Grant Extends UMass Work in Afghanistan

A new $23 million grant from USAID  will allow the University of Massachusetts, UMass, to extend and expand its work in Afghanistan. The grant is part of a five-year, $92 million project designed to strengthen higher education in Afghanistan by way of a consortium headed by Family Health International, a group that includes Purdue University, the UMass College of Education, the Afghan Holding Group and Altai Consulting. “We will continue to build on the foundations with the Ministry of Higher Education [of Afghanistan],” said David R. Evans, director of the UMass College of Education’s Center for International Education.

School in Afghanistan

Evans said that UMass will be able to provide training for students to meet the demands of a growing and changing economy. “We will be creating associate degrees and revitalizing some new bachelors degrees and new masters,” he said. Joseph B. Berger, the College of Education’s associate dean for research and engagement added “We’re very dedicated to improving higher education in Afghanistan. This is a way to support what has become a mission for us.”

The grant comes at a critical time for higher education in Afghanistan, which has recently faced increasing violence. Women’s rights in Afghanistan, including access to higher education, where only 22 per cent of the faculty in universities and only 42 per cent of the student body are female, also remain a divisive and unresolved issue. As American and other western forces withdraw from the region, issues of access to and quality of education have drawn increased focus. It remains to be seen whether the continued involvement of western institutions will make a discernable difference in Afghani educational practices.

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Open Access to Books for Arabic Science Education

Arabic Books

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced, as one of her last acts in office, a new project that may change the way Arabic speaking teachers and students access information.

The Open Book Project (OBP) was launched last month during a ceremony held at the State Department, where representatives of arabic countries, such as Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria, were present.

The project, which is a result of a joint effort between the US State Department and the Arab League Education, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO), aims “to expand access to free quality open education materials in Arabic with a focus on science and technology.” Several High Education American Institutions are working to translate american textbooks into arabic. Those will then be available through the OBP website, so that anyone can “read, download and print these materials for free or adapt a copy that meets the local needs of their classrooms or education systems.” The project is also intended to help Arab professors and intellectuals create their own open courses.

Through this project, Clinton hopes to “build friendships and partnerships, and deliver the benefits of open education to more people and more places,” and do away with “lower economic, geographical, and even gender based barriers to learning”.



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South Africa Creates Career-Education Program to Give Students Career and Higher Ed Direction

Star for Life student

A new program created by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the Department of Higher Education and Training is encouraging students to make early decisions on careers, as well as to apply early to higher education institutions. Known as the Apply Now Campaign, the program aims to provide career advice for all secondary school students in public schools.

The program began when the government realized that most students are not given proper career and education advice, leading to late college applications and missed opportunities. With the Apply Now Campaign, students will not only be given such advice by campaign members but also from their own respected teachers and guidance counsellors.

“It is important for you to know before you leave school what study options are available for you so that you can make correct career decisions,” said the Higher Education Deputy Minister.

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South African Universities Linked to High Speed Internet; Herald New Information Sharing Age

On July 17, high speed internet was linked from Zambia to South Africa via a cable that passes through Zimbabwe. The internet will connect universities within the Zambia Research and Education Network to those within South Africa’s Tertiary Education Network. The new technology will allow researchers to share large amounts of data quickly and with a global audience.

As reported by, the medical research community will greatly benefit from the new connection. They can now share high definition images and work on them collaboratively with academics around the globe. The new link between the universities is the first of what will become a regional southern African network.

The high-speed connection is a four-year-long project with AfricaConnect and a result of a European Union contribution of around US $21 million. The remaining 20% of the project was funded by groups like the Association of African Universities, among many others. The contract for the work was agreed upon in May 2011 in Botswana. This connection is formed through a different infrastructure than commercial internet, and its creation signals a change in connectivity in the whole region, heralding faster connections all over.

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University to Research Invasive Water Hyacinth in Zimbabwe

Common Water Hyacinth

In Zimbabwe, an invasive species of water hyacinthis devastating the local water supply, local biodiversity, and local marine life. The Chinhoyi University of Technology is planning to research the water hyacinth in an attempt to mitigate the infestation. As reported by The Herald, Vice-Chancellor Professor David Simbi said that “fighting the hyacinth deserve[s] national support.” The University will attempt to find other uses for the plant and to research the factors that propel its growth the most. The majority of the funding for the research will come out of the University’s 2013 budget.

The weed flourishes in polluted and sewage-ridden water and is especially dense around cities or towns with such runoff. It can be found in most lakes, rivers, and dams in Zimbabwe, and the species could potentially ruin the water supply.

The weed creates a huge problem for marine life, as it covers vast areas of water and therefore removes any direct sunlight from the water below, throttling other marine plant species. It also removes oxygen from the water, creating a death trap for fish. In the right conditions, the weed can double its population in two weeks and cover extremely large areas with its thick foliage. The government would need US $50 million annually to completely manage the water hyacinth but has been unable to fund the endeavor.

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Ghanaian Nursing School Fees Increase

Korle Bu Teaching HospitalThe Ghana Nurse and Midwife Trainees Association (GNMTA) is currently in disapproval of an increase in nursing school fees announced by the Ministry of Health. They have contacted the Ministry of Health with an ultimatum stating that the stakeholders must meet with them to negotiate and discuss the fee changes.

The fees that have increased are in the areas of food, library use, computer maintenance, practical assessment, educational visits, exams, and utilities, among others. The fees have become so exorbitant that some students have given up on continuing school. GNMTA members have voiced their thoughts that some of the services provided that are rising in cost don’t need to be provided by the schools in the first place, like food.

Another area of concern for GNMTA members is “repetitive levying,” which is when schools charge each semester for educational visits that only happen once in a prospective nurse’s career. GNMTA members also claim some schools charge for computer labs that they don’t have or have never given students any access to. As a result, students pay for something they will never benefit from. School libraries are also worrying to GNMTA members: many libraries close at 6:00 pm, and classes get out at 5:00 pm. Most libraries aren’t open on weekends and don’t have relevant or current material for students in any case.

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What’s the Secret to Finnish Schools?

The world’s educators will be watching the upcoming 2012 OECD Programme for International Study Assessment (PISA) results, and many Western countries will have their eyes on Finland. For a country that prides itself on prioritizing equity over competition, promoting ample outdoor play between classes, and eschewing standardized testing — Finland has surprised many industrialized countries by skyrocketing to the top of global education rankings over the last decade.
With only about 5.5 million total population, Finland ranked third overall  behind huge STEM education powerhouses Shanghai-China and Korea, known for their grueling school days, high-pressure standardized testing, and competitiveness-boosting after-hours tutoring sessions. In fact, Finland was the only non-Asian country among the top five scorers, surprising the world — not least of all, Finland, a country where there are no rankings, competition, or comparisons between students, schools, teachers, or regions.

In the 2009 PISA, Finland came in second in science, third in reading, and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. So what’s their secret? Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility, has been in such high demand to visit inquiring nations that he has written a book: Finnish Lessons.

Some Finland education facts:

  • All students in Finland receive a free education from when they start at seven years of age until they complete their university studies.
  • The Finnish believe there is no reason to rush a child into school before the age of seven, pre-school for all 5-year-olds is free and play-based, and women have three years of maternity leave.
  • There are no private schools or universities in Finland.
  • 93% of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools — 17.5 percentage points higher than the U.S., and 66% go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union.
  • Though Finland is still considered relatively homogenous, at least some elementary-level  schools report that more than half of their students are recent immigrants from countries like Somalia, Bangladesh, and Iraq.
  • In 1979, education reformers required that all teachers earn a fifth-year master’s degree from a state university, at state expense. All teachers are chosen from the top 10% pool of graduate students. Teachers in Finland have unprecedented autonomy, can form instructional partnerships freely, and are revered at the same level as doctors and lawyers.

And, with recent news that President Barack Obama is planning to launch a national STEM “Master-teacher corps,” the U.S. may very well be taking a few notes from the lesson book of Finnish education.

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New Study Abroad Program Aims to Give Russia a Boost in the Global Market

Moscow University

Moscow State University, Russia

Set to launch later this year, the Russian government’s newest higher ed idea is Global Education, a program that will sponsor 3,000 graduates to study abroad over the next three years in the “high priority” fields of social services, high technology, state and municipal government, and higher education management. In return, the students promise to work at home for three years after completing their studies. The idea is to invest in the future: these students will bring back from abroad new ideas for development and modernization, better equipping Russia to compete in the global market.

According to Alexander Rusinov, who will help implement the program, “The only effective way to attract a big number of highly qualified specialists to Russia in the next three years is to finance their studies.”

But the Global Education program has skeptics who fear corruption in the program and a lack of return on this investment, which sends money out of the country.

For more information, please click here.

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Rwanda’s Increase in Graduates and Universities Impacts Job Market

National University of RwandaIn Rwanda, there has been a surge in the number of graduates and institutions of higher education. In 1995, there were two universities, one public and one private, and in 2000 only 741 students total graduated from those universities. Compare this to today’s situation: more than 30 institutions of higher education, and 58,000 new graduates with bachelor’s degrees or diplomas earned over the past 12 years. Those enrolled in higher education institutes this year total 73,000.

As the number of graduates has risen, employers focus on what they can gain from the situation. Most want students who are completely ready to jump into the workforce and need little training, but they struggle to find suitable candidates. Many graduates aren’t specialized in skills or knowledge, but instead have honed their general knowledge at university. These students will need training and a significant amount of time until the investment in hiring them pays off for employers. Graduates who only speak French face potential problems in the current employment market. Most employers in Rwanda want someone who can speak French and English fluently, and universities in Rwanda only recently started emphasizing the language.

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Higher Education Commission in Pakistan Suffers Massive Budget Cuts

punjab uni.

University of the Punjab in Lahore

In Pakistan, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has received a 2012 – 2013 budget that was ten billion rupees less than they asked for. HEC has had a hard year fiscally, and their budgeting situation is only looking worse.

Last year, HEC administration funds were not released in amounts up to 4.6 billion rupees, and 6.7 billion rupees for research were also withheld. As a result, students, professors and researchers protested by refusing to hold or attend classes, wearing black armbands, and demonstrating. Two million rupees were released on July 1st because of the pressure, but HEC is still unable to pay its own employees their salaries as a result of the remaining 2.6 billion rupees needed.

HEC is struggling to gain a foothold because of a 2010 constitutional amendment that stated it was the provinces’ responsibility to handle education. Unfortunately, if responsibility for higher education was on a provincial basis, it would probably bring down the standards of education widely. The issue was strongly protested in April 2011, and ultimately the amendment was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court. However, last month, the government announced that HEC would be a part of the Ministry of Professional and Technical Education, once again signaling its demise and causing many academics to fear for HEC’s autonomy.

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