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Overseas briefing

China

Pussy gore galore: strays?

An elite Chinese university has denied allegations that it used stray cats collected from the streets for medical experiments. To rebut the accusation, officials at Peking University are reported to have produced invoices proving that the cats were bought from government-approved breeding farms. However, the Beijing News newspaper, which broke the story, reported that the university's Health Science Centre had refused to identify the breeding facility involved. It claimed that the school was "conducting gruesome experiments on stray cats bought from dealers who round up feral felines". Zhao Xu, head of the Cat Aficionado Association in Beijing, said: "If it is verified, then cat lovers such as me would be really shocked and angry."

Australia

'Recipe for mediocrity'

Attempts to make universities all things to all people are a "recipe for mediocrity", the head of a leading Australian university has warned. Fred Hilmer, vice-chancellor of the University of New South Wales, made the comments about the government's insistence that universities meet social equity and trade and industry goals in addition to teaching and research. He blamed a lack of focus from the government for dragging the sector down. "There is no minister for higher education and no single minister responsible for setting priorities for the sector," he said. "We are trying to meet all these objectives, but we are not meeting any of them with the degree of excellence a competitive global education environment requires."

India

Accreditation where it's due

Universities in India will be required to win accreditation from independent agencies if a bill introduced into Parliament becomes law. The national accreditation regulatory authority for higher educational institutions bill will seek to establish a national system for evaluating the quality of courses, The Times of India newspaper reported. Currently, course-based accreditation, which is carried out by the National Board of Accreditation, is required for technical programmes only. Voluntary accreditation is also available from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, but only a third of the country's 420-odd universities participate, the newspaper said. Welcoming the bill, S.P. Thyagarajan, former vice-chancellor of the University of Madras, said: "We need a national-level standard methodology ... as a reliable parameter of quality."

Canada

No dismissal after graphic display

Student protesters who defied university rules by exhibiting graphic images of aborted fetuses on campus have been spared expulsion. Eight students at the University of Calgary who are members of a campus anti-abortion group were found guilty of non-academic misconduct, the Calgary Herald newspaper reported. They were issued with a formal warning, and told that if they continue to breach regulations by displaying the images they will face tougher sanctions. In a statement, the students say they will challenge the findings of the university's disciplinary panel. "We will also not cease exercising our rights to free speech just because they are threatening us," said Alanna Campbell, a member of the group. "I'd rather be expelled as a principled person than graduate a coward." The group added that the university had been inconsistent, pointing to the example of a Genocide Awareness Project in 2006-07 that displayed graphic images on campus without opposition.

Sri Lanka

International welcome mat

The Sri Lankan government may open up the country to foreign universities. S.B. Dissanayake, the minister for higher education, said large sums of money were being drained from the country each year as students left for universities overseas. To put a stop to this, he said it may be necessary to open negotiations with institutions abroad, with a view to their opening Sri Lankan campuses. The Colombo Page website reported that the minister expressed confidence that the move would win widespread support. However, student unions in Sri Lanka affiliated with the Marxist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna have been fiercely opposed to private higher education, it added.

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