Can a Modern University Build Bridges to Historically Isolated North Korea?

North Korea — Pyongyang

The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) is the first university in North Korea founded and run by foreigners, mainly from the United States, China, and South Korea, offering a Western Education. Inaugurated in 2010, PUST has selected young men from North Korea’s most prominent and influential families “to equip them with the skills to help modernise the impoverished country and engage with the international community.” In a country that has a long history of isolation and animosity toward the West, and the U.S. in particular, the university is a sign of hope for a North Korea that is more engaged in the global community. On the other hand, there are concerns that the university promotes unconditional support for a notoriously oppressive regime guilty of numerous human rights violations.

Similar to any other educational institution in North Korea, patriotism is a hallmark of PUST. Every morning, the students chant, “Our supreme commander Kim Jong-un, we will defend him with our lives.” Every classroom is also decorated with the photos of North Korea’s dictators, whom students are taught to blindly revere.

Dr. James Chin-Kyung Kim, the founder and president, is a Korean-American who raised most of the 20 million euros needed to establish the university – mostly from Christian charities. He was commissioned to do so by the current regime in North Korea. Many of the faculty are from the West, and are sponsored by Christian charities. In a country where internet and media are heavily monitored and students have never heard even of Michael Jackson, interacting with foreigners is a novelty. Some students expressed apprehension in the beginning, “but…now believe American people are different from the US,” and are eager to learn about other cultures and languages.

As a unique and potentially revolutionary institution in North Korea, PUST is a symbol of hope of integration and progress. As Greg Scarlatoiu from Committee for Human Rights in North Korea stated, however, “the key question is whether the university is trying those young Koreans most likely to change the country in a positive way, or those most likely to perpetuate the current regime.”

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10 Years After Invasion, Iraq’s Education Still Suffering

10 years after the destructive US invasion, Iraq’s Education infrastructure has yet to recover. A recent UNESCO report reveals that a mere nine per cent of Iraqi adults have finished secondary school. The report lists extensive challenges still facing the country’s educational system: low enrollment, a lack of usable facilities, and a growing illiteracy rate.

iraqIraq’s education infrastructure was badly damaged during the years of the US occupation. Between 2003 and 2008, Iraq saw 31,598 attacks against educational institutions, and an estimated 259 academics assassinated, according to the Ministry of Education. Between 2005 and 2007, over four hundred university students were killed, as well as a reported 340 professors. Even more academics were forced to flee the country during and after the invasion. Primary School enrollments have yet to reach their pre-war levels.

The report’s proposed solutions include a new literacy initiative, public sector modernization, and a new focus on vocational schools and training to meet the needs of Iraq’s developing economy.

The need to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure comes at a critical time for the country. Reports of corruption are widespread. The United States alone has given over $60 billion in aid to Iraq, and there are claims that some $8 billion has gone to waste. The World Bank also threatened to cut off funding to Iraq for failure to put aid dollars to use.

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University of Liberia Suspends All Classes

University of Liberia - Chemistry LabThe University of Liberia, the nation’s most prestigious institute of higher learning, has cancelled all classes and suspended all campus activities until further notice.

Trouble began brewing in mid-November when the university announced that a certain scholarship would be discontinued due to late registrations. Then, in a later press conference, faculty members called for Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) & Provost, Madam Wade Elliot Brownell, to resign. According to ULFA, the academic standards of the institution had been in sharp decline since Brownell’s tenure.

Two days after the announcement, students began protesting in the streets. Some held up a casket with Madam Brownell’s effigy. Police forces entered the protest to reinstate order.

Alexander Williams, spokesperson for concern student movement of the University of Liberia, said of the mock funeral, “Dr. Brownell was given one intellectual and revolutionary shot by the students that have led to her demise. Her body will be taken far away from the main campus because she cannot be buried on the University of Liberia Campus, because it will cause chaos because even her ghost will not be welcomed here.”

The chaos has left 1,000 expected graduates clueless as to the certainty of attaining their promised degrees.

The University has instructed all students are personnel to stay away from the campus premises, to allow for a full investigation of the recent riots. Some point to the recent tumult as unprecedented and perhaps the most serious spurt of violence in the last five years.

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Rural University in Bolivia Reaches Out to Indigenous Youth

YanacachiIn Bolivia, one of the major challenges facing youth is access to higher education. As young people in rural, indigenous communities in particular often face difficulties in attending university, the Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP) steps in to fill the gap and provide much-needed degree programs to communities in the Andes.

The UAC-CP was founded in 1993 in the rural Andean community of Carmen Pampa. The community’s pervasive poverty led founder Sister Damon Nolan and community leaders to establish the university in order to bring higher education and more career opportunities to the region.

Young people in indigenous communities like Carmen Pampa are often unable to attend university in large cities like Bolivia’s capital, La Paz. Tuition and housing are prohibitively expensive, and indigenous youth are often unwilling or unable to leave their traditional communities. In addition, when they return home graduates often have difficulty applying their degrees within those communities to help them prosper.

The UAC-CP provides a unique solution for Carmen Pampa and surrounding towns in the Andes. The location means that students can remain much closer to their families and stay involved in community  life.

The University also offers a unique set of degrees, including veterinary/animal science, agronomy, and rural tourism. Programs incorporate community service outreach and research methods, and subjects like peace studies and gender equality are also part of the curriculum.

As a result, graduates are able to use their degrees to help raise themselves and their families out of poverty. According to the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD), agronomy graduates take their knowledge back to their family farms, and “combine conventional science with contextual, indigenous knowledge to improve production as well as economic, social, and environmental conditions within their communities.”

More than 400 UAC-CP graduates have returned to contribute to Carmen Pampa, working as teachers, agricultural researchers, reforestation technicians, and microfinance specialists. Per INESAD, the overall economic development of the region is improving, and the UAC-CP is fulfilling its mission to give rural, indigenous youth equal access to higher education and help break the cycle of poverty.

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College Fair in Zimbabwe Encourages Students to Join International Institutions

Drilling of a hole by students

Last week in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, eighteen representatives from universities in the US, Canada, and Spain set up a college fair to encourage students to apply to international institutions. The representatives claimed that internationally educated Zimbabweans were essential to developing the country. By studying abroad, students could return to their country to bring meaningful change to the region. Over 2,500 Zimbabweans are currently enrolled as students in US universities.

US ambassador Bruce Wharton said, “Fundamentally, we view education as an absolutely essential part of Zimbabwe’s development and progress, and we will support it in any way we can.” He later said, “If you look around even in Zimbabwe’s cabinet, business and social circles you will see that there are people who have done their PHDs with US institutions.”

The representatives are expected to tour several African countries to recruit students. The trip will include visits to Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Ghana. The journey is sponsored by the Council of International Schools (CIS).

Canadian ambassador Lisa Stadelbauer stressed that her country would offer scholarships and funds to bright Zimbabwean students, adding, “Zimbabweans are known as hardworking people and our universities are very fond of students from this country. We are committed to helping these children as well as other Zimbabweans as we have done in the past.”

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Rift Widens in Nigerian Lecturer Strike

kids @ staff schoolTensions continue to rise as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Nigerian federal government make no progress in negotiations. The union insists that the government honor its commitment to an agreement established in 2009. However, on Wednesday, Senate president David Mark called negotiators of the disputed 2009 agreement ignorant.

Mark described the writers of the past agreement as “people who do not know their right from their left and, in the process, put the federal government into the problem it is facing today, because when the agreements were read out I thought they were mere proposals, only for Chukwumereje to confirm that they signed the largely un-implementable agreements characterized by payment of all manner of allowances.”

The ASUU went on strike on December 4 2011. The strike was temporarily lifted in February 2012 to allow negotitations. These talks disintegrated leading to the current strike, which has been in process since June 2013.

Dr. Nasir Fagge, President of the union, points to nine stipulations in the agreement, including general funding minimums, pay increases, transfer of land to universities, and research funds. Of the nine conditions, only two have been satisfactorily met.

The monetary value of the union’s demands amount to N$1.5 trillion (approximately US$9.5 billion) to be dispensed in three years. This does not include allotments for injury and overtime pay demanded by the strikers.

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Pakistan’s Universities Fail to Comply with Sexual Harassment Policies

eLearning workshop, Aga Khan UniversityAccording to Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission (HEC), 80% of the country’s universities have failed to comply with regulations established to prevent sexual harassment of students. Only 35 of the country’s 145 universities have implemented the policies and procedures issued in the 2011 Policy Guidelines against Sexual Harassment in Institutions of Higher Learning. Until they have done so, the HEC announced that all non-compliant universities will receive no further government funding and assistance.

Most cases of harassment in Pakistan’s universities involve male lecturers coercing female students into sex in exchange for grades.

According to former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, “harassment is one of the biggest hurdles faced by working women, preventing many who want to work to get themselves and their families out of poverty.”

In 2010, Pakistan’s government passed the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, protecting women’s rights to equality and a workplace free of harassment. As stated in this bill, all employers must implement the Code of Conduct in the workplace and also develop a mechanism for handling complaints and ensuring a safe work environment.  The Policy Guidelines issued by the HEC in 2011 extend these protections to university students as well as staff.

Within Pakistan, conditions make it difficult for cases of harassment to be adequately handled on university campuses. To begin with, women fear coming forward to report incidents due to the threat of social stigmatization. With the national media publicizing reported cases of harassment, both the involved teachers and students face extensive public scrutiny. With their reputation under attack, these students and teachers often choose to leave their university before authorities have fully investigated their claims. Furthermore, many cases conclude with the harassers receiving no punishment or disciplinary action for their inappropriate behavior.

Sexual harassment within an educational setting continues to be a serious problem for many developing countries like Pakistan. As a consequence of these abuses, many girls and women withdraw from school rather than face the risk of harassment, while others refrain from participating fully in their classes in order to avoid unwanted male attention. This threat of harassment and abuse is ever present for many girls and women around the world, preventing them from receiving equal access to education.

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India’s President Petitions to Improve Higher Education

Pranab Mukherjee - India Economic Summit 2009India’s President Pranab Mukherjee expressed his disappointment over the current state of India’s academic institutions during the 23rd annual convocation of Pondicherry University. He regretted the shortage of high quality academic institutions which left India off the list of the world’s top 200 university ranking.

According to Mukherjee, India’s higher education institutions were the best in the world for 1,800 years–from the 6th century BC to the 12th century AD. He said “I don’t find any reason why India cannot go back to dominating the higher education scene. We have talent, capacity and dedicated teachers who can inspire and who can rekindle the interests in the minds of students. All these elements have to be properly coordinated and integrated to have a high ranking and occupy our rightful place in academic excellence.”

Emphasizing the importance of adapting with worldwide development, Mukherjee said India’s 12th Five Year Plan for economic growth will focus on expanding and funding the education sector. India’s Right to Education Act of 2009, which gives free compulsory education to all children ages 6-14, was also marked as a success for the country, but now the efforts must be focused on “imparting the right education.”

According to Mukherjee, “education has to create responsible, innovative, analytical and compassionate citizens. It has to respond positively to the change in society” and that a university should be a “temple of learning, humanism, tolerance and balanced reasoning.”

There are currently 659 higher educational institutions and 33,000 colleges in India. 18 million students are enrolled in higher education and is expected to reach 29 million by the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan.

The President continued to emphasize that achieving higher standards of teaching and research will expand intellectual possibilities and advance developing technologies. These innovations should in turn support the quality of life in the country’s poorest areas.

Mukherjee concluded by stressing to the university audience “as students, you have had the benefit of progressive education system. As you now enter a stage where you can give back to the society, make your contributions and make it count. India is an aspiring nation. We can reach the zenith but it requires the sacrifices of all. It is your duty to take our country forward. Do all that is necessary to realize our country’s goal.”

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Overcrowded University System Holds Back Mexican Youth

BibliotecaAfter a summer of bad publicity about education reform protests and textbook gaffes, another problem looms on the horizon for Mexico’s education system. Mexico’s universities are becoming increasingly overcrowded, and those excluded from attending are demanding their right to higher education.

Victor Mendez, 19, is one of the hundreds of thousands of high school graduates turned away from Mexico’s public universities this summer. The schools are so overcrowded that only those applicants with the very highest grades and exam scores are accepted. Upon receiving a rejection notice, young people often have nowhere to turn for higher education: private universities are too expensive for most Mexican families.

Victor, like many others denied admission, is from a working class family in a poor town outside of Mexico City. He is the first in his family to have the opportunity to pursue college, but now his ambitions are frustrated.

“It’s very important for me to be able to get ahead, for the country to grow socially and economically,” he says. “But they exclude you more every time.”

Mexico ranks last in the percentage of students seeking bachelor’s degrees among all countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Only 12% of Mexican students in their 20s are in school, less than half of the average of OECD nations.

The situation is dire for many Mexican young people. A population boom has flooded the job market with workers, and without a university degree, a dead-end job paying up to $100 a week is often the only option available.

A bachelor’s degree would nearly guarantee them a much better job, and the chance to own a home and car.

After weeks of education protests this summer, officials have opened 1,000 more slots at the three main public universities in Mexico City. Victor Mendez is one of the students fighting for an opening.

“You have to struggle,” he affirms. “To get a job you need an advantage.”

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Nigeria Promises Free Education to All

Supporting healthy, educated youth in NigeriaNiger State governor Dr Babangida Aliyu stated that Nigeria’s wealth of human and natural resources can afford free primary and secondary education with enough to subsidize tertiary education. The promise was made during the 3rd African Regional Centre of Expertise Meeting, where the country’s delegates and school principals met to discuss the most pressing issues of the country.

Aliyu placed education as a top priority and agreed to increase his administration’s investments in the education sector. Aliyu further emphasized that elected and public appointed officials must “reduce stealing” and eliminate corruption to provide free education for all in Nigeria. United States Consul General Jeffery Hawkins stated “corruption drains the federal treasury of funds that could do wonders in expanding and improving the education provided to millions of Nigerian children, which in turn would enhance Nigeria’s economic future.”

Aliyu also addressed that educated people are easier to govern than those uneducated and will avoid unprecedented problems for the future of the country.

Out of 30 million Nigerian children, less than half are currently in school and less than one-third will continue to senior secondary school.

According to Aliyu, “our policy initiative on free and compulsory basic education, abolition of school fees, provision of learning and teaching materials, and payment of WAEC or NECO examination fees as well as school infrastructural development among others, remain fully on course and shall continue to receive government support.”

Aliyu also urged university professors to support implementation for the new policies and research sustainable educational development, and said “people must depend on universities for knowledge. The days of universities cocooning themselves is over.” 

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