Lukewarm reaction to university admissions exam changes

The government of South Korea this week unveiled its highly anticipated plan for reform of the standardised university entrance exam, also known as the College Scholastic Ability Test (Suneung), after postponing the release date three times.

The aim of the proposals is to make the intensely competitive exam and university admissions system fairer and alleviate some of the economic burden for parents resorting to cram schools. It hopes to eliminate the ‘arms race’ of additional courses as students try to secure an edge over their peers.

However, while teachers’ associations are concerned the influence of the competitive exam on school education and university admissions will continue, some top universities say it will not have a significant impact on their admissions.

According to the proposal made public by the education ministry on 10 October, optional subjects in the national exam for Korean, mathematics and subjects such as social studies and sciences will be removed, ensuring all candidates take the same exam. The changes are slated for 2028 as the government needs to provide substantial advance notice to schools to bring in curricular changes.

From the 2025 academic year, when the new exam cohort of students enters high school, the grading system for internal school assessments which can also count towards admissions, will change from the current 9 grade system to a 5-tier relative grading system, which is intended to ease competition.

However, the much-debated essay and descriptive questions, originally floated as a way to reduce unnecessary competition and foster students’ holistic thinking abilities, have been excluded in this proposal.

Admissions ratio retained

Despite the proposed changes, the proportion of students accepted by universities after the results of the exam are announced – known as the ‘regular admissions ratio’ – is being maintained at 40%.

This is despite the fact that since entering office in a year ago Education Minister Lee Ju-ho had expressed regret on maintaining the ‘40% regular admissions’, and amid widespread anticipation that the regular admissions percentage would decrease in this proposal.

The deterioration of public education and the growth of private tutoring, coupled with criticisms that the system stifles 21st-century holistic thinking, had led to the national exam’s importance being reduced to 30% of admission in 2018.

However, due to fairness controversies under the previous administration of president Moon Jae-in, national exam-based admissions were increased to 40% of admissions in 2019. At that time, the exam-based admissions policy was also criticised for not being aligned with other government policies such as admissions based on more comprehensive student records.

Clearer policies needed for transnational education – Report

While the overall operating environment for transnational education (TNE) in Egypt is “positive and enabling”, there are key differences between formal policies, procedures and regulations governing TNE and what must be undertaken in practice.

This is one of the main messages that emerged from a British Council report titled Transnational Education in Egypt: Operating environment, delivery models and partnership opportunities, published recently.

The report notes that “the broader vision is to ensure opportunities for all Egyptians to access higher education, and even turn Egypt into a hub for international education, drawing on recruitment opportunities in the wider Sub-Saharan and Middle Eastern regions”.

To achieve this, Egypt is introducing “new categories of domestic universities, such as the ‘national’ and ‘technological’ universities, and, second, to engage and encourage foreign universities to set up TNE in Egypt, with a preference for international branch campuses (IBCs)”.

As such, the Egyptian government dedicated most of its efforts in the past four years to raising foreign university interest to set up IBCs, according to the report. “Other forms of TNE, such as joint-dual degrees, or validation-franchise models, continue to operate in Egypt but have not received distinct legislative or regulatory attention in the past few years.”

Stakeholder partnerships opportunities

Opportunities to work with local partners on different types of TNE vary, depending on the type of partner, according to the report. IBCs are typically established in cooperation with local private investors that finance the IBC’s infrastructure and its operating costs, while the overseas university partner is responsible for academic provision.

Public universities are keen to set up or expand joint- or dual-degree cooperation, while national universities (a type of non-profit institution that is partly funded by the state and partly by tuition fees) are interested in partnerships that can facilitate Egyptian student progression to the United Kingdom (UK). Private universities are keen to internationalise and are interested in a variety of TNE models, including franchise and validation agreements.

“Finally, technological universities [a relatively new form of publicly funded institution] present comparatively lower cooperation opportunities overall but may have some potential in TVET-related courses,” the report notes.

“There are specific laws and requirements on establishing IBCs, but there are also unwritten expectations surrounding the involvement of local investors and consultants as well as around the business and-or legal partnerships that universities must set up to create IBCs,” according to the report. It also refers to a lack of visibility to and knowledge of key stakeholders.

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.”

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.

They also include enhancing collaborative research practices by nurturing trust and the careful selection of collaborators. The need for adequate research funding was also highlighted as well as the establishment of robust systems for evaluating research, prioritising quality and impact over quantity and implementing transparent peer reviews.

The study also called for the establishment or strengthening of research ethics committees comprised of experts from various disciplines who review research proposals and protocols to ensure adherence to ethical guidelines.

Collaboration with international partners, especially those with strong research integrity practices, would facilitate valuable knowledge exchange and mentorship opportunities, it said.

Publication of research in reputable and peer-reviewed journals that have rigorous review processes in place to uphold research integrity was also important, the study noted.

Reasons for retraction

Using the Retraction Watch Database, the study found that most reasons for retractions were policy breaches by the author at 44.3% and journal-publisher investigations which accounted for 40.9% of retractions.

Other reasons included fake peer reviews, duplication and plagiarism, problems in referencing and-or attributions and misconduct by the author and rogue editors.

The study also highlighted the problem of retracted articles continuing to receive citations. For example, from 1998-2009 retracted publications received 7,811 citations, while during 2010-2022 retracted articles received 26,356 citations.

The study suggested that this ongoing citation cycle may be the result of a lack of awareness about retracted articles by people who rely on unreliable sources to obtain accurate information about retractions, such as predatory journals.

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.

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 inside, including women, children and babies.

They also reportedly took more than a hundred people hostage including elderly people, women, children and babies in scenes reminiscent of brutal ‘ethnic cleansing’ operations in other countries.

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.

Israel had bombed several ministries, headquarters and government institutions adjacent to the university on Monday, causing severe damage to the surrounding area in which the university is located.

In its statement, the university called on all institutions, organisations and international bodies “to intervene quickly, and to work hard to protect the institutions that serve all the Palestinian people from these attacks” and “work immediately to guarantee the right of students to safe education”.

The Islamic University of Gaza is a member of several regional and international associations and networks of higher education, including the International Association of Universities, the Mediterranean Universities Union, the Association of Arab Universities, the Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World and the Global University Network for Innovation.

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.

Plea to shift students to safer place

The university has urged the Nepal’s Office of the Prime Minister, Home Ministry, Education Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Nepali Embassy in Israel to shift the students to a safer location.

The Nepali government also announced that it would provide NPR1 million (US$7,500) to the family of each of the deceased. Minister for Communications and Information Technology Rekha Sharma, also a government spokesperson, told the media: “The government will repatriate those who wish to return.”

The Israeli army by Monday had secured the area around the Sedot Negev Agriculture Training Center, according to official sources in Tel Aviv.

As many as 49 students from Far Western University, in Nepal’s Chitwan region, had gone to Israel for an 11 month programme as part of their university practical work requirement. A total of 265 Nepali students from the eighth semester, including those from Far Western University, are studying in different Israeli institutions under the ‘Learn and Earn’ programme supported by the government of Israel.

Of those, 119 are from Agriculture and Forestry University and 97 from Nepal’s Tribhuvan University. Agriculture and Forestry University students are enrolled at Ramat Negev International Training Centre for Advanced Agriculture and those from Tribhuvan University are at Kinneret College.

The Israeli embassy in Kathmandu had facilitated enrolment of Nepali students in different institutions. Tribhuvan University has been sending its students for practical work for several years, but it was the first cohort from Far Western University.

Hanan Goder, Israeli ambassador to Nepal, said his embassy had taken the initiative to send Nepali students for training so that they could bring skills back home and contribute to Nepal’s agriculture sector. “Learn and Earn is a part of mutual cooperation between the two countries,” said Goder.

Law suits against indebted students should be a last resort

The attainment of a post-secondary education as a means to socio-economic advancement has been the cornerstone of American society for many decades. For many students, attending public institutions may be the only financially viable option for doing so. Approximately three-quarters of enrolled students attend public institutions, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds.

It is reported that 23% of full-time students enrolled at a four-year college do not complete their studies due to low academic skillsets. This lack of academic preparation is most prominent in immigrant, Native Americans, Black and Hispanic students.

Some public higher education institutions have compounded the pre-existing barriers further by threatening legal action against students for unpaid tuition. For many, there may be no ability to pay the outstanding balance due to economic hardship.

While this practice has been in place for almost 30 years, more students have been experiencing legal pressure to repay astronomical amounts which include interest as well as fees.

For students such as Amanda Belony who attended State University of New York (SUNY) Plattsburgh in upstate New York, withdrawing from classes became a necessity due to health reasons.

At SUNY Plattsburgh and many institutions across the United States, students are given a timeframe within the academic term to withdraw from one or more classes without a financial penalty. Unfortunately, by the time Amanda withdrew, this timeframe had lapsed.

Well after withdrawing from classes she received a notification from the attorney general’s office regarding a lawsuit. Amanda was unable to retain a lawyer for her defence, but also had to commute to Albany to attend the hearing from her hometown of Brooklyn, which is approximately 160 miles away.

With heavy rates of interest added to the principal balance owed, the overall amount was too great for her wages to cover. Although the amount was reduced by the court, Amanda still found herself having to take an additional job to pay this debt while also covering her regular bills.

Default judgements

Amanda is just one of many students in the SUNY system who have been faced with lawsuits filed against them. To date, there are almost 16,000 lawsuits filed against former students of the SUNY system for unpaid tuition.

Based on a law enacted by the state, the attorney general’s office is at liberty to file lawsuits against students for outstanding tuition fees owed. Moreover, no matter what city or county a student resides in or attended school in, any claims filed against them must be heard in the state’s capitol courts.

Unfortunately, most of these cases end in default judgements as students are unable to attend their hearings due to the location or to their inability to afford a lawyer. When cases do default, restitution can include deduction of wages and-or income tax refunds. By doing so, either a portion of these students’ wages or all eligible tax refunds can be withheld in accordance with the judgement until the required debt has been met.

With reduced state funding on the rise, public higher education institutions are now beginning to shift their focus and strategies to tuition-based revenues. The average cost of attending a four-year course at SUNY is US$26,000 per year. Even with other forms of financial assistance, such as student loans and grants, less than half of these costs are covered.

The practice of taking legal action against students should be a last resort and students should be notified well in advance and given several opportunities to settle their debts. This has not always been the case. Between November 2019 and March 2020 there were significant increases in students having legal action taken against them, some within a year of inactive enrolment and others immediately after non-enrolment.

Students welcome federal action to address housing crisis

The Deutsches Studentenwerk (DSW) or German Student Welfare Service has warned of a student housing crisis but welcomes the continuation of a nationwide government programme to provide housing for young people.

Germany’s construction industry is in deep crisis, despite a drastically rising demand for new, affordable housing. Housebuilding is hampered by soaring construction costs as well as a quadrupling of building loan interest rates within just a year. All this has added to the decades-long problem of affordable student accommodation in university cities.

At a ‘building summit’ in Berlin on 25 September the ruling Social Democrat-Green-Free Democrat coalition under Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a range of measures to stimulate activity in the building sector, including a postponing of the introduction of a new energy efficiency standard for new buildings and arranging better conditions for government-supported loans for acquiring housing.

Waiting lists

“As of today, at 11 student welfare services in expensive university cities such as Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Berlin or Darmstadt, 35,000 students are on the waiting list for accommodation in a hall of residence,” said DSW secretary general Matthias Anbuhl commenting on the building summit. “The situation in university cities is dramatic, and something really must be done.”

Anbuhl sees a “true ray of hope” in Junges Wohnen (housing for young people), a joint federal and state government programme aimed at supporting the creation and modernisation of affordable housing for students, trainees and police cadets. He says that thanks to the programme, which was launched by the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building (BMWSB) in March 2023, many federal states have stepped up support for student halls of residence.

With more support student welfare services can engage more in construction and modernisation schemes. Anbuhl notes that with Junges Wohnen, which provides the largest amount of funding for student halls of residence since the 1970s, significant improvements can be made to improve the housing situation for young people who are studying or doing training.

Federal funding

Federal Minister for Housing, Urban Development and Building Klara Geywitz has announced that the federal states can reckon with the EUR500 million (US$525 million) federal share for housing for students, trainees and police cadets in 2024 and 2025 as well.

However, Anbuhl also notes that more support for student housing needs to be provided via the federal grants and loans scheme (BAFöG – Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz).

“The BAFöG flat rate for housing is at EUR360 a month. That will hardly cover the cost of a room in a flat shared by students in a university city,” he explains. “In Munich, Germany’s most expensive university city, such a room costs EUR720 a month on average. BAFöG levels urgently have to be raised.”