Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Exclusive: Oxford University may break with 700 years of tradition and open a foreign campus - after France offers Brexit sweetener

Oxford University might break with 700 years of tradition by establishing its first foreign campus in response to Brexit, The Telegraph can disclose.

French officials met senior staff at Oxford last week and revealed new proposals that they hope would guarantee future European Union funding for a "satellite" base in Paris.

Other universities, including Warwick, were approached with the idea to build a new campus in Paris in 2018.

It comes after France launched a charm offensive earlier this month to lure Britain's bankers across the Channel after Britain voted to leave the EU.

Oxford has been told that any campus opened in France could have French legal status and would continue to receive EU funding.

As part of the plans, British universities would “relocate” degree courses and study programmes and create joint degrees and research laboratories.

Should Oxford and other leading institutions sign-off on the proposals, construction of the new Parisian campus would begin in 2018.

A spokesman for Oxford said no decision had yet been taken, but added: "Oxford has been an international university throughout its history and it is determined to remain open to the world whatever the future political landscape looks like.”

Jean-Michel Blanquer, the former director-general of the French ministry for education, confirmed that efforts were under way to lure Britain’s best universities across the Channel.

Mr Blanquer, who is Dean of  Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC), said that plans for a new international campus were already underway at Universite Paris Seine - an association of ten universities in the French capital.

Mr Blanquer added that he and other leading French academics are currently discussing the plans with the French government.

Mr Blanquer said that he was in the early stages of consultation with the European Commission, and had already met with officials from  Oxford and the University of Warwick to discuss the proposals.

The Commission, which oversees European higher education funding projects such as the Horizon 2020 programme - worth more than £2bn in funding to UK universities - could guarantee the Oxbridge and others continued access to funding and research collaboration.

While the future status of British universities in Europe remains unclear, leading academics have warned MPs that Brexit has the potential to cause the “biggest disaster” for the higher education if European research funding is withdrawn.

Speaking at an Education Select Committee hearing last month, Professor Alastair Buchan, Oxford University’s recently appointed head of Brexit strategy, said that continued access to Europe was crucial to maintaining the university’s place in the “top league”.

"This a Manchester United problem isn't it?” he told MPs. “The idea that Manchester Utd would not recruit players and wouldn’t have fans and wouldn’t play abroad really means that we have got to do three things.

“We have got to be absolutely sure we are open; every student and every staff member that comes to Oxford is a benefit for this country because we recruit quality, people that play in the top league.”

Speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Blanquer said that he hoped to attract the “highest calibre universities” in order to “preserve the relations built with their partners in Europe”.

“It is for this reason that we have chosen to act very concretely in order to offer them the possibility to pursue their development alongside us,” he added.

“The idea is symbolic, to say after Brexit: ‘we want to build bridges and that academic life is not totally dependent on political problems’.

“We want to say to British universities: ‘it can be a win-win game for you’. To have high quality institutions from the UK working in our territory, interacting together in terms of research and collaboration.

“We are at the beginning of the process, so that by 2018, we are in a position to guarantee these things. The main idea is to get European funding through co-operation with the UK and other European institutions.

“Of course this comes down to political considerations, but we are confident that European institutions will be working towards this, to allow this kind of project.”

Francois Germinet, President of the University of Cergy-Pontoise, added that the project would represent an “extraordinary ground for experimentation” which would foster a new “relationship” between the UK and Europe.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said:“The UK is home to some of the world’s best universities and research institutions, and we intend to secure the best possible outcome for the UK’s research base as we exit the EU.

“We have already taken steps to provide assurances by committing to underwrite Horizon 2020 grants bid for prior to the UK’s departure from the EU and put science and research at the heart of our Industrial Strategy with an extra £2bn investment per year - and will seek agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.”


Outrage at Harvard: ‘Genderqueer’ Students ‘Excluded’ from Valentine’s Day Matchmaking Service

Controversy erupted at Harvard University this week after Datamatch, the university’s annual Valentine’s Day matchmaking service, featured “restrictive gender choices,” according to The Harvard Crimson. Students were “forced” to choose “male or female without offering options for genderqueer or gender non-conforming students.”

Created by the Harvard Computer Society, Datamatch allows students to complete an online survey and it will then “match” them with students who received compatible results. Despite being a campus tradition since 1994, the program sparked outrage this year among students who felt “Datamatch did not do enough to include people of non-binary genders,” Raynor J. Kuang ‘17 of the Datamatch development team said.

While students did have the option to provide “extra” gender information at the end of the survey, this apparently proved insufficient. “You can’t put a part of someone’s identity in parentheses and say that’s ‘extra’ information about them,” said Darius A. Johnson ’18.

Student groups took issue with the matchmaking service as well. Twenty-six members of Harvard’s Undergraduate Council, including its president and vice president, signed a letter voicing their discontent with Datamatch. Adam’s House representative and Undergraduate Council BGLTQ+ Caucus Chair Nicholas P. Whittaker ’19 presented a letter of his own.

The letter is a “statement of support with the gender non-conforming and gender queer community after Datamatch implicitly excluded them from the experience,” Whittaker said. “The idea of it being romantic does not necessitate the idea that it be stuck upon strict gender bearings.”

Harvard Computer Society co-President Javier Cuan-Martinez ’18 apologized, saying the he takes “full responsibility for the exclusion that we have created on campus.”


Australia: Academic rigour is a welcome change in new NSW curriculum

The new NSW senior school courses prove why it is best to give the states and territories control over Years 11 and 12 and not force them to adopt a national curriculum model, as we have for Foundation to Year 10.

While the devil is in the detail, the new NSW senior school courses in English, history, maths and science look to be an improvement on drafts released for public comment last year.

Compared with the other states and territories, it also appears these courses represent a more academically rigorous approach to the curriculum.

In history, the inclusion of topics such as the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Age of Imperialism and the Industrial Age are vital if students are to understand past events and movements that shaped Western civilisation.

Saying that English must include a mandatory course with “explicit reference to structure and grammar, spelling, vocabulary and punctuation”, while stating the obvious, is essential if students are to successfully communicate and this should also be welcomed.

One criticism of the draft science course released last year was that there was not enough emphasis on maths; the fact that the final syllabus design includes increased maths content is also welcome.

Emphasising critical thinking and not just “a recall of facts” — even though both are important — is also beneficial because by Years 11 and 12 students should be expected to master higher order, more abstract skills.

Where there is a slight misgiving is when the new maths syllabus says there will be an “increased focus on problem-solving, applied to real-world problems”.

Often what is most important in maths is mastering complex algorithms and procedures that might not have “real-world” application but are vital to the discipline.

As always, when designing curriculum, the real test will be what happens when it is delivered by teachers in schools and how well students are prepared for further study and a world of work.

Some of the best syllabuses, no matter how well designed, fail the classroom test and prove that what is intended does not always eventuate in practice.


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