Australia seeks reputation boost for international HE

Through a series of inquiries, reviews and amendments in the education and immigration systems, Australia is moving to salvage its standing in the ever-competitive international education sector to attract more and more students. This is according to the country’s minister for education, Jason Clare, speaking at the three-day 2023 Australian International Education Conference (AIEC) on 11 October.

“It is important that we get this right. This is about protecting the integrity of international education and protecting your good name, and our reputation worldwide,” Clare said at the AIEC held in Adelaide.

“International education is not just about students coming here. It’s also about taking Australian education to the world,” said the minister.

Survey finds Australia joint top choice

On the second day of the conference, the minister’s message was backed up by the findings of the Emerging Futures 4 survey conducted by global education specialists IDP Connect in August 2023, which were shared with attendees.

The survey collates the views of more than 10,000 prospective applied and current international students, around half of whom are based in India or China and most of the rest are in Philippines, Pakistan, Nepal, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Vietnam.

It noted that for the first time in two years Australia has joined Canada as a first-choice study destination, with a 2% increase since the previous Emerging Futures survey conducted in March 2023, whilst Canada has lost 2% since the previous survey.

Answering the question of which destination is our first choice, Australia and Canada had 25% each of respondents followed by the UK (22%) and US (19%), with New Zealand (3%) and Ireland (2%) trailing way behind.

The research also shows that Australia remains the top choice for students from Nepal, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Current students studying in Australia reported a satisfaction rate of 7.5 out of 10; higher than the UK and Canada, and just behind the US with an average of 7.8.

The conference addressed the theme of “International education: visionary and transformative”. Its aim was to explore how the international education sector can continue to transform people, places and ideas to create a more inclusive and connected world.

The organisers estimated that some 1,700 delegates had gathered for the conference to discuss how the sector can continue to thrive amid rapid changes in an ever-evolving social, political and cultural landscape.

‘Diversify and decolonise Africa’s higher education systems’

The African higher education system is in urgent need of diversification and differentiation if it is to meet the human resource needs and generate the knowledge necessary to create employment for millions of youth – and spur on development.

While most African countries have created new public universities in the ‘image’ of existing ones, the aim being to increase enrolment purely for political reasons, others have upgraded polytechnics and other tertiary institutions to universities, killing both the diversity and specialisation needed to grow the sector.

This model of growing higher education has failed and, as a result, student enrolment in universities is increasing “very slowly and completion rates remain relatively low”. The poor quality of secondary education, the main pipeline for universities, is also contributing to the challenges.

At the same time, graduate unemployment has also remained high, said Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai, former secretary-general of the Association of African Universities. He spoke at the 13th Annual Conference of the African Network for Internationalization of Education (ANIE) held from 4-6 October in Zanzibar.

A higher education system that is rich in terms of diversity and differentiation would allow different types of specialised universities, with different layers of training operating at various levels, he emphasised.

“When higher education is well diversified and well differentiated it then becomes more appropriate to refer to that education system as ‘tertiary’ or ‘post-secondary’ and this has happened in many countries around the world, including the United States, Germany and South Korea,” he observed.

Giving examples, he said that such a system would comprise universities that are research-strong, with a strong emphasis on quality teaching, and with a strong element of community engagement.

This would also mean having universities specialised in fields such as agriculture, health, education or technology, with well-defined tertiary technical and vocational education and training, or TVET, colleges.

Such a system would cater for students with different interests and different abilities while going a long way in meeting the needs of the labour market, both private and public sectors, while also addressing the personnel and development needs of often-neglected rural areas, explained Mohamedbhai, who is also the former vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius.

Higher education a low priority as Kiwis headed to polls

Universities and students were disappointed that New Zealand’s political parties largely ignored them as they competed for votes ahead of Saturday’s general election.

Race and the rising cost of living dominated the debate as the incumbent Labour Party defended against its higher-polling rival the National Party (National) and that party’s likely coalition partner the ACT Party. This is despite serious signs of stress among the country’s eight universities.

Following the poll, Labour conceded defeat and the National Party is set to form a coalition with ACT.

Last year six universities made financial deficits. At least five are heading that way this year and three are currently in the midst of major job cuts.

The only high-profile higher education issue was been National’s promise to set up a third medical school at the University of Waikato, countered by Labour’s promise to fund more places at the existing medical schools at Auckland and Otago universities.

Examination of the major parties’ manifestos showed there was little more on offer.

The Labour Party promised to review university funding and restore the requirement for the governing councils of universities to have two student members.

The National Party promised to speed up the return of foreign students, whose numbers dropped to university-budget-damaging lows as a result of border closures during the first two years of the pandemic.

Meanwhile the Green, New Zealand First, and Maori parties had student-focused policies including universal allowances and student loan abatements.

Few changes likely

However, as minor parties they are unlikely to get traction for high-cost, student-centred policies in any government they might form with National or Labour. That means very little will change for the country’s universities or their students no matter who manages to form a government after 14 October.

In advance of polling, Universities New Zealand Chief Executive Chris Whelan said politicians do not recognise the value of investing in universities.

“It’s quite notable that there is no real mention of higher education in any of the major party manifestos. Obviously from our point of view that’s disappointing. We certainly believe and would love politicians to understand the value that can be unlocked for this country by actually investing properly in higher education,” he said.

Whelan said to some extent universities are victims of their own success – doing well enough financially from year to year so that governments see no need to intervene.

“Universities have tended to be very good at getting in front of problems and managing through them. As a consequence it has meant that successive governments have been able to largely say: ‘Yes, universities are well-managed, they’ll sort it out’. And they’ve tended to benign[ly] neglect, ignore universities.”

Cutting the value-add

But Whelan warned that politicians can no longer assume universities are in good health.

“As a country we’re seeing a long, slow decline in funding in real terms for universities. Looking at inflation forecasts till the end of next year, inflation will have gone up by about 30% over 10 years at a time when funding per student has only gone up 20%,” he said.

“Universities are being forced into this continuous cycle of basically having to cut a lot of the value-add stuff in order to simply keep the lights on and make payroll. So there’s a whole lot of additional research, there’s a whole lot of new models of teaching, there’s a whole lot of new technologies that can significantly enhance teaching and improve the skills of graduates that we’re not able to invest in because of current funding settings,” he said.

Whelan said the funding review promised by Labour if it returned to power would be a good start, but only if more money is added to the system.

New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations President Ellen Dixon said the Green and Maori parties suggested a universal student allowance but apart from that, higher education and the needs of students barely featured.

“Students don’t really feature as much anymore which is kind of strange when we juxtapose that against how active students have been in the public spaces to do with voting,” she said.

“I think possibly it’s a bit of a strategic move to try and downplay a lot of the issues of the tertiary sector by a lot of the parties who are preferring to talk more about the cost of living crisis,” said Dixon.

Technology article retractions rise in the developing world

A recent bibliometric study of article retractions in the technology field from developing countries reveals that the number of retractions has increased over the past 20 years, with an annual growth rate of 20.79%.

Authored by Metwaly Eldakar at Minia University in Egypt and Ahmed Shehata at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, the study published in Scientometrics on 20 September analysed retractions of technology-related publications from 1998-2022 in 90 countries in the Arab world, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

A retracted publication is the original article that has been withdrawn from the public domain. Although it may still be available in archives or online databases, it should not be relied upon as a source of information as it is considered unreliable.

Technology fields in this study refer to academic disciplines that involve the application of scientific knowledge to create new products, services or processes that aim to solve problems or meet human needs including engineering, computer science, information technology and other related fields.

According to the study, 7,529 authors published the retracted technology articles with affiliations to 1,300 institutes and universities from 72 countries. In addition, all 3,703 retracted articles received 34,167 citations, with an average number of citations of 9.22.

The study found that the first retracted article was published in 1998, growing to a total of 2,412 in 2017. “Divided into 12-year and 13-year periods, the retraction trend indicates that the first period, 1998–2009, included 749 retracted publications, and the second period (2010-2021), which included 2,954 retracted publications, represents a considerable increase in retracted publications in recent years.

“This increase in withdrawals is worrying because incorrect data can cause bias in new technologies,” the study’s authors note.

Recommendations

The study put forward several recommendations for higher educational institutions in developing countries to reduce retraction numbers by fostering a culture of integrity.

These measures include educating scholars about academic ethics through comprehensive training on ethical conduct, responsible research methodologies and the consequences of misconduct.

Employability: An existential crisis for higher education

Recently Dirk Van Damme, former head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, questioned the expansion of participation in higher education in International Higher Education.

“There are pressing signs that high levels of university attainment do not have only positive effects on societies and economies,” Van Damme stated, noting “graduate underemployment, overqualification, mismatches and substitution effects”. More promising, he said, is “the rapidly expanding interest in short programmes and non-traditional certifications such as microcredentials”.

Van Damme’s OECD colleague Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, agrees. Microcredentials “get employers better signals of what people know and can do”, he argued in London in March 2023, again comparing them favourably with universities. For universities, life is “actually very comfortable”, he said. “You bundle content, delivery, accreditation – you can get quite a nice monopoly rent.”

Shifting to microcredentials would mean that provider status no longer matters. It seems that microcredentials are the new route to equity. It is hard to believe that combining degrees for the middle class with microcredentials for the masses is going to create social equity, but evidence is mounting that economically inclined policy-makers are losing patience with higher education as we know it.

The United Kingdom’s Teaching Excellence Framework compares the quality of student learning in different institutions and disciplines on the basis of graduate salaries. It has stigmatised some programmes as “low value courses” because graduate salaries are below average.

In Australia, the national government calls for “job-ready graduates” and has funded the development of programmes leading to microcredentials. In each case the diagnosis of the problem and the solution are the same. Higher education should be primarily (or solely) and directly vocational. The idea of “job-ready graduates” sums this up.

But higher education is not fit for this particular purpose. Preparation for work is one of its missions, but it has never been the core mission. Still less is it the only mission.

Higher education is not primarily the formation of ‘employable’ graduates. It is the cultural formation of persons through immersion in discipline-based knowledge. Students are formed – or rather, form themselves – through deep learning in various academic and professional fields. It is knowledge, not employability, that unifies higher education.

Intrinsic and extrinsic missions

Higher education has multiple missions, as Clark Kerr famously argued in tagging universities as “multiversities”. There are two kinds of missions: intrinsic and extrinsic.

The intrinsic missions – the classical core of higher education – are the education of students, and the transmission, creation and dissemination of knowledge. These missions shape the internal organisation of the sector. Teaching and learning, and scholarship and research, are grounded in epistemic disciplines, study programmes and departments or schools. The two intrinsic missions are intertwined.

Education organisations condemn attacks, demand talks

Education International (EI) and the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) have issued a statement condemning the “severe attack” Hamas launched against Israel but also appealed to both sides to renounce violence and commit to direct negotiations for peace.

“Education International stands in solidarity with the teachers, students and communities in the region and calls on the international community to do their utmost to stop the bloodshed and avoid a catastrophic humanitarian crisis,” said the statement which was first issued on 9 October and updated on 13 October.

Hamas militants broke through the Israeli border on 7 October. They gunned down people attending a music festival, from which 260 bodies have been recovered.

Testimony has also emerged of militants going from house to house in a kibbutz (a small community collective), breaking and entering and shooting civilians, including women, children and babies. Many homes were found burned out, Reuters reported.

They also reportedly took more than a hundred people hostage including elderly people, women, children and babies.

In response Israel has vowed to terminate Hamas’ ability to operate and has dropped more than 6,000 bombs on infrastructure in the Gaza Strip – leaving 583 children and 351 women dead according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza. Israel is preventing food, water and fuel from entering the Gaza Strip unless the hostages are freed.

By Friday 13 October the death toll in Israel had reached 1,300 and in Gaza was almost 1,800. Thousands of civilians had been injured on both sides.

‘The violence must end’

David Edwards, Education International general secretary, said: “The Hamas attack on Israel is unacceptable. Educators around the world stand with our colleagues, students and communities in Israel and Palestine and denounce the violent aggression. The violence must end.

“Our hearts go out to the families of all who have lost their lives. The international community must stand united in condemning any form of violence and in supporting lasting peace negotiations.”

Susan Flocken, European director of the ETUCE, which is the European region of EI, said: “Teachers, academics and their unions in Europe are shocked by the new outbreak of violence in Israel and Palestine.

“ETUCE condemns the military aggression and expresses its support and solidarity with colleagues, teachers, academics and students and all people in the region. This new outbreak of war and retaliation puts the lives of millions of people at stake. The war must end. We call on the international community to do their utmost to support a peace agreement.”

EI reiterated the call of the 2019 EI World Congress urging both Hamas and Israel to: “Renounce violence and commit to engage in direct negotiations.”

Israel bombs Gaza university, alleging use by military

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed on Wednesday 11 October that it had bombed the Islamic University of Gaza and released a video of a building being targeted by an air strike.

The IDF press statement said it had “struck an important Hamas operational, political and military centre in Gaza – the Islamic University”.

The video shows four buildings being hit by what appear to be consecutive targeted air to ground missiles which exploded on impact. AFP later reported that a university official confirmed that “some of the buildings were completely destroyed”, according to an MSNreport.

The IDF alleged: “The university was being used as a Hamas training camp for military intelligence operatives, as well as for the development and production of weapons.”

The IDF said that Hamas “used university conferences in order to raise funds for terrorism” and that the university “maintained close ties with the senior leadership of Hamas”.

The Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education and Research issued a statement on 11 October condemning direct attack on the buildings and facilities of two universities, the Islamic University and the Al-Azhar University, also located in the Gaza Strip.

“This in turn caused serious damage to the infrastructure of the two universities,” it said. University World News has no further details on the attack on Al-Azhar University.

The Islamic University of Gaza issued a statement on 10 October saying: “Large parts of the buildings of the Islamic University of Gaza were subjected to major damage and severe material losses” as a result of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City on 9 October.

“The building of the College of Information Technology, the building of the Deanship of Community Service and Continuing Education, and the building of the university’s College of Science were all exposed to damage,” read the statement.

International students killed in escalating violence

With international students among the hundreds killed and injured in escalating violence since the attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday 7 October, governments are concerned about the safety of their citizens, including students in both Gaza and Israel.

Ten undergraduate students from Nepal were among those killed in the attacks by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas on Israel on Saturday. Four other Nepali students were injured from the group of 17 Nepali students at Kibbutz Alumim, an area near the Gaza Strip in southern Israel. Another two students from the group were uninjured.

The final semester students from Nepal’s Far Western University (Sudurpaschim University) were doing field work in the Sedot Negev Agriculture Training Center in Israel, just 17 km from the Gaza Strip, as a part of their university programme when they came under attack. Others at the centre included students from Cambodia.

“Ten students have lost their lives in the attack while one is still missing. Four of the injured are receiving treatment,” said Kanta Rizal, Nepal’s ambassador in Tel Aviv.

A friend of the deceased, Louish Rijal, a student at the training centre, said four of his friends were killed in the grenade attack and six others were shot by the Hamas militants. “I was in regular touch with them. First they were attacked with grenades and then some militants entered their bunker and shot them,” Rijal told University World News. “Most of them died of excessive bleeding. If there was timely treatment, they could have been saved.”

“Unfortunately, we have suffered a huge loss. We have never thought of such a tragedy,” Dr Amma Raj Joshi, vice-chancellor of Far Western University, told University World News. Joshi said the university had been “very encouraged” to be able to send the students to Israel, hoping they could learn about the use of technology in agriculture, considered to be excellent in Israel, while also earning some money.

“Fieldwork is necessary in the last semester before graduation. The students had gone to Israel to gain firsthand experience in the field. They would have graduated after presenting their report of their work,” Joshi said.

Australia seeks reputation boost for international HE

Through a series of inquiries, reviews and amendments in the education and immigration systems, Australia is moving to salvage its standing in the ever-competitive international education sector to attract more and more students. This is according to the country’s minister for education, Jason Clare, speaking at the three-day 2023 Australian International Education Conference (AIEC) on 11 October.

“It is important that we get this right. This is about protecting the integrity of international education and protecting your good name, and our reputation worldwide,” Clare said at the AIEC held in Adelaide.

“International education is not just about students coming here. It’s also about taking Australian education to the world,” said the minister.

Survey finds Australia joint top choice

On the second day of the conference, the minister’s message was backed up by the findings of the Emerging Futures 4 survey conducted by global education specialists IDP Connect in August 2023, which were shared with attendees.

The survey collates the views of more than 10,000 prospective applied and current international students, around half of whom are based in India or China and most of the rest are in Philippines, Pakistan, Nepal, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Vietnam.

It noted that for the first time in two years Australia has joined Canada as a first-choice study destination, with a 2% increase since the previous Emerging Futures survey conducted in March 2023, whilst Canada has lost 2% since the previous survey.

Answering the question of which destination is our first choice, Australia and Canada had 25% each of respondents followed by the UK (22%) and US (19%), with New Zealand (3%) and Ireland (2%) trailing way behind.

The research also shows that Australia remains the top choice for students from Nepal, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Current students studying in Australia reported a satisfaction rate of 7.5 out of 10; higher than the UK and Canada, and just behind the US with an average of 7.8.

The conference addressed the theme of “International education: visionary and transformative”. Its aim was to explore how the international education sector can continue to transform people, places and ideas to create a more inclusive and connected world.

The organisers estimated that some 1,700 delegates had gathered for the conference to discuss how the sector can continue to thrive amid rapid changes in an ever-evolving social, political and cultural landscape.

Among other things, Australia’s tough COVID-19 quarantine measures from 2019 to 2021 had severely affected the education sector, forcing a bulk of international students to leave for other destinations during the pandemic. In recent years, reports of immigration agents exploiting Australia’s visa regime to bring in workers instead of genuine students have also caused concerns.

‘Diversify and decolonise Africa’s higher education systems’

The African higher education system is in urgent need of diversification and differentiation if it is to meet the human resource needs and generate the knowledge necessary to create employment for millions of youth – and spur on development.

While most African countries have created new public universities in the ‘image’ of existing ones, the aim being to increase enrolment purely for political reasons, others have upgraded polytechnics and other tertiary institutions to universities, killing both the diversity and specialisation needed to grow the sector.

This model of growing higher education has failed and, as a result, student enrolment in universities is increasing “very slowly and completion rates remain relatively low”. The poor quality of secondary education, the main pipeline for universities, is also contributing to the challenges.

At the same time, graduate unemployment has also remained high, said Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai, former secretary-general of the Association of African Universities. He spoke at the 13th Annual Conference of the African Network for Internationalization of Education (ANIE) held from 4-6 October in Zanzibar.

A higher education system that is rich in terms of diversity and differentiation would allow different types of specialised universities, with different layers of training operating at various levels, he emphasised.

“When higher education is well diversified and well differentiated it then becomes more appropriate to refer to that education system as ‘tertiary’ or ‘post-secondary’ and this has happened in many countries around the world, including the United States, Germany and South Korea,” he observed.

Giving examples, he said that such a system would comprise universities that are research-strong, with a strong emphasis on quality teaching, and with a strong element of community engagement.

This would also mean having universities specialised in fields such as agriculture, health, education or technology, with well-defined tertiary technical and vocational education and training, or TVET, colleges.

Such a system would cater for students with different interests and different abilities while going a long way in meeting the needs of the labour market, both private and public sectors, while also addressing the personnel and development needs of often-neglected rural areas, explained Mohamedbhai, who is also the former vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius.