Indian student dies as Russia shells university city

An Indian student was killed on Tuesday 1 March in shelling in Kharkiv city in Ukraine, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs confirmed, while thousands of Indian and other foreign students who had been studying in Ukraine fled across the border in scenes of chaos, desperation and fear.

“With profound sorrow we confirm that an Indian student lost his life in shelling in Kharkiv this morning. The ministry is in touch with his family,” said a tweet by Arindam Bagchi, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs.

The student has been named as Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudar (21) from India’s Karnataka state.

According to reports from other students in Kharkiv, he lost his life when he stepped outside the metro station to buy food for himself and other Indian students taking shelter there. Another 200 students were holed up in a bunker under a university residence in the city.

Students in Kharkiv – which has 38 higher education institutions with 300,000 students including 12,000 international students – said they were told to remain where they were by Indian embassy officials.

Naveen was a fourth-year medical student and his father said he had had to send him to Ukraine because despite scoring 97% in his pre-university course, he could not secure a medical seat in the state, The Hindu reported.

“It became inevitable for us to send him to Ukraine for studies. But we lost him,” his distraught father said.

The killing of an Indian student has sent shockwaves among relatives of Indian students still trapped in Ukraine. Anxious parents are now eagerly waiting for the return of their children.

Facing freezing temperatures and hunger, and scared and exhausted, every student in Ukraine has a story to tell. Others were still holed up in bunkers in cities under attack or trying to make their way to Ukraine’s borders.

ndia’s Embassy in Kyiv issued on 2 March issued an urgent advisory to Indian nationals in capital letter to “leave Kharkiv immediately repeat immediately in the light of the deteriorating situaton.”

Citizens were advised to proceed to Pesochin, Babaye, in the western suburbs of the city and Bezlyudovka, 13 Km south of Kharkiv “as soon as possible for their safety. Under all circumstances they should reach these settlements by 1800 hrs (Ukrainian time) today.”

Social media reports early on 2 March showed university buildings of Kharkiv National Agrarian University, Kharkiv National University of Economics, VN Karazin Kharkiv National Universities under attack with buildings on fire.

India has around 18,000 students in Ukraine – 25% of all foreign students in the country.

The Indian government has brought home over 4,000 of its citizens, most of them students, but the numbers in Ukraine are still high. The Indian embassy in Kyiv issued a fresh advisory on 1 March: “All Indian nationals including students are advised to leave Kyiv urgently today. Preferably by available trains or through any other means available,” the embassy said in a tweet post.

In New Delhi, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday also asked the Indian Air Force to evacuate stranded Indians.

Universities face sweeping governance changes under new Bill

Third-level colleges face penalties for misconduct, including having funding withheld, under the biggest shake-up to regulation of higher education in almost 50 years, writes Carl O’Brien for The Irish Times.

The changes will also cut the size of university governing bodies, empower the minister to appoint a majority of external members and provide a legal footing for carrying out reviews on how colleges are performing.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris confirmed that the government had approved new legislation to reform the higher education sector and modernise the role of the Higher Education Authority. The Higher Education Authority Bill is due to be published soon and will reform the oversight and regulation of third-level colleges, including a “performance and accountability framework” aimed at safeguarding public investment in the sector.
Full report on The Irish Times site

3.5 million Students drop out of private universities

The past two years have seen record dropout rates from private colleges in Brazil. This year alone, about 3.42 million students dropped out of private universities – a dropout rate of 36.6%, reports Newsbeezer.

The number only lagged behind that of last year, when around 3.78 million students dropped out, giving a dropout rate of 37.2%. But, if distance learning (EAD) data is separated from on-site training, the rate is even higher. In 2021, there was 43.3% of distance learning tax evasion – a higher figure than in 2020 (40%).

The indices, reported first by GloboNews, come from a projection by Semesp, an institute that represents sponsors of higher education in Brazil, whose executive director, Rodrigo Capelato, says the students hardest hit are those with greater social vulnerability. “It is they who usually have to work in order to be able to study. Most study at night. And they have lost their jobs or lost income from informal work. They could no longer pay the tuition fees or even did not have the infrastructure to attend classes remotely.”
Full report on the NewsBeezer site

Why universities need to own entrepreneurial education

“To the young women in the room here. Do everything you can to be the best in science and math and engineering … it is our actions that will determine this new stereotype around women … that our little girls will see when they start to think about who do they want to be when they grow up.”

Who wouldn’t agree with this statement? The fact that it was said by Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, recently convicted on four counts of defrauding investors and wire fraud, should not change how we feel about it.

The demonisation of Elizabeth Holmes and the sensationalism surrounding her trial threatens to overshadow many of the lessons and opportunities that should be taken from the case. It may be reasonable to say that Holmes is a demon, but it is also true that investors are not always as angelic as they might seem.

What would be disastrous would be if the trial is used as an excuse for the huge bias against women entrepreneurs, whether college dropouts or not.

Indeed, much has been made of Holmes dropping out of college, but when we look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs, particularly those in the tech space, this is not an unusual occurrence. Steve Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Jack Dorsey (Twitter) and Daniel Ek (Spotify) all dropped out of college, in the case of Dorsey twice. They are, of course, all men, which reinforces the need to redouble efforts to support young women entrepreneurs.

The role of universities

The more pressing problem is whether universities are doing enough to keep young entrepreneurs engaged and ensuring they have the tools to navigate the sea of sharks they are about to enter with their fledgling start-up.

It is a failing of higher education that more has not been done to cultivate entrepreneurs by helping them create products and showing how to bring them successfully to market. Even less has been done to build and strengthen the network of women role models who could help empower the next generation of female business leaders.

Some universities are waking up to their responsibility. The University of Winchester’s Women in Digital Enterprise programme aims to support women-led businesses to achieve double-digit business growth in less than a year through targeted workshops. The University of Suffolk and University College London are recognising the importance of role models, hosting special events and conferences to highlight the achievements of women entrepreneurs.

At Imperial, the WE Innovate programme is targeted specifically at female entrepreneurs, providing access to funding, mentoring and exposure to investor networks to help women support their fledgling businesses.

This opportunity has led to female student entrepreneurs developing “zero waste menstrual products”, intuitive drone control software and an early detection tool for crop diseases.

These are all great examples, but they remain exceptions. Far from dropping out of university being a ‘rite of passage’ for successful tech entrepreneurs it should be the opposite, with universities supporting them and ensuring they start their businesses on the right footing for future success.

Whatever course you study, all graduates should be equipped with the tools to become an entrepreneur because this is a viable, credible and, in some cases, the best career choice when an estimated 50% of jobs are on the verge of automation, the gig economy is growing and employers regularly complain of graduates not having the right skills.

This is not purely the job of a university careers service, although they should play a prominent role; it should be the product of a holistic careers curriculum embedded within any course of study, where cross-faculty collaboration is encouraged and rewarded.

The careers curriculum should be totally reformed so that it is no longer so focused on CV writing and interview technique but on creative thinking, problem solving and the enterprise skills necessary to launch a business and-or sell yourself as an individual and-or an idea.

A cautionary tale

Theranos is a cautionary tale, not unlike that of Icarus flying too close to the sun, because as the ‘darling of MedTech’, Holmes had a long way to fall. That should not, however, prevent or discourage any entrepreneur from pursuing their vision and future success because, while there are lessons to learn for Holmes, the failure was not hers alone.

Universities should help by stepping up to the plate and supporting founders, whatever their gender and providing them with the economic, ethical and moral compasses to guide them in their entrepreneurial endeavours.

It may be that unpacking the media hysteria and legal posturing inherent in the case from the realities can offer particular lessons to future women entrepreneurs.

One significant area of concern was the way Elizabeth Holmes painted herself as the victim of her former business partner and long-term boyfriend. It was a jarring counterpoint to the image of a capable, commanding woman founder of a unicorn who had stepped over the line in the Silicon Valley world of fake it, till you make it.

Whatever the failings of Elizabeth Holmes’ company, this depiction of a weak, incapable woman at the helm of a multimillion-dollar company does existing and future female founders a huge disservice.

As details of the trial emerged, drawing on my own experience as a female founder and reflecting on the advice I have been given, it is easy to see that, in large part, Holmes did what she was advised to do.

To secure venture capital, one needs to project vastly exaggerated revenue predictions to get people excited. Lakshmi Balachandra’s research on venture capital pitches sums it up with phrases like “trust beats competence”, “driven by ego” and “biased against femininity”.

One study from 2014 used identical slides and scripts, voiced by men and women, with and without photos of the ‘presenter’, and then asked study participants to rate the investment.

Pitches voiced by men significantly outperformed those with a woman narrator and pitches where the narrator’s picture was a good-looking man performed best of all.

Outcomes were the same whether the participants (‘judges’) were male or female, with researchers concluding: “Investors prefer pitches presented by male entrepreneurs compared with pitches made by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch is the same.”

Research from 2017 found that women are also asked different questions by venture capitalists [VCs]. Across 180 entrepreneurs and 140 VCs at the TechCrunch competition, men were consistently asked more ‘promotion’ questions (highlighting upside and potential gains), while women were asked more ‘preventive’ questions (highlighting potential losses and risk mitigation). Entrepreneurs who addressed promotion questions raised at least six times more money than those asked the prevention questions.

However unjust the world of venture capital may be, universities have an important part to play in the development of entrepreneurs past, present and future.

Even those who dropped out of university started off there and, in many cases, university was the start of their entrepreneurial journey.

Perhaps the answer could be university T-Groups, training based on innovative, experimental and transformative learning methodology, like that developed at Stanford University, or cross-city/college or faculty entrepreneurial ecosystems set up between universities and industry to develop and exchange ideas.

Whatever the answer, there is much to do and no time to waste!

Louise Nicol is the founder and director of Asia Careers Group SDN BHD, an edtech company that tracks the graduate outcomes and career progression of international students globally.

Academic cooperation and geopolitics in a new world

In recent years, growing geopolitical tensions have led to a reconsideration of international academic cooperation. As a result, the relationships that universities forge around the world have come under the spotlight.

In the United States, Chinese espionage has become a prominent topic, while in the European Union the quest for strategic and technological sovereignty has cast doubt on even cooperation with very close partners such as the United Kingdom and Switzerland. The new situation requires new responses from higher education institutions and policy-makers alike.

There is, and remains, a broad consensus in Europe that international cooperation strengthens the quality of university missions and society’s knowledge base in general.

The current discussion, however, revolves around how much cooperation leads to dependence, particularly on technologies that are seen as strategically important.

There are also concerns about how partners use technology in systems that do not share Europe’s civic values, with issues concerning mass surveillance and social control being particularly controversial in the European debate.

The topic of academic freedom is likewise seen as a precondition for deep cooperation.

Practical implications

Over the past few months, the European University Association (EUA) has organised a number of webinars to facilitate a dialogue between EU policy-makers and universities about the practical implications of the new world. Representatives of the European Commission and individual universities have met to compare how European-level policies align with concrete issues in international cooperation.

The general policy response from the European Commission has been a “modulated approach” – meaning openness is the default option. However, there is an expectation for reciprocity and a level playing field from partners and, where values such as academic freedom or civil rights are not well protected, there is a likelihood that Europe may limit cooperation.

Universities have a strong wish to retain their various global links. However, there is a realisation that things have changed in recent years and that internationalisation at the institutional level must be embedded in policies that take into account both the great global challenges as well as risks linked to authoritarianism and geopolitical polarisation.

This means, for instance, defining universities’ values, providing support and establishing processes for international cooperation, as a speaker from RWTH Aachen in Germany explained.

Managing risks

Part of this more nuanced attention to threats and opportunities involves articulating guidelines for managing risks in international cooperation.

In Sweden, for example, universities have published “Guidelines for reflection on international academic collaboration”. These focus on awareness raising and capacity building within universities about acting responsibly in their partnerships.

Similar documents exist in other European countries, such as the UK and the Netherlands (specifically for China).

The European Commission will also soon publish European guidelines for countering foreign interference in research cooperation.

The European guidelines will be explicitly state-agnostic, following the logic of the commission that Europe will work with any partner but must be able to modulate its partnerships and make them more or less intense.

However, the EUA webinar on this topic included a poll of participants which showed that only a third had (or were aware of) such national and institutional guidelines.

One of the big underlying trends linked to this discussion is the growing split between the US and China and Europe’s place among the tensions. The Biden administration has brought the EU and the US closer together. This has been particularly visible in the creation of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council, which aims to enhance the trade and technological leadership of both the EU and US.

It is still to be seen what the role of academic cooperation might be within this structure. Old and new initiatives – especially when it comes to green technologies – make for strong bonds across the Atlantic.

In addition, North America remains the most important region for European universities’ global cooperation, as was clear from the webinar dedicated to transatlantic relations.

A fine balance

Most of continental Europe has a lot fewer exchanges with the People’s Republic of China than, for example, the US or the UK – partly because universities in continental Europe depend less on international fees from Chinese students.

However, China remains a valuable partner, as does the US. Universities will not want to choose between one or the other geopolitical bloc and, if the EU’s modulated approach is implemented carefully, they will not have to make that choice.

If the EU and China agree on the roadmap on science and technology that is currently under negotiation, that will certainly represent a major step forward in the development of a balanced and differentiated European response to a new geopolitical situation.

The new year could see more steps being taken towards implementing European policy responses, including a European Science Diplomacy Agenda which is currently taking shape.

While political discussions are ongoing, universities will continue to further international cooperation according to their own agendas. The discussion about international research policy in a new world is far from over.

Thomas Jorgensen is senior policy coordinator at the European University Association.

Removing campus Tiananmen artworks ‘obliterates history’

In the dead of night or in pre-dawn actions, major artworks and memorials commemorating the June 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy student protests in Beijing were removed from three university campuses in Hong Kong in late December.

While the removal of a sculpture known as the Pillar of Shame from the Hong Kong University (HKU) campus on 23 December was not entirely unexpected after its removal had been ordered in October, the seemingly concerted action to remove campus artworks from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Lingnan University just a day later shocked students and academics in the city.

Students said the removal of memorials that had been on campus for more than a decade – 24 years in the case of the HKU Pillar of Shame – violated freedom of expression, artistic freedoms and university autonomy. But it was also an attempt by the authorities, “to obliterate history” and censor memories and debate surrounding the 4 June 1989 Tiananmen massacre in Beijing which killed hundreds – possibly thousands.

The Tiananmen crackdown is already a taboo subject in mainland China. But annual vigils were held in Hong Kong until they were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 ostensibly due to COVID-19, and vigil organisers were prosecuted under Hong Kong’s national security laws imposed by Beijing since July 2020.

“In a clearly concerted operation timed for when students were away, the Pillar of Shame has been removed from campus. How long before ‘removals’ hit the classroom and Tiananmen can no longer be mentioned in Hong Kong?” said one HKU professor.

But he added that the ruse to move the artworks under cover of darkness had backfired. “It has only emphasised that they [the authorities] wanted to do this secretly and without scrutiny. Their actions also emphasise to the wider world the importance of these memorials to Hong Kong and the erosion of its freedoms that made it different from the mainland.”

Another HKU academic was more optimistic about further erosions such as banning of discussion of Tiananmen in the classroom.

“Any time a statue that had become part of a university campus is removed after almost a quarter-century, there will be strong feelings both ways. I do not think its removal changes the discussion of Tiananmen unless it also advocates something that breaks the national security law,” he said, requesting anonymity.

Academics described the campus memorials as “historically significant” as China, itself, does not allow open commemoration of the massacre. But they said that, while the artworks had “emotive resonance” with young people and students in Hong Kong today, younger generations would know little about the events of 1989.

Bending to China’s will

The removals “are part of a bigger pattern of Hong Kong universities bending to the Chinese government’s will, especially since the imposition of the National Security Law,” Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch told University World News.

“It’s quite astonishing to see these essentially world-class universities, which have as their major responsibility to ensure academic independence and freedom of thought on campus, renege on these principles,” Wang said.

“The significance of these universities’ decisions is much broader than taking down a statue or two but has to do with the Chinese government successfully extending its long and heavy hand to a city which previously – for the last 70 years – was outside its control and was able to maintain freedom of thought.”

Wang noted that there are many ways for universities to respond to very real and very difficult pressures from China.

“They are connected to global international standards, which is a unique aspect of Hong Kong’s universities, so these universities could insist on the academic freedom and freedom of thought that makes them world class, and that insistence could perhaps give them room for manoeuvre,” rather than complying with the authorities in a coordinated manner to take down the works, she said.

Little is known about the way the removal decisions were made although, as Wang pointed out, university councils are partially made up of government appointees.

However, the universities did not make it clear that they were pressured rather than acted willingly, according to Wang.

“The way universities complied with the authorities’ pressure, in a manner that covered up the extent of the censorship, is also part of the problem.”

Removal of the ‘Pillar of Shame’

Just before midnight local time on 22 December, the authorities began the removal of the 8m-tall, two-tonne Pillar of Shame symbolising student protesters who lost their lives in the 4 June massacre. The artwork was ordered to be removed in October with claims that it violated Hong Kong’s National Security Law. It had stood on campus since 1997 when Hong Kong had already ceased to be a British Colony.

“The decision on the aged statue was based on an external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the university,” HKU said in a statement following the removal, saying it followed a decision by the HKU governing council meeting on 22 December.

“No party has ever obtained any approval from the University to display the statue on campus, and the University has the right to take appropriate actions to handle it at any time. The University is also very concerned about the potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue. Latest legal advice given to the University cautioned that the continued display of the statue would pose legal risks to the University based on the Crimes Ordinance enacted under the Hong Kong colonial government,” the HKU statement said.

However, the university did not clarify the ‘legal risks’. It has said the sculpture will be placed in storage until its legal ownership is determined.

A stalemate ensued over legal issues surrounding ownership of the sculpture, which was created by Danish artist Jens Galschiot who, just days before the removal, said in his newsletter that the situation with HKU was unresolved.

Galschiot wrote: “I fear that 2022 will be the year the sculpture will be destroyed and removed by an increasingly aggressive and brutal Chinese regime.”

In the event, it did not even make it to 2022, with workers on the campus attempting to block views of the dismantling operation with curtains and tall plastic barriers after cordoning off the area during the night.

Lingnan and CUHK artworks

On 24 December, before dawn local time, the authorities at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University blocked off the outdoor area where a relief stood commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre created by Chinese-born New Zealand artist Chen Weiming.

The Lingnan University student union said security guards tried to prevent students filming the removal, including by shining “a strong light” on student lenses overlooking the area during the removal operation. The union said it was the university’s unilateral decision to remove it without communicating with students.

The highly detailed relief is more than 7m wide and 2m high and is titled Tiananmen Massacre. Created in 2009, it vividly depicts scenes including the iconic image of a lone man stopping a column of tanks and had been displayed at several Hong Kong universities before permission from Lingnan University’s administration was granted in 2011 for it to remain there.

An indoor wall painting by the same artist, of the ‘Goddess of Democracy’ – a woman holding aloft a flaming torch, a symbol of the Beijing student protests in 1989 – that was in the main hall of the student union was painted over with grey paint by Lingnan workers on the same day.

Lingnan University said in a statement that it had recently “reviewed and assessed items on campus that may pose legal and safety risks” and had “removed [them] … in the best interest of the University”.

On the same day, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), without any prior warning, removed its 6.4-metre bronze ‘Goddess of Democracy’, saying the action followed an “internal assessment”.

“The University never authorised the display of the statue on its campus, and no organisation has claimed responsibility for its maintenance and management,” CUHK said in a 24 December statement.

The statue, also created by Chen, had stood on the CUHK campus for more than a decade.

The two groups responsible for the statue had ceased to exist. The CUHK student union was formally dissolved in October, after the university administration cut ties with the union in February saying it had been ‘exploiting’ the campus for its own political agenda, while the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, set up after June 1989, which organised the annual Tiananmen vigils, was disbanded in September following a Hong Kong police investigation and arrests of alliance members.

In October, nine pro-democracy Hong Kong activists were sentenced to between six and 10 months in prison for taking part in the vigil.

While the student voice has been silenced since the union was disbanded, the CUHK Employees General Union said in a 24 December statement that it was deeply shocked by the sudden removal of the statue.

“The statue of the ‘Goddess of Democracy’ was brought into the University Station Plaza by thousands of staff, students and citizens in 2010, and stood there for 11 years without interference from the University’s management. It represented the spirit of the freedom of speech, collective governance by staff and students, and mutual respect in the campus,” the employees union said.

“Today, the University removed the statue suddenly during a school holiday when [few] people are [present] – no prior effort was made to seek a consensus among staff and students – and without announcing the statue’s whereabouts. This showed deep disrespect for the staff and students,” it said.

Focus of student life

Former CUHK student union leader Owen Au, who was president of the union in 2018-19, said the ‘Goddess of Democracy’ statue was a focus of student life, and had blended into the lives of Hong Kong people. “It is our collective memory,” he said.

Another former CUHK student leader, Eric Lai, said via social media that the statue had become a campus landmark and its removal represented the “further kowtowing” of university authorities to the national security regime.

Lai, who was head of the CUHK student union in 2010 when the statue was brought to campus, told University World News: “All the statements they (CUHK administration) made when the statue was removed in December saying it was because they had not authorised it, were not reasonable, because they could have removed it immediately, back in 2010, but they did not do it. So, in a way, they gave the space for the statue to be exhibited on the premises.

“After a decade, if they really want to change that convention, they should first consult the stakeholders in the universities and inform the owner of the statue,” said Lai, who is now a Law Fellow at Georgetown University in the United States.

The artist, Chen, has already stated that he owns the statue but, as in the case of the HKU Pillar of Shame, of which Galschiot asserted ownership, this was ignored and the artwork removed without consent, noted Lai, describing the removal as “sneaky”.

A joint declaration on 24 December by student unions and other student groups from seven Hong Kong institutions said HKU and CUHK “did not consult the wishes of students, alumni and even [the] creators to arbitrarily remove the sculpture(s),” adding that, over the years, “these memorial sculptures have gone beyond their original meaning.”

They accused university administrations of being unable to tolerate works that commemorate history. “They not only go against artistic creativity, but also trample on historical facts and destroy the memories of numerous students,” the statement said.

Eradicating Tiananmen

“It is clear that the CUHK administration followed what Hong Kong University did one day before to remove the Pillar of Shame but it is all part of a grand scheme after the fact that, in 2021, all commemorating events, organisations and exhibitions about the Tiananmen crackdown were either criminalised or to be removed,” said Lai.

“The Tiananmen vigil was banned and the organisers of the vigil are now charged with inciting subversion under the National Security Law. Books on the 4 June incident were removed from public libraries, and now it is the statue(s). So, this is well planned. Beijing wants to clean up the memory of the Tiananmen crackdown in Hong Kong.

“They are doing this step by step by removing all the hardware and tangible items that relate to the Tiananmen crackdown. At the same time, they are introducing national security education in universities, and patriotic education in schools,” Lai said.

Other Tiananmen artworks

Another ‘Goddess of Democracy’ statue at Hong Kong’s City University (CityU) made by art students at several Hong Kong institutions and gifted to the CityU student Union in 2012 by the now defunct Alliance, was still standing near the university’s main entrance this week.

However, students said they had received orders to remove it in an e-mail on 24 December from the university administration.

The university authorities stated the “temporary display” of the item “expired” on 31 March 2021, and ordered the student group to remove it the same day. The CityU student union said it had requested talks with the university administration, but said they would relocate the statue to prevent it from being damaged.

The CityU student union said on social media that “the authorities have put pressure on education institutions in an attempt to silence academia and whitewash history”.

A ‘Goddess of Democracy’ statue at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University (PolyU) was removed by the university’s student union in October for repairs after a crack was found, with the union saying it was originally intended to be re-erected. It said the situation was now complicated by the removal of artworks from other campuses and needed to be reassessed to prevent the statue from being confiscated.

A ‘Goddess of Democracy’ statue at Hong Kong Baptist University is stored on campus but is not on display.

China’s nationalistic state-run newspaper, Global Timessaid HKU made an “independent decision in accordance with the local law and campus regulation”.

It referred to Pro-Beijing lawyers saying the message of the Pillar of Shame and other monuments was to support the overthrow of Communist Party rule in China which goes against the National Security Law.

The decision to remove them was “widely applauded by a number of students of HKU according to dozens of posts published on the in-campus network”, Global Times claimed.

But students at HKU and CUHK were filmed in the following days lighting candles in the spaces where the artworks had been, in a symbol of mourning.

Remove barriers to university cooperation, urges EUA

The president of European University Association, Michael Murphy, told an online meeting of higher education stakeholders and policy-makers that it was up to the 27 member states of the European Union whether a new strategy for higher education cooperation and system-level reforms proposed by the European Commission would see Europe sitting at the global top table for education, research and innovation with leading players like China and the United States in the decades to come.

The European Strategy for Universities and recommendations for building bridges for effective European higher education cooperation were unveiled by the European Commission on 18 January, as University World News reported last week.

On 27 January, the European University Association (EUA) hosted an online discussion on the proposals, which attracted 1,800 registrations from 78 countries, to hear directly from EU representatives and those charged with implementing the strategy.

Opening the event, Murphy reminded the audience that a year ago the EUA published its own vision for ‘universities without walls’, with a focus on openness and engagement with society, as University World News reported.

He welcomed the European Commission’s “positive vision for open, engaged and autonomous universities”, which shared similar aspirations to the EUA and pointed to the progress made in higher education cooperation in Europe during two decades through what is known as the Bologna Process.

Varying autonomy and investment

However, he warned that European universities were “still combating unnecessary barriers to collaboration” due to varying degrees of autonomy and uneven levels of public investment in different EU member states.

To try to make progress, the EUA brought together representatives from higher education, member states and the European Commission to review transnational university collaboration and consider how to overcome system-level barriers.

The discussion was moderated by Anna-Lena Claeys-Kulik, EUA policy coordinator, who said: “Despite two decades of reform through the Bologna Process, we still have some barriers and challenges, and the European Universities Initiative and the alliances that have developed over the past few years have brought these challenges very much to the surface.”

Peter Lievens, vice-rector for international policy at KU Leuven – a leading research university in Belgium – and member of the board of directors of the Una Europa university alliance, said the EU-inspired cross-border alliances were “a game changer” in bringing together European universities sharing the same values and ambitions.

The Una Europa alliance, to which his university belongs, was one of the first 17 pilots launched several years ago and now covers 50,000 students in nine countries, but “despite all the hard work to try to create innovative new programmes and multilingual, interdisciplinary courses, we have encountered barriers and boundaries”, he said.

Challenges to creating joint degrees

Lievens said: “One of the things we have been working on intensively at KU Leuven is a joint bachelor degree in European studies, where our experts have really been facing quite challenging circumstances.

“Some creative solutions came up and now we are ready for the first cohort in the new academic year, having obtained accreditation by the accreditation organisations of the Netherlands and Flanders.”

But other university members of the alliance in different countries had found it impossible to use this European approach for quality assurance of joint programmes as it is not implemented in the same way in different countries.

“At the moment we are not able to award a degree simultaneously with all partner institutions in the Una alliance,” Lievens told the EUA event.

European approach needed for accreditation

“So, what we are pleading for is a European approach and full implementation in all member states, without further national requirements,” he said.

Lievens argued that it is crucial to offer the possibility of accreditation through a single European quality assurance register for higher education.

“That of course implies some trust in the system by all the member states,” he agreed, but at the moment “quite strict regulations in some countries” prevents progress to creating interdisciplinary programmes.

He said he welcomed the European Commission proposal for a recommendation on building bridges for effective European higher education cooperation, which will now go to the Council of the European Union – the body representing member states at a ministerial level.

“This is a major step forward, but what we are really calling for is full implementation of the European approach at one place and for all member states to allow higher education institutions to put in place suitable approaches when they have joint efforts on joint degrees – for admissions, for enrolment and for credit allocation and many other issues that are sometimes hampering swift cooperation.”

Without that, member states will continue to come up against obstacles to working together “without borders getting in the way”, he said.

Longer discussion about legal framework

Florian Pecenka, head of the unit for education and research at the permanent representation of Austria to the EU, gave a view from the EU member states and also welcomed the European Commission’s proposed strategy and said he hoped it could be implemented and “taken one step further”.

However, he wants “longer discussion” about a proposed legal framework, saying: “We need a test bed for this to see how it can work in practice, but also what the next barriers are that we may encounter.”

Pecenka said he had heard from many universities about “the administrative burden when setting up a joint degree”, adding that it was becoming “an instrument that people don’t like very much because it involves a huge amount of work”.

Alliances are ‘test beds’ for transnational cooperation

Responding to the points raised, Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, head of the higher education unit in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, said they saw the European Universities alliances created so far as “test beds” and their added value is highlighting “the limits when universities are thinking of putting in place deep transnational cooperation”.

Solutions, she said, should be applicable to the entire higher education sector and not just to the universities in such alliances, which are due to scale up to 60 in number, representing 500 institutions, according to the Commission’s proposed strategy.

Debiais-Sainton agreed there was a “lack of clarity in the way the Bologna instruments are implemented between different member states, including the degree structure”, which meant there were different regulations for joint degrees between member states.

“What we have been asking the university alliances to do is really to dream the university of the future, to come up with interdisciplinary approaches to support the graduates of the future.”

Recommendations now go to Council of the EU

She said the European Commission proposals will now go forward for discussion among government representatives from member states on the Council of the EU.

The key recommendations include:

• Member states to give more autonomy to their higher education institutions in the context of transnational education over admission and enrolment criteria.

• More autonomy to be granted over the language of instruction and sharing online learning together with more flexible learning pathways.

• Mobility in different forms.

• Support for high quality virtual learning.

• Strengthen trust for quality assurance mechanism, to really foster an institutional quality assurance approach.

• Accredit not only the programme but also the institution, to move from a programme accreditation to institutional accreditation (for joint degrees).

Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at

Exodus hits universities as students, professors leave

The number of students who quit their studies at Hong Kong’s eight government-funded universities in the last academic year jumped by a record 24% over the year before, official figures show, while separate figures showed around 290 academic staff left the eight public universities in the past year. This is far higher than the numbers reaching retirement age.

Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee (UGC), which distributes government money to public higher education institutions, this month revealed the latest figures for the number of students who discontinued their studies in the 2020-21 academic year. A total of 2,212 students, or 2.6% of about 85,000 full-time undergraduates, left university midway through their degree programme, up sharply from the 1,779, or 2.1% of the total, recorded the year before.

The number of departures from universities is the highest since 2003 – the earliest year for which the figures are available. The dropout rate has increased since the introduction of the National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong in July 2020, but large numbers also dropped out due to the coronavirus pandemic when universities closed and classes were shifted online.

Hong Kong has seen a major exodus, mainly of professionals following the anti-extradition bill protests in 2019 and the introduction of the National Security Law in July 2020, which has led to a particularly high dropout rate from schools as families emigrate.

But academics noted that it was more unusual for university undergraduates to give up a degree course after a year or more of study.

The Hong Kong government revealed that more than 89,000 residents had left Hong Kong, which has a population of 7.4 million, in the 12 months since the imposition of the security law – a 60-year high.

Some of the first to leave Hong Kong as part of the latest exodus in 2020 and 2021 were pro-democracy student activists, student union leaders and lawmakers fleeing persecution.

In one case Hong Kong prosecutors asked a court to proceed with the trial of student Wong Ting Tao in her absence, after she jumped bail and fled the city following her arrest during a November 2019 anti-government protest at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), but trial in absentia has so far been denied by the courts.

Leaving to take advantage of new visa policies

But for many students, university closures in 2019 due to large-scale street protests, and then closures in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, meant it was easier to start degrees afresh overseas.

Special visa policies for Hong Kong people brought in by the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia, in the past two years, also meant leaving for an overseas degree in order to benefit from new ‘stay-on’ lifeboat policies for Hong Kongers made it worthwhile for students to give up on already-started degrees, explained one academic at CUHK, on condition of anonymity.

“Some students and their families feared the generous policies announced by some Western countries might be temporary and it would be better to leave before the doors shut,” he said.

A record number of Hong Kong people chose to study in Canada in 2021 – a three-fold jump from 2020. Some 4,915 Hong Kong people obtained study permits from Canada between January and September 2021 after Canada announced new immigration pathways in February 2021 for those who complete post-secondary education at designated Canadian institutions, with the offer remaining in effect until August 2026.

“Canada has said the policy could be revoked at any time, which helps to explain the rush by Hong Kongers to start their studies now,” according to one immigration consultant, particularly as Canada’s borders remained open during the pandemic.

Of those who dropped out from Hong Kong’s universities, many were from its most prestigious institutions. Hong Kong University (HKU), one of the top-ranked universities in Asia, lost the most students – 445 (2.6%) dropped out – a 30% increase compared with 343 discontinuing their studies in 2019-20. CUHK, another highly ranked university, saw 398 students (2.3%) leave, up from 305 (1.7%) the year before.

The figure at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, along with CUHK, the scene of some of the fiercest campus clashes in 2019, which led to many of its students facing police charges, was 2.3% or a loss of 346 students, up from 2.2% – 329 dropouts the year before,

An HKU spokesperson said students left for a variety of reasons including failing to attain satisfactory academic results and said the percentage of students leaving HKU is about the same as other universities. HKU will provide assistance for students with learning difficulties.

But HKU also lost 31 academic staff during 2020-21, up 25% from 2019-20, according to separate UGC figures released in January.

The pandemic drives student dropout rate in Asia

These latest student dropout figures follow a previous high rate for the 2019-20 academic year which saw a 15% dropout rate compared with the year before that, and despite schemes launched by some of Hong Kong’s top universities to assist students facing hardship due to the pandemic.

Other countries in East Asia have seen university dropout numbers rise but some, like Singapore, saw fewer leave mid-degree, and even recorded extra numbers as some universities increased places to absorb large numbers of Singaporean students unable to travel abroad to take up exchanges or other places in overseas universities.

Japan recorded 11,852 dropouts from universities and colleges between April and August 2021, and 12,322 in 2020 overall, according to official figures. But this is a tiny proportion of the 2.92 million students enrolled in Japanese universities overall – less than 0.4% compared to Hong Kong universities losing 2.5% of undergraduates before they completed their degrees.

South Korea saw mainly temporary deferrals due to discontent over the quality of online teaching, as well as dropouts due to economic hardship brought on by the pandemic.

Combating the dropout rate

Overall emigration from Hong Kong has impacted all sectors. Nearly 2,000 civil servants quit working for the Hong Kong government in 2020-21, according to the latest figures, the highest in at least 15 years. Around 1,000 high school teachers left in 2021, almost double the previous two years combined, according to the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools.

But it is most noticeable in the education sector where 19,300 pupils withdrew from Hong Kong schools in 2020-21, according to figures from the Hong Kong Education Bureau, with some classes having to merge.

“Hong Kong is a free society,” said Hong Kong’s Education Secretary Kevin Yeung in July last year.

“Of course there are people leaving Hong Kong. They are free to make these choices. In terms of the changes in the number of students, we’ve been staying in contact with schools. If the changes are long-term and structural, we will think of long-term solutions.”

Concerned about the impact on schools including the most sought after and academic schools in Hong Kong which feed into its best universities, HKU last year announced generous scholarships for its October 2021 intake, worth at least HK$50,000 (US$6,400) to each student achieving a score in their school leaving exam within the top 1% of the cohort, and with no cap on the number of scholarships available.

HKU’s business faculty announced that students who attain the top grade in six subjects could receive a scholarship worth HK$250,000 (US$32,000).

University World News Asia Editor Yojana Sharma contributed to this article.