Author Archives: PlanetGPA

Safety concerns grow as campus hate crime increases

Wagdy Sawahel 06 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

Arab Muslim education and scientific staff studying and working in western universities and associated research centres are concerned about their safety following last month’s killings of three Arab students near America’s University of North Carolina. Arab Muslim students and academics studying and working in western universities and associated research centres are concerned about their safety following last month’s killings of three Arab students near America’s University of North Carolina.

"This was a hate crime – a crime that would have been defined as terrorism if the roles were reversed," several Muslim student associations and Western academics wrote in an open letter to the campus community about the shootings.

Several reports such as Historical Events and Spaces of Hate: Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims in post-9/11 America and Hate Crime in the Wake of Terror Attacks: Evidence from 7/7 and 9/11, indicated that attacks worldwide such as the 7 January France-based attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine, the September 11 attacks in the US and other attacks around the world have raised fear among overseas Arab Muslim students and academics about the build-up of blanket hostility towards foreigners.

The 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest bloc of Muslim countries, said the murders of the three Arab students heightened international concerns about “rising anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobic acts” in the US.

In France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim population with five million people and about half from the Maghreb countries, 128 anti-Muslim incidents were reported in the two weeks after the Charlie Hebdo killings. That compared with the 133 incidents reported during the whole of 2014, according to the National Observatory Against Islamophobia.


University World News investigated how these events were affecting Arab Muslim students and academics studying abroad, how they were coping and what ways were available to protect them and to make campuses free of hate crime.

"I strongly agree that such events as the Paris attack will affect Middle Eastern and Arab students and academics studying abroad in several ways,” said Libyan scientist Amal Rhema at Victoria University in Melbourne. “For example, they will face more problems when seeking academic acceptance in schools and universities, and in obtaining accommodation and employment."

Nearly 250,000 students from the Middle East and North Africa flock to universities overseas every year to pursue higher education. Saudi Arabia accounts for the highest share with 26% of the students going abroad, followed by Morocco with 18%, and Algeria with 10%.

The favourite destinations for most students are France, which attracts 29%, the US and Britain, according to a recent report.

"We are already seeing sets of anti-terrorism policies not only in France but in Western European countries," said Manar Sabry, an Egyptian higher education expert at the State University of New York.

Sabry added that Arab students might be reluctant to go to the US or Europe because of fear of discrimination and the uncertainty about protective measures taken by the governments, as well as the longer time taken to conduct security checks to grant visas.

"We may also see greater tension in universities against all Muslim and Arab descendants in France as well as in several European countries," she said.

Impact on Arab students

Calestous Juma, co-chair of the African Union's High-Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation, and director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at Harvard University, agreed: "The world community needs to focus attention on xenophobia and hate crimes," he said.

Juma said the Paris shootings were one concern because such an event had "a chilling effect on the international mobility of students", but that public education and enhanced security could provide some comfort.

A guide to hate crime for international students in the US was produced to protect Arab students and others, especially after the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war. Other reports such as Hate Crimes on Campus: The problem and efforts to confront it have also been published.

On the other hand, Egyptian scientist Farouk El-Baz, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University, USA, said that unfortunate events such as the attacks in Paris should have no effect on Arab students studying abroad.

El-Baz, who is also a member of the Presidential Advisory Council for Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, said Arab students abroad should separate themselves from such inhuman events: "There should be no link between such events and the sincere efforts of those seeking knowledge," he said.

El-Baz's views were echoed by Abdelkader Djeflat, an Algerian higher education expert at the University of Lille in France: “There is no fear whatsoever at the university where I work," Djeflat said.

Similarly, Anouar Majid, a Moroccan-born higher education expert and vice-president for global affairs at the University of New England in the US, said: “I don’t expect anything to change dramatically. Jihadism will be monitored more closely, for sure, but university students will be fine."

Arab students may move

Manar Sabry, however, expected that new students would probably seek safe destinations, while some current students might transfer to a different country if they felt threatened in their western universities.

"The students who will continue their studies should be vigilant regarding any act of discrimination or hate crimes and should record and report such actions to their universities and to the authorities," she said.

Sabry said that authorities and universities in the countries of origin would also consider not sending students to study in France if they believed they faced potential danger.

"International students should be extra careful about any incident around them and avoid questionable situations. Western universities should emphasise their commitment to justice and protection for all students."

She said student unions could play an important role in creating a welcoming environment. They could hold debates, lectures and talks to “narrow the gaps and they can form crisis response teams".

Launching hate-free campuses by engaging the entire campus community in educational programmes, training and activities designed to confront and stop acts of hate, could also be undertaken, Sabry suggested.

Victoria University’s Amal Rhema said one of the ways to deal with hate crime was to make “a big contribution to the media” and give a clear picture of Islam to show that “as Muslims, we are all against these attacks”.

“At the same time, we are also all against insulting the Prophet Muhammad in particular and the religion of Islam in general,” she added.

University World News

The lonely shame of student debt

Ryan Anderson, The Chronicle of Higher Education
06 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

The young woman student working for the debt-collecting agency did not know that student loans contain few to no consumer protections. Say what you will about the credit-card industry – at least consumers who get into trouble still have basic legal protections. When it comes to student loans, especially private loans, that’s not the case. The phone rings. I answer. Credit-card collector – again. A pleasant voice on the other end of the line: “Can you please verify the last four digits of your Social Security number?” I verify.

This is an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, America’s leading higher education publication. It is presented here under an agreement with University World News.

The voice then asks me if I consent to letting them use my phone number to contact me about my credit-card debt. I say no, I do not consent.

“Well, how would you like us to contact you to give you updates about your account?” You can send the updates in the mail, I tell the voice. “Very well, please hold on while I transfer you.” I hold.

Another pleasant voice comes on the line: “We’re calling about the status of your account. According to our records, you have not made the current minimum payment. We would be glad to process an electronic check for US$92.55 to bring your account current.” No, I say, I can’t do that.

“Well, is there a reason why you can’t make your payment at this time?” the new voice asks.

My answer jumps out of me: “I can’t make the payment because I am deep in student-loan debt, trying to finish graduate school, looking for work, there is no work, the higher education market is completely devastated, I’m raising a kid, and I happened to go to graduate school right in the middle of a global economic implosion. Sorry.”


Then the voice says: “I’m in graduate school, too.” She’s just working this job because she has three kids and she’s trying to make ends meet, she explains. She tells me she’s going to finish in a year, and she’s looking into PhD programmes. We end up having a 10-minute conversation about graduate school and debt. Surreal.

I offer one piece of advice: Don’t pay a dime for a PhD. I end by warning her about student loans because they have been stripped of almost every meaningful consumer protection, including the ability to discharge them in bankruptcy. She tells me she had no idea and thanks me for the advice.

Yes, that really happened. What a strange, ironic and revealing conversation. Ironic because the young woman – who works in the debt-collection industry – did not know that student loans contain few to no consumer protections.

Say what you will about the credit-card industry – at least consumers who get into trouble still have basic legal protections. When it comes to student loans (especially private loans), that’s not the case. Far too many people sign up for student loans without knowing how badly the balance of power is tipped in favour of lenders and collection companies.

But the conversation revealed something else as well. The student-debt problem is happening to people across a broad social spectrum, and we don’t always know about others who might be in the same predicament. Many of us assume that we are alone.

Talking about student debt is taboo. Many of us feel shame and embarrassment, and we keep quiet to avoid being seen as complainers or losers. We keep our heads down.

The result is that there are legions of people in the same situation who don’t know that so many others share similar concerns and face similar hardships. This lack of mutually shared knowledge – of a community – helps perpetuate student debt, especially as new generations sign up for student loans without access to the knowledge or experience of those who came before them.

My debt collector and I have a lot in common. But a dehumanised student financial aid bureaucracy, combined with shame and lack of shared knowledge, means we don’t know about that common ground.

What we don’t know about the realities of our own student debt is killing us, and what we don’t know about the debt of those around us is killing us as well. As the folks from Strike Debt so aptly put it: “You are not a loan.”

The possibilities for meaningful change rest on this powerful bit of shared knowledge: We are not alone.

Ryan Anderson recently received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Kentucky and is a lecturer at San Diego State University, USA.

University World News

Angry students protest against university reforms

Jan Petter Myklebust 05 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

Academics and students across the country called for a national day of action on March 4 as part of widespread protests against government plans for university reforms. In response, the government has backed down on some of its proposed changes and postponed others until 2018. Academics and students across the country called for a national day of action on March 4 as part of widespread protests against government plans for university reforms.

As previously reported in University World News, the Netherlands government last year introduced a bill that would convert student grants into loans from 1 January 2015, freeing up €1 billion (US$1.1 billion) from the state higher education budget.

Under the plans, an estimated €200 million to €300 million a year would be allocated as grants to students whose families earned less than €46,000 a year. The remainder would be ploughed back into the higher education system to improve its quality.

The Dutch National Union of Students and the European Students’ Union condemned the move, claiming that under the new system students would accumulate greater debts, or have to work during their studies, hence risk prolonging the time to graduation.

Under the proposed changes, students would start to repay their study loans once they earned more than the minimum wage. The loan, which would have a fixed interest rate, would be repaid over 35 years.

Protest action

Student unions and an organisation of students and staff called ‘The New University’ (for a democratic university) took part in the national day of action while a group occupied one of the University of Amsterdam’s buildings.

In an open letter published by openDemocracy – “a digital commons not a magazine” – academics from Amsterdam and Leiden universities said the Netherlands was “a mere 10 years behind the UK but seems eager to catch up”.

“Twin pressures of authoritarianism from above and neo-liberalism from below make it necessary to develop the democratic alternative put forward by the movement for a new university,” the academics wrote.

“The structural similarities [between the Netherlands and the UK] are striking: in 1999, the Labour government of Tony Blair introduced tuition for university education at the moderate level of £1,000. Within little more than a decade, undergraduate tuition had exploded to nine times its original level. This is privatisation in all but name.

“Thanks to the students and their protests we are now in a political moment where these questions are on the public agenda, where what seemed utopian and unrealistic two weeks ago has become a real possibility.”

Academics and students have called for “fully-elected and accountable university boards”, a roll-back of cuts to the humanities, cancellation of a proposal they say would jeopardise the jobs of dozens of teachers in the humanities, and of mergers of subjects and disciplines “in attempts save money”.

The student and staff occupation of the university building started on 13 February, disrupting the work of several hundred students and staff who work or take classes there.

The occupation was endorsed in a website calling for national and international support for the student demands. The action has received the backing of European academics, members of parliament and trade unions.

Court order ignored

Initial response from the university was to take the occupying staff and students to court and demand they leave or pay a fine of up to €100,000 a day. The court subsequently ordered the students to leave and pay €1,000 in fines per day for any prolonged occupation.

After the students ignored the court order, police evicted the occupiers, leading to 46 arrests. The following day students occupied another building, the academic senate house, and at the time of reporting were still there.

Several stakeholders met the students and tried to persuade them to stop the protests. They included the president of the university’s executive board, the mayor of Amsterdam, the police chief and parliamentarian Jasper van Dijk

Education Minister Jet Bussemaker met a delegation of students to discuss the protests. Bussemaker said in a television interview that she was against the trend of “rendement [efficiency and production] thinking” in higher education.

Attracting broad attention

Professor Hans de Wit of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences told University World News that it was interesting how a still relatively small but gradually expanding protest by students was attracting broad attention in politics and the media.

“This cannot be explained only by the reference to the student protest movement and occupation of the Maagdenhuis [Senate House] in 1969,” De Wit said.

“It is a manifestation of a broad discontent with the focus on rendement thinking in Dutch higher education and the lack of democracy since 1997 with the abolition of student participation on university boards, and with the boards and deans being appointed by external supervisors. In this it reflects the increasing discontent in Dutch society with politics and privatisation, which also explains the broad attention to the protests.”

Meanwhile, the government has backed down on some of its proposed changes and postponed others until 2018, while the University of Amsterdam has announced that it will allow one student representative to join the university’s executive board.

University World News

Rise of the income contingent loan

Geoff Maslen 06 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

A little more than 25 years ago, an Australian economist called Bruce Chapman devised a brilliant scheme that allowed the federal government to impose tuition fees on the nation’s university students without them having to pay a cent upfront. Now that scheme is being adopted by countries around the globe. A little more than 25 years ago, an Australian economist called Bruce Chapman devised a brilliant scheme that allowed the federal government to impose tuition fees on the nation’s university students without them having to pay a cent upfront.

What became known around the world as the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, or HECS, now called an Income Contingent Loan programme, took some of the heat out of an increasingly angry debate over making students pay for their degrees. Up until that time, the cost of going to university in Australia was minimal.

The fact that students could defer paying tuition fees until they graduated, and then only if their annual income reached a certain level, silenced the critics who had argued fees would deter the most disadvantaged students and lead even those better off into eventual penury.

Today, as Professor Chapman points out in a feature in this edition of University World News, at least eight countries are using variations of income contingent loans to make higher education more accessible to the young and old. Even the US Congress is considering a bill to introduce an income contingent loan scheme there.

Chapman goes further: he says such loan systems could be adopted in other fields, ranging from recompensing poor countries for skilled migrant emigration and legal aid for civil disputes, to a profit-contingent loan arrangement for R&D for small and medium enterprises, or covering the payment of low-level criminal fines, or out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

Plans by the Netherlands government to adopt a similar system to cover university fees, however, have generated widespread student and academic protests – as University World News correspondent Jan Petter Myklebust reports in a News article in this edition.

There is one catch to a deferred repayment system, however: the amount that current and former Australian students owe the government is nearing A$30 billion (US$24 billion) and it seems likely that 20% of that huge sum will never be repaid. That is because many graduates will never reach the income threshold at which a tax surcharge begins to apply – currently around A$53,000 a year – others will die while yet others may leave Australia and never return.

Chapman back in the news

Now Chapman is back in the news with a suggestion that could help the deeply unpopular conservative government of Tony Abbott break a deadlock in the Australian Senate preventing the introduction of a deregulated fee system for universities.

A majority of senators have refused to pass a bill that would give vice-chancellors the freedom to fix their own fees, which are currently set by the government.

Deregulation as proposed by the government has led to fears that the top eight research-intensive universities could impose charges far above those of lesser institutions. They, in turn, would be forced to offer cheaper tuition to attract students and this could eventually end up costing them money and even send some into bankruptcy.

Under the Chapman proposal, universities could still set their own fees but they would face a “levy” if they raised the charge above a fixed sum. That is, their government grants would be cut by the amount they overcharged students.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the bill, Chapman notes that after HECS was introduced in Australia in 1989, fees charged by universities increased from effectively zero to around A$3,000 (US$2,350) a year in 2015, yet there was no impact on student demand and enrolments actually increased after HECS was instituted.

But he says that when New Zealand introduced its version of HECS in 1991, universities were allowed to set whatever prices they wanted. A later government was then forced to impose price caps after eight years because the charges had increased by at least 300% for arts, and much more in other fields.

Likewise, when the UK government allowed price caps to increase from £3,000 a year per full-time student to £9,000 a year in 2011, 95% of the universities had raised their tuition charges to the highest level.

“My view is that there is no clear economic justification for public sector universities to be allowed the use of a government instrument such as HECS to raise substantial revenue, in a situation in which this can lead to unjustifiably high fees,” Chapman says in the submission.

“An informed guess is that if Australian universities were to charge the sort of prices that I believe many of them could under the planned fee deregulation, the revenues received would in many cases far exceed the costs of teaching.”

Instead, under the new levy proposal, universities would still set their own fees but if the price imposed exceeded a government-set figure, there would be a reduction in the overall government grant to the institution. And, to ensure the control over price-fixing worked, the cut in grants would become increasingly more severe the higher the charge imposed.

“It is essentially a conditional market-based reform, very similar to proposals... provided to the UK government on fee deregulation in 2010,” Chapman says.

“Importantly, the sort of policy approach suggested would retain the benefits that deregulation seeks to achieve: the ability of our higher education institutions to offer quality services for students in a differentiated higher education system, and one in which institutions can pursue their own strategies to attract and retain students.”

He then concludes: “Critically, though, policies such as this scheme, if designed well, have a real potential to limit price rises to socially reasonable and fair levels.”

The National Tertiary Education Union, however, disputes Chapman’s claims about the effectiveness of a levy. In a submission to a Senate inquiry, the union says the proposed ‘tax on fee increases’ will not only fail to achieve its stated objective of taking the heat out of excessive fee increases, but that it will add unnecessary complexity to the funding system, “making it ripe for manipulation and gaming”.

University World News

Still at a Disadvantage

By Jake New, March 6

Throwing another wrench into the belief that higher education is the great equalizer, a new paper suggests that African-American graduates from elite institutions do only as well in getting jobs as white candidates from less-selective institutions.

The study, published in the journal Social Forces, shows that while a degree from an elite university improves all applicants’ chances at finding a well-paid job, the ease with which those jobs are obtained is not equal for black and white students even when they both graduate from an institution such as Harvard University. A white candidate with a degree from a highly selective university, the paper suggests, receives an employer response for every six résumés he or she submits. A black candidate receives a response for every eight.

White candidates with degrees from less-selective universities can expect to get a response every 9 résumés, while equally qualified black candidates need to submit 15.

“Most people would expect that if you could overcome social disadvantages and make it to Harvard against all odds, you’d be pretty set no matter what, but this experiment finds that there are still gaps,” said S. Michael Gaddis, the author of the paper and the Robert Wood Foundation Scholar in Health Policy at the University of Michigan. “Once you get out, you still have to deal with other human beings who have preconceived notions and misguided stereotypes about why you were able to go to this college.”

The paper is based on the results of an experiment Gaddis conducted in which he created more than 1,000 fake job applicants and applied to jobs online. The fictional candidates graduated from either highly selective institutions (Harvard University, Stanford University and Duke University) or less selective state universities (the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of California at Riverside and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). They all had similarly high grade point averages.

Gaddis gave the candidates names that were likely to signal to potential employers what their races were -- black male applicants were named Jalen, Lamar and DaQuan; black female applicants were named Nia, Ebony and Shanice; white male applicants were named Caleb, Charlie and Ronny; and white female applicants were named Aubrey, Erica and Lesly.

White job applicants with a degree from an elite university had the highest response rate at 18 percent. Black candidates with a degree from an elite university had a response rate of 13 percent, with white candidates holding a degree from a less-selective university following closely at nearly 12 percent. Black applicants with a degree from a less-selective institution had a response rate of less than 7 percent.

Black graduates at elite colleges not only had a response rate similar to that of white graduates from less-selective institutions, but the employers who responded to black applicants were often offering jobs with less prestige and with salaries that trailed those of white candidates by an average of $3,000. “Education apparently has its limits, because even a Harvard degree cannot make DaQuan as enticing as Charlie to employers,” Gaddis wrote.

While the experiment could not measure the odds of applicants landing a job after getting an initial response, Gaddis said, gaps this large at just the first step of the process demonstrate that “a bachelor's degree, even one from an elite institution, cannot fully counteract the importance of race in the labor market.” How welcoming a company is to diverse applicants once they meet and interview them means little if they can’t even get in the front door.

“It’s quite possible that these differences are not suggesting that employers are going about trying not to hire black applicants, but there is something going on this lower level,” Gaddis said. “I hope that maybe this research will make people stop and think about what processes we are using when hiring.”