills academic foundation and sending them on their way. The process was efficient and unexceptional, but it worked and seemed a good fit for an institution located in a gritty factory town.

University leaders were fine with that model for many decades, but then things began to change in Jersey City and, over time, also at Saint Peter’s. Developers started rebuilding the city’s waterfront about a mile and half from the campus, spurring the start of an economic revival over the last two decades that is slowly but steadily making its way to other parts of the city. The city’s downtown has rapidly gentrified in the process, bringing in new companies and jobs and white-collar professionals to inhabit new housing in a city once mostly populated by working-class residents.

Saint Peter’s was also undergoing transformation during the city’s growth period, expanding and creating new degree programs and experiencing increased enrollment as a result. University administrators are now focused on preparing students to enter Jersey City’s still diversifying workforce and meeting the education and training demands of new employers.

In the process, Saint Peter’s and the city's fortunes have become intertwined, and together they tell a larger story about how local or regional economic revitalization can affect a university, and how a university can, in turn, contribute to that revitalization.

Eugene J. Cornacchia, Saint Peter’s president, says the changes on campus are generating “lots of excitement among alumni and donors.” He’s capitalizing on this trend to keep the university on its upward trajectory.

Last September, a donor gave the university $10 million to expand its school of business and “significantly bolster business programs and establish new initiatives.” That donation followed another $10 million gift by a different donor in fall 2018. The donations are the two largest Saint Peter’s has received in its nearly 150-year history, and administrators say the gifts reflect not only new investments in the university and its students but also confidence and support for the direction in which the institution’s leaders are taking it.

“There is a lot of momentum,” Cornacchia said.

Cornacchia, who started his career at Saint Peter's as an adjunct professor in the political science department and is the institution's first lay leader, set the goal of turning it from a college into a university when he became president in 2007. He described the Saint Peter’s College of decades ago as a very different place than modern-day Saint Peter’s University.

“It was a sleepy school. It didn’t do a lot of exciting things, but it educated and shaped students,” he said. “With the world of higher ed changing and the world itself changing, we had to do something different. Now we have more innovation on campus. We’re more forward-thinking. We’re asking, ‘What are the new fields we have to invest in? Where do we have to go to next?’”

Cornacchia said the university has established relationships with members of Jersey City’s growing business community to help administrators determine the path forward. He said the university also plans to involve business leaders, along with faculty, students and community members, in the process of developing the institution's next strategic plan.

"Board members and alumni will come on board, business executives and people from other industries," and will be tasked with helping administrators "start thinking outside the box" and answer important questions such as, "What are the skills that students are going to need, not next year or the following year, but for the next five years and beyond?"

Advisory groups of business executives are already helping the university shape the curriculum to meet the workforce needs of local industries and employers. The business school now has a Bloomberg terminal room, a rarity for a nonelite institution and an investment recommended by the business advisers.

“Those are the things we didn’t do in the past. We sort of implied what their needs were, rather than asked them,” Cornacchia said of employers.

“A lot of those changes were so critical in showing the community we live in that the institution remains a viable partner in the community and is committed to sustaining the community,” he said. “I really believe that as long as an institution is embedded in the community where it is located, it has an ethical responsibility to assist the community in prospering.”

Joseph A. Panepinto, a Saint Peter’s alumnus and member of the university’s Board of Trustees, seemed to endorse those very sentiments when he gave the university $10 million in 2018. Half of the donation will be used for scholarships and capital improvements.

“As a native of Jersey City, it has long been my aim to help in the revitalization of this city,” Panepinto, a lawyer and president and chief executive officer of Jersey City-based Panepinto Properties, said in a university press release announcing the gift that year. “Some of the most important parts of our community are its charitable and nonprofit institutions. Education is certainly a very important one. Therefore, by supporting Saint Peter’s, we are supporting the future growth of our community.”

Frank L. Fekete, chair of the Board of Trustees and also an alumnus, said at the time that Panepinto’s gift would help Saint Peter’s play a leading role in the revitalization of the city.

Frank J. Guarini, the other big donor to the university, is a Jersey City native and former U.S. congressman. He did not attend Saint Peter’s, but he grew up across the street from the campus and served on the university’s Board of Regents. He is a longtime supporter of the university whose gifts include the Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership, a nonpartisan forum for discussion of key public policy issues, and the Guarini Center for Community Memory, which is located in the university’s main library and houses his congressional papers and other special collections. He also donated the president’s residence, Guarini House. The business school has since been renamed the Frank J. Guarini School of Business.

“Our business school will open the door to new experiences for tomorrow’s leaders,” Guarini said in a press release announcing his gift last September. “They have a bright and challenging future in this beautiful and complex world. Our young men and women will undoubtedly be benefited by the outstanding education they receive here at Saint Peter’s.”

While both gifts attracted attention -- the first $10 million donation led to a bump in alumni giving -- the gift to the business school generated “a lot of buzz among alumni,” Cornacchia said.

“Our alums are electrified by it,” he said. “It has really started to make people say, ‘You know what, there’s a lot going on at the school.’ And they’re proud of it.”

A $10 million gift is a pittance compared to the donations to powerhouses such as the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania or Harvard Business School. A single donor gave Wharton $50 million in 2018, as part of a $1 billion fundraising campaign. Harvard University, which raised $9 billion during its most recent campaign, received the largest gift in its history, $400 million, in 2015 from a graduate of the business school.

"A gift to Saint Peter's will go farther and would be a lot more appreciated," said Paul Grimes III, a member of the advisory board for the university's Center for Career Engagement and Experiential Learning. He noted that many Saint Peter's students are the first in their families to go college and have to work part-time to help pay tuition.

Grimes, a district manager for the Sherwin-Williams paint company, has volunteered his time and business expertise and also taught classes and recruited employees on campus over a 20-year period.

"If you give to universities like Saint Peter's, you're really enabling them to give back to the communities they serve," he said, adding that the university does a great job preparing students for the workforce. "And their diverse student population is also great for me as an employer."

Cornacchia said there’s also a flip side to the newfound largess.

“One of the things we worry about is people saying, ‘Well, you just got $10 million -- what the heck is my $100 gonna do?’”

Apparently a lot. Open-access institutions such as Saint Peter’s are more dependent than ever on donors as enrollment drops at colleges and universities across the country, revenues shrink and federal funding decreases. At the same time, however, some of these institutions are also increasingly being recognized for the solid education they provide at relatively affordable rates even as tuition rates climb over all nationally. (Saint Peter's tuition for the 2019-20 academic year is $37,660, but most students pay only about $14,000 after receiving financial aid from the federal government, the university and other sources.)

“We’re not in a tony suburb and we don’t have a sprawling campus with lakes and things like that,” said Leah Leto, Saint Peter’s vice president for advancement and external affairs. “We were going unrecognized for a number of years, but now people are seeing the value in the things that schools like Saint Peter’s do.”

She cited academic outcomes such as rising graduation and retention rates as among the university’s notable achievements. The six-year graduation rate went from 53 percent in 2016 to 54 percent in 2018, and the retention rate for first-year students went from 77 percent in 2016 to 82 percent in 2019. She also noted the increased numbers of minority and low-income students served.

"If you consider the disadvantages that our students are carrying, we’re very proud of those statistics," she said. "They often come to us with deficiencies, but we see potential in them and put a lot in them to ensure that they can succeed and graduate on time, get out there and get jobs."

Such outcomes are seen "as the return on such a costly investment," she said. "People see what we’re doing is important and want us to continue."

Leto noted that both Guarini and Panepinto were visionaries involved in the development of Jersey City.

"They have been anchors in Jersey City and partly responsible for the renaissance occurring now," she said. "They see us as being part of the advancement that is needed."

Of the 2,600 undergraduates enrolled at Saint Peter's, the majority (94 percent) are traditional students, ages 17 to 22, pursuing more than 50 majors with the largest concentrations in the sciences, business and criminal justice, while also studying the liberal arts as part of the core curriculum. (There are also 800 graduate students and 300 adult learners enrolled in the School for Professional and Continuing Studies.) Approximately 54 percent of all full-time students are first-generation students, 48 percent are Hispanic, 22 percent are African American and 9 percent are Asian, according to the university. Ninety-eight percent of the students receive financial aid.

Despite all the talk of change, the neighborhoods surrounding the university have not experienced the same economic development as the city's trendy waterfront now dotted with expensive high-rise apartments and condominiums.

"Our neighborhood is still not quite there -- it's evolving but still a little gritty," Leto said. "We're trying to think about what it will be like 10 to 15 years from now."

Leto said the gift to the business school will help it "deepen and advance what we’re already doing," such as teaming up students with local entrepreneurs, small and micro-business owners, advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations to help them grow their businesses or organizations, develop websites, do critical analytics and develop marketing plans. The students get important work experience in exchange. The project is an initiative of the Ignite Institute, a center founded on campus in 2014. The institute was "designed to spark the spirit of entrepreneurship through education, business planning, community-partnered programs and research both on campus and regionally," according to a university press release, and it "currently serves as a hub for entrepreneurial empowerment in Jersey City and beyond." The institute holds an annual Local Living Economy Summit, which brings together local government agencies, business development organizations, anchor institutions, nonprofit organizations, entrepreneurs and businesses "to stimulate practical solutions" that can help "create an economy that is fair and equitable for all."

A university task force has been created to replicate the effort in other departments across the campus, Leto said.

"It's one of the goals of our strategic plan, a big step and a real rethink. We always assumed we were engaged in the community, but we're now being more strategic and more holistic about the way we do that."

Despite the many changes the donations have allowed Saint Peter's to implement, Leto said the university has no plans to stray too far from its core mission.

"Every school has aspirations and wants to be better, but we’re not trying to become something different or serve a different demographic," she said. "We just want to become stronger and better and more resilient, and our donors recognize that."

Eileen Poiani, special assistant to Cornacchia and a professor of mathematics, who has been at the university for 52 years​, said the changes taking place on campus and in Jersey City feel like a natural progression.

"In many ways, the university has kind of been a fixture in Jersey City, and as the city has changed, so have we," she said. "We are a very small school -- we're only on 25 acres -- but we’ve made an incredible impact on the area. We're also a significant consumer in the area."

Poiani​, who was formerly vice president of student affairs, noted that the university agreed in 2011 to take over St. Aedan's Catholic Church, which is now a university and parish church that serves area residents of all backgrounds. The university also opened a Campus Kitchen in 2014 that serves free meals to community members in need.

"We really are part of the fabric of the city," she said.

 Jersey City mayor Steven M. Fulop, who received an honorary degree from the university in 2014, agrees. ​

"As we continue to see positive growth in every corner of Jersey City, Saint Peter’s University remains at the forefront of education and institutional research and maintains a prominent presence attracting a competitive student body from all over the region," he said in an email. 

As enthusiastic as he is about the growth of the university and the city, Cornacchia still wishes more donors could look beyond the lofty image of certain colleges and universities and see the vast potential of nonelite institutions as local and regional economic engines.

“It would be nice if someone wrote us a $100 million gift check, but how often does that happen?” Cornacchia said.

“If donors just would take a step back and look at our kinds of institutions, they would understand that we’re the ones educating the vast majority of people and we have the least resources. If people want to have an impact, they should give to these institutions,” he said.

Cornacchia said philanthropists with business backgrounds, in particular, should keep this in mind.

“Joseph Panepinto gets it -- he understands what we’re doing here,” Cornacchia said of the donor who gave Saint Peter's its first $10 million gift. “He lit the match to the development of Jersey City many decades ago. He has a deep affection for the university and sees it as important to the city and the county. He wants Jersey City to be a viable community for young people.”

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Evergreen addresses enrollment decline with academic changes

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 01:00

For decades, students at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., have had the power to forge their own paths of study. The college has no majors, no academic departments and no grades. The emphasis for “Greeners” has always been on interdisciplinary, self-directed learning.

But Evergreen’s enrollment started dropping after the end of the financial crisis. To be sure, many colleges are dealing with low enrollment because of declining birth rates that have resulted in fewer Americans of traditional college age. But at Evergreen, enrollment has dropped by 1,000 students since 2017, to about 2,900, indicating something else might be at play. Of course, the strong progressive bent on campus might be a turn-off to some, especially after student protesters made national news in 2017 for occupying the president's office and calling for a professor to be fired.

But some of the enrollment drop preceded those events, officials said, leading them to believe there were other factors leading to the decline. This year, the college is making some academic changes the administration hopes can help recruit students and -- crucially -- retain them.

Now courses have been reorganized around 11 “paths of study,” with themes like political economy, math and computer science, food and agriculture, and Native American and indigenous programs. All courses will now be marked with their level, from introductory to advanced. The college, which has traditionally had a curriculum that changes every year, will now commit to a five-year plan of offerings. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation contributed grants totaling $800,000 to carry out the changes.

New Students, New Preferences

George Bridges, president of the college, said the student population at Evergreen now wants different things out of college than students who may have attended Evergreen in past decades. Evergreen’s acceptance rate is about 97 percent. The student population now has a high number of first-generation college students and military veterans. About half of all students are transfers from community colleges.

“They have a very different vision of what college would be and have different needs,” Bridges said. “They want to leave Evergreen with a degree they can use in a career, in a market,” and that’s explicable to employers. Students who attended in past decades grew up in a different economic climate, he said, and weren't seeking such specific outcomes.

Of students who were leaving the college before graduation, a majority left after only one year. When the administration surveyed those students, many expressed uncertainty over the curriculum. They were unsure if the courses they wanted would be offered, and if they could get into those courses to pursue advanced study in a particular area.

Bridges traced some of the career anxiety to the Great Recession, saying that students who watched their families be put out of work were in particular wondering what their college education could provide them.

“We’re living and working in a world where the liberal arts have declined in favor among those attending higher education,” Bridges said.

Planning the curriculum in advance will give students some certainty that they can achieve their goals, he said. The paths, which students are not at all required to follow, will allow those who want to specialize and those who want to explore to both achieve their goals. The changes do not mean that Evergreen is moving away from its roots or its mission, he emphasized. The college is still a space for students to self-direct learning and synthesize different disciplines. Team teaching, where faculty of different disciplines collaborate on a course, is still very common.

Jennifer Drake, Evergreen’s provost, who came on in 2017, said increased predictability and learning pathways are part of a commitment to equity for the college. Students now more likely to be balancing work and personal commitments, she said.

Similarly, creating pathways to advanced work, she said, can ensure equitable access to “high-impact practices,” meaning immersive experiences like research, internships or study abroad.

“Students from underrepresented groups benefit substantially from those experiences and don’t always have equitable access to those experiences,” Drake said, drawing from national research.

Officials said that many ideas for the changes came from the faculty, who recognized an imperative to listen to student concerns and understood that fewer students meant continued budget cuts. The college has cut 34 positions in the last two years, The Olympian reported last month.

The academic changes were incorporated into the faculty’s collective bargaining agreement, and faculty voted in favor of the contract 62 to 8, said Laurie Meeker, an Evergreen professor in media studies and communication coordinator for the union.

“This wasn’t that controversial from our point of view as a union,” Meeker said. “It’s a way of providing students with curricular clarity and coherence.”

Meeker and Drake both stressed that that Evergreen will still be providing a wholly liberal arts education, and that the liberal arts has always been strong preparation for a career.

Ed Wingenbach, president of Hampshire College, a similarly experimental institution which has itself suffered major enrollment and financial problems, agreed, drawing on national data showing employers value the skills imparted by a liberal arts education.

But he indicated that the two colleges, while both strong in their commitment to self-directed learning, differ in how they’ve chosen to try to communicate the value of that to students. While Evergreen is moving one inch closer to traditional education, Hampshire, which is also reorganizing its curriculum, is moving further away.

“[At Evergreen, it appears] they need to be able to make what they’re doing look more like what is recognizable to prospective students as a major, as a way in which a structured education leads down a path to an outcome that is clearly defined,” he said, “which is perfectly fine.”

“Rather than trying to take the self-directed, self-designed model at Hampshire and make it look more like a traditional pathway, we’re trying to make it even less like that.”

Hampshire’s curriculum will be reorganized this fall into four thematic areas, including “time and narrative,” “media and technology” and “in/justice.”

“It’s important to communicate to changing populations of students why a liberal arts education prepares you for the world that you can’t know,” Wingenbach said. “The best way to make that case isn’t by doubling down on what people already do.”

Over all, Evergreen officials stressed, the changes provide more clarity and transparency and were what students had requested.

“Responding to student input is essential,” Drake said. “Its an ethical imperative.”

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Recent court decisions could expand bankruptcy for student debt

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 01:00

A decision this week by a federal judge in New York illustrates how some courts have in the past few years made it easier for people with crippling student loan debt to file for bankruptcy, say consumer advocates and legal experts.

But while advocates like John Rao, a National Consumer Law Center bankruptcy expert, see the trend as positive, they still believe federal laws need to be changed to make it easier to discharge student loans through bankruptcy.

The issue has risen in prominence as the number of Americans with student debt has grown to an estimated 45 million, with many unable to repay their loans. Advocates as well as some lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who is seeking her party's presidential nomination, have said changes in federal law and legal interpretations by the courts have made it notoriously difficult to get student loans discharged through bankruptcy.

Before changes to federal law in 1998, those unable to repay student loans had been able to file for bankruptcy after five years without proving the debt posed an “undue hardship.” But after changes by Congress, those seeking relief through bankruptcy for student loans, unlike other forms of debt, have to show they meet the hardship standard regardless of how old the loan is.

Congress, however, has never defined what undue hardship means and didn’t delegate to the U.S. Department of Education the ability to do so. The courts have been left to establish a three-pronged test of whether hardship exists: that borrowers could not maintain a minimal standard of living if they had to repay the loans, that the situation would continue to exist and that the borrower had made a good-faith effort to pay the money back.

But as Cecelia Morris, chief judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York, noted in a decision Tuesday, the courts have set a high bar for meeting those tests. So much so, she wrote, “that most people (bankruptcy professionals as well as lay individuals) believe it is impossible to discharge student loans.”

For example, some courts have required people to prove that they will face hardship in perpetuity, an obviously high bar. "That there’s no chance they’ll ever win the lottery," for example, said Matthew Bruckner, an associate law professor at Howard University.

But some judges in the past five years have been taking a more expansive view of the hardship standard to allow bankruptcy, as they find more people coming to court who are unable to pay student loans, Rao said.

Morris, in granting a former law student, Kevin Jared Rosenberg, summary judgment to be able to file for bankruptcy, interpreted hardship in a number of significant ways. She found, for instance, that Rosenberg didn’t have to prove that repaying the loan would be a hardship forever, but only for a significant portion of the repayment period. That period ended when the Educational Credit Management Corporation called in the $221,385 Rosenberg still owed after earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona and a law degree from Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School. Clearly, Rosenberg couldn’t pay.

The impact of the ruling has its limits. Other bankruptcy judges do not have to follow Morris’s lead.

“It’s binding on no one,” Rao said. He also expects the decision to be appealed. Neither the ECMC nor its attorney, Kenneth Baum, immediately returned emails.

However, Rao said the decision could be significant because it is one of several in the last five years that have taken a broader view of meeting the hardship standard. Other judges who have wanted to allow people to file for bankruptcy because of their student loan debts could see decisions like this latest one and see that they, too, can take a more expansive view.

In another case, he said, a federal appeals court in Chicago ruled in 2013 that a 52-year-old unemployed woman who lived with her mother couldn’t repay her student loans and could file for bankruptcy.

A lower court had denied her petition saying that even though the woman -- who lived on public assistance and couldn’t afford to pay even $1 a month under a repayment plan -- might be able to make her payments if her prospects improved someday. But the appeals court ruled that if that were the standard, no one could ever file for bankruptcy because their prospects could improve one day.

Still, there appears to be some political momentum for changing the standards. The Education Department in 2018 signaled it might tweak the hardship standard when it sought public comments on the threshold.

“That’s all well and good,” Rao said. But even with a new standard, he said borrowers would still need to go to court to prove they met the threshold. And those who are struggling with student debt and considering bankruptcy generally can't afford a lawyer.

Rao’s group instead told the department that loan holders should not be allowed to oppose bankruptcy discharges in certain cases, like when borrowers are receiving Social Security, have been declared unemployable by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or are caring for an elderly, chronically ill or disabled family member.

NCLC also supports a bipartisan bill proposed last May. The bill, which Warren co-sponsored, would remove current restrictions on student debt in bankruptcy and treat student loans like other types of consumer debt.

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