Compiled by David Myton

US federal prosecutors have charged Hollywood actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, along with almost 50 other people, over a $25m scheme to help wealthy Americans buy their children’s way into elite universities including Yale, Georgetown, Stanford and the University of Southern California. Two hundred FBI agents were involved in the investigation, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues”, which exposed how parents allegedly bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centres to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said. William ‘Rick’ Singer, 58, was charged by federal prosecutors in Boston with running the racketeering scheme through his Edge College & Career Network, which served a roster of clients including chief executives and Hollywood actors. Thirty-three parents, including Huffman and Loughlin, were charged, as well as 13 college sports coaches and associates of Singer’s business. Dozens, including Huffman, were arrested in what authorities called a “conspiracy nationwide in scope”. “These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for the district of Massachusetts, said in a press conference. “Based on the charges unsealed today, all of them knowingly conspired with Singer and others to … buy their children’s admission to elite schools through fraud.” Lelling said the parents included CEOs, successful securities and real estate traders, a fashion designer and the co-chairman of a global law firm. – Jamiles Lartey and agencies, The Guardian. Read more

Dozens of bids have been received to join the pilot of the European Universities Initiative, Tibor Navracsics, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, has confirmed.  He announced via Twitter that he was “proud” to have received 54 consortium applications for the European Universities pilot by the February 28 deadline. The initiative has been given extra impetus over the past 18 months since President Emmanuel Macron of France called for the creation by 2024 of 20 ‘European Universities’; and in December 2017 the Gothenburg summit of European leaders supported it, calling for the 20 ‘European Universities’ to consist of networks of universities across the European Union that would “enable students to obtain a degree by combining studies in several EU countries and contribute to the international competitiveness of universities”. The call for candidates for the pilot has proved very popular, with European Commission officials reporting one information day meeting in Brussels in December packed with 300 people while a thousand more followed the proceedings on line. – Jan Petter Myklebust, University World News. Read more

Arts graduates cost the taxpayer £35,000 each, a new analysis by England’s Institute for Fiscal Studies has found. Degrees in “creative arts” subjects – which includes Music, Drama, Fine Art and Design Studies – are the most costly to the taxpayer since so few alumni earn enough money to pay back their student loan in full.  Of the £9 billion that the government spends on higher education each year, more than £1 billion is on creative arts courses alone, where three-quarters of the total amount dished out in loans is picked up by the taxpayer. Economics degrees are the least costly to the public purse, with each one costing an average of £11,000 to the taxpayer, with just a quarter of the loans written off. The report found that the higher education reforms of 2011 have “shifted the allocation of spending from high-cost degrees to those with the lowest graduate earnings”. Laura van der Erve, one of the report’s authors, said the findings raise “serious doubts” over whether the current levels of Government subsidy “aligns with the degrees that are most beneficial to society”. – Camilla Turner, The Telegraph Education (UK) Read more

The Zimbabwe Government is actively reviewing degrees offered by State universities with a view to standardising qualifications and abolish “irrelevant” programmes that are ostensibly creating “idle” graduates who do not have innovative skills, it has been learnt. Authorities intend to remodel university curricula to improve the competitiveness of local tertiary qualifications. The Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (Zimche) has since been directed to audit all degrees at State universities. The reforms, which are part of recommendations from the Zimbabwe National Qualification Framework, are also meant to ensure that 80 per cent of core courses for similar degrees offered at all universities overlap. Higher Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira said the realignment was expected to be complete in time for the second semester (around August) this year. “What we are doing is we have silently radically reformed higher and tertiary education since last year, after our skills audit,” said Prof Murwira. – ZimEye. Read more

With the cost of college steadily rising in the US, and student debt continuing to overwhelm millions of borrowers, it would make sense if young adults questioned the value of a bachelor’s degree. But more than half of them still believe it’s worth the price tag. Among 18- to 34-year-olds, 59 per cent believe four-year schools are worth the cost, according to a new survey from American Public Media’s APM Research Lab and The Hechinger Report. While that’s about the same percentage for those of middle age who answered the same question (60 per cent of adults ranging from ages 35 to 54), it’s noteworthy that so many millennials and Generation Z adults share this belief.  They are the ones most burdened by student loans. “Cost is all about what you truly think the value of it is,” said Anthony Bernazani, a 34-year-old graduate of a community college and a four-year school, George Mason University, both in Virginia. Bernazani, a defence contractor, believes that because of the job opportunities, salary and intellectual gains that can come with a degree, “the value that you get out of it is worth the cost.” More than half of college students under age 30 took on debt to pay for their education, according to the Federal Reserve. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that 45 percent of families whose head of household is below age 35 have student debt. – Delece Smith-Barrow, The Hechinger Report. Read more


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