March for Science
Image: Wikimedia / Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Global Student Stories: Kenyan government blocks new university campuses

In the latest instalment of student stories from around the globe, James Jankowski takes a look at loan freezes in Kenya, fake peer reviews in China, US scientific outreach and South African investment into postgraduate research.

Kenya: Ministers block the opening of new university campuses

The Kenyan government has banned the establishment of new “satellite campuses” by universities as well as freezing loans for all public universities, pending “thorough review.”

Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology Dr Fred Matiang’i made the announcement, commenting: “The action was motivayed by concerns over education quality … which had been compromised by the haphazard opening of satellite campuses that do not meet the standard requirements set by the Commission for University Education.”

The decision was also informed by a recent audit by the Commission for University Education (CUE), which revealed that most universities do “not adhere to the required regulations set by the Commission,” with some universities admitting students who did not meet the minimum requirements for admission.

Matiang’i further stated that “any university council proposal to open new campuses will require a thorough review by the Ministry of Education and CUE.”

The Kenyan Commission has also been tasked with reviewing campuses outside of Kenya, meaning that the Ministry of Education is currently in talks with its counterparts in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Javas Bigambo, a governance analyst and former lecturer, supported these recent reforms, and commenting: “We need to review universities’ top management and do appointments based on merit rather than on ethnic background.”

China: research ethics of China’s scientists under scrutiny

The research ethics of many of China’s scientists have come under scrutiny after a major international publisher retracted 107 medical research papers by Chinese authors.

This is the single largest number of retractions ever recorded and was reportedly due to “irregularities in the peer review process.”

Peter Butler, Editorial Director at Springer Nature for cell biology and biochemistry, was quoted by the official China Daily, stating: “The editors thought the articles were being sent out to genuine reviewers in the discipline …[but] following our investigation and communication with the real reviewers, they confirmed they did not conduct the peer reviews.”

Some of the Chinese authors were from the country’s top universities, including Peking University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and China Medical University.

Agencies providing fake peer reviews have reportedly boomed within China, leading to an investigation by the National Natural Science Foundation of China last year, which found a large number of third-party agencies.

China’s ministry of education only published its first rules on ‘precaution and treatment of academic misconduct in colleges and universities’ last year. The rules state that: “those guilty of academic misconduct may face a published notice of criticism, termination of research projects, recalling of awards and honorary titles, termination and other measures.”

United States: “March for Science” organisers pledge to build on recent momentum

Organisers of the global “March for Science” event have pledged this week to transform their volunteer work into a global outreach movement.

The march was staged in 600 cities across seven different continents, including: Washington, New York, Berlin, London and Paris.

Leaders of prominent science organisations behind the event commented: “The marches generated an unparalleled global voice to stand up for science, the role of evidence in policy-making, and the conditions science needs to thrive … our collective future is more hopeful with science – and at risk without it.”

The aim of the march was to “raise awareness of the importance of science, as well as highlight the risks posed by budget cuts to agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and the greater need for an evidence-based approach to global problems such as climate change.”

Marchers carried placards reading: “At the start of every disaster movie there’s a scientist being ignored,” and “Got the plague? Me neither. Thanks science!”

In a report by CBS News, Laurie Krug, an associate professor for molecular genetics and microbiology at Stony Brook University, who marched in New York, commented: “I think you’re going to see that scientists are going to be more active over the next few years.”

South Africa: Government aims to increase research and development spending by 2020

The South African government plans to increase the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on research and development to 1.5% by 2020.

This figure is more than double the amount spent currently by the South African government, but it is still well below the average spend of 2.4% for countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The announcement was made by Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, who based his proposals on the recent South African National Survey of Research and Experimental Development. The survey is used as a key indicator of the size, growth and composition of research and development expenditure, and the overall human capital involved.

This is the fourth consecutive year that gross expenditure on research and development has increased, after a decline between 2009 and 2011.

The survey also revealed that the most research and development undertaken is that of applied researched at 48.8%, which involves original investigations taken to acquire new knowledge that is directed towards a specific aim or objective.

The number of researchers in the system increased from 42,828 in 2012-13 to 48,479 in 2014-15. About 84% of the increase in research and development personnel was reported to be postgraduate students.

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