5 June 2002

Copyright © 2002 World Expertise LLC – All rights reserved

A periodic electronic newsletter for engineering education leaders,

edited by Russel C. Jones, PhD., P.E.








International developments

1)      The University of Nouakchott, Mauritania’s sole institution of higher education, is trying to deliver high-quality education from North America via the Internet and videoconferencing. As reported by Daniel del Castro in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the university is in the first year of a 10-year plan that seeks to train a generation of Mauritanians with the scientific, technological and entrepreneurial skills to double its current $540 per year per capita income. The university, founded in 1981, now serves 8700 students – in the country of 2.5 million people. The new distance education program are being delivered through a branch of the African Virtual University. See

2)      There is a “culture of copying” in China – plagiarism among professors and cheating among students – according to an article in the Chronicle by Jiang Xueqin. This situation has been highlighted in recent weeks as a renowned professor at Peking University has been demoted, accused of plagiarizing the work of an American academic. China’s academic community is reportedly divided on the issue of what is appropriate. Peking has added a new clause to its academic handbook: “Anyone who plagiarizes a published or unpublished work or idea will be warned, reprimanded, or demoted depending on the severity of the offense”. This is the first time a Chinese university has adopted a written rule in this area, and many academics hope that other universities will follow. See

3)      Europe is beginning work on a modest new agency to manage grantmaking across the European Union, according to an article by Richard Stone in the 3 May 2002 issue of Science. The continent’s top R&D managers are fleshing out a proposal for a European Research Council, which would develop a basic European research strategy and provide grants to pursue it. One major concern is that European governments spend only 2% of their budgets on R&D, compared with 4.2% in the United States – and the gap is widening. Most research funding in Europe, about 96%, comes from national agencies – with most of the rest coming from a $4-billion a year Framework program administered by the EU. The current effort at establishing a new mechanism is intended to broaden EU support to more areas (beyond the hot fields of genomics and nanotechnology which get the bulk of current funds), and increase the level of funding at the EU level. See

4)      The National Open University of Nigeria is scheduled to open this fall, after having been shelved for two decades by political changes in the country. It will use traditional media -- particularly radio and television – rather than the Internet, according to a note in the Chronicle by Kate Galbraith. The more traditional media have been chosen to allow broader access, and to allow local programming – rather than relying on higher technology courses imported from the West. Several other African countries already have open universities operating, including Egypt, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. See

5)      The government of Jordan has announced plans to introduce distance learning throughout the country’s public and private colleges, according to a note in the Chronicle by Daniel del Castillo. Beginning this fall, distance-learning programs will be operated by both Jordan University and by the new Jordanian branch of the multinational Arab Open University. The distance-learning infrastructure will utilize a large Internet component, plus satellite teleconferencing. Courses will be offered at both undergraduate and graduate levels, with working professionals expected to comprise the initial student body. The Arab Open University was founded in Kuwait last year as the Middle East’s first pan-Arab university. See

6)      The Russian Academy of Sciences is apparently undergoing a sweeping overhaul, according to an article in the 24 May 2002 issue of Science by Vladimir Pokrovsky and Andrei Allakhverdov. The proposed changes, recently approved at an RAS general membership meeting, would merge several of the disciplinary fiefdoms and strip power from top officials on the RAS’s governing board. The academy’s leaders portray the reorganization – creating 9 divisions out of the current 18 -- as a way to steer more funding to the cream of its some 400 institutes. President Vladimir Putin has apparently said that the state would no longer distribute research funding as welfare, but would instead focus on several as yet unnamed priority areas. That would be a major change for the RAS, which has typically distributed crumbs to each scientist rather than conducting merit-based competitions. See

7)      A private university for women has been established in Kenya, according to a note in the Chronicle by Wachira Kigotho. Kiriri Women’s University of Science and Technology, a first for East Africa, will soon start admitting students for undergraduate and graduate programs. The university is currently at a temporary site in Nairobi. It will offer degrees in sciences, mathematics, computer studies, languages, business administration, and gender studies. A consortium of business executives created the university, in response to a perception that the public higher education system is not doing enough to educate women. See

8)      Canadian higher education institutions in British Columbia have unveiled a new service for transferring student transcripts over the Internet, according to a note by Karen Birchard in the Chronicle. Aimed at saving time and money, the Electronic Data Exchange involves 7 of the 27 institutions in the province, with the rest expected to join by the end of the year. There are about 250,000 requests for transcripts each year in the province, because many students take courses at more than one institution through an articulation agreement. See

9)      The US National Science Foundation’s biennial Science and Engineering Indicators has been released, containing 1100 pages of data of interest to scientific and technical leaders worldwide. According to a report in the 3 May 2002 issue of Science by Jeffrey Mervis, this year’s issue offers fresh insights on worldwide trends. For example, it shows a shift in the worldwide flow of scientific talent and an increase in capacity within the developing world. China’s domestic universities have overtaken Japan, and are now the fifth-leading producer of science and engineering doctorates; they are poised to surpass France and the United Kingdom for third place, behind the US and Germany. See The report itself is available online at

10)  Britain’s Open University is closing its US Open University this summer, according to a note by Michael Arnone in the Chronicle. But it is building a new relationship with one of its American partners, the University of Maryland – Baltimore County. Through an agreement between the Open University Worldwide and the Maryland school, the Open University will keep a toehold in the large American market. See

11)  The Nigerian government has forbidden its public universities from charging tuition fees even after they are freed from its control, according to a note in the Chronicle by Wachira Kigotho. The move appears to be in response to cries from students who fear that universities will impose fees on them as the government gives universities more autonomy. The universities have started asking students to help defray the cost of education through “cost sharing” to cover admission costs and for the use of libraries, computers, sports facilities and laboratories. President Obasanjo has stated that the government has a duty to give qualified Nigerians a free university education, but universities have suffered from gross underfunding for many years. See

12)  Japanese government officials are puzzling over statistics that show a simultaneous increase in research spending and a decline in global competitiveness. According to an article in the 17 May 2002 issue of Science by Dennis Normile, officials concerned with a sluggish economy are trying to understand why R&D spending has not translated into greater success in the marketplace. Japan’s R&D investment in 2000 was a world-leading 3.18% of gross domestic product, well ahead of the 2.66 ratio in the US. But the Japanese economy has slipped into its second recession in 5 years, and many of the companies with the largest R&D expenditures are announcing losses for the past year. It appears that the fruits of research efforts are not going into commercial products, and that research is out of touch with corporate goals. Companies are trying new mechanisms to channel research results into their commercial enterprises, but such reforms will take time. See

13)  A University of Michigan distance education program in China has failed to draw students due to its price, according to an article in the Chronicle by Jen Lin-Liu. The master’s degree program in engineering, offered in partnership with Shanghi Jiao Tong University, attracted only two students for its beginning in March – where at least 20 were expected. The three-year program in manufacturing engineering costs $30,000, with 40% of the courses delivered by distance education. By comparison, the average tuition for a master’s program in engineering in China costs less than $2000 for an entire program, and many students are on full scholarship. It was thought that multinational companies would send their employees to the program, but apparently even they balked at the price tag. The University of Michigan still hopes that the program will grow. See


U.S. developments

14)  Funding priorities for the US government are explored by Bruce Auster in the May-June 2002 issue of ASEE’s Prism. The author states that the war on terrorism will mean a dramatic increase in federal spending in the fields of science and engineering, but that much of the new money is slotted for weapons development and biomedical research. White House Science Advisor John Marburger is quoted as saying: “The nation’s highest priorities – the war against terrorism, homeland security, and economic revival – are all served by investing in science, education, and education”. The author also states that the return of deficit budgets, and the rationale of responding to the events of 9/11, have made it easier for the President to open the federal wallet – with spending for research and development getting its share. Se 

15)  Legislation moving through the US Senate would eliminate a Defense Department program that helps pay for American undergraduates to study languages and cultures in several parts of the world, according to a note in the Chronicle by Sara Hebel. Supporters of the National Security Education Program argue that closing it would be shortsighted, especially as the nation responds to the events of 9/11. The proposed legislation would shift these funds to new, specialized language centers at some US universities which would offer training in certain foreign languages deemed critical to national security. See

16)  In the face of growing evidence of fraud in student visas and disarray in the nation’s immigration service since 9/11, Bush administration officials are pressing for the startup of a vast computerized system for tracking foreign students attending thousands of US educational institutions. According to an article by Diana Jean Schemo in the May 11th issue of the New York Times, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System will require institutions to report to the government the addresses of foreign students, their majors, and whether they leave school or are expelled. The system will be used to monitor more than one million foreign students attending US educational institutions, and is expected to be a model for monitoring other classes of foreign visitors. The system is to be up and running by this July, with institutions required to enter their data on foreign students by the end of next January. See

17)  The White House has proposed creation of a panel to screen foreign graduate students, postdocs, and scientists who apply for visas to study sensitive topics uniquely available on U.S. campuses. According to an article by Jeffrey Mervis in the 17 May 2002 issue of Science, the proposal intends to prevent foreign terrorists from masquerading as researchers. The Interagency Panel on Advanced Science Security, to be created by a presidential order, will evaluate candidates whose courses of study might give them information or skills that could be used against the U.S. The proposal comes as a relief to higher education officials, who had feared a more intrusive policy that would dampen the flow of foreign students and scholars. Roughly 17,500 students or scholars enter the country each year to carry out scientific work, and as many as 2,000 of those may be reviewed by the panel. See

18)  The National Science Foundation plans to push for bigger, longer running grants, according to a note in the Chronicle by Ron Southwick. The change, proposed by NSF director Rita Colwell, is aimed at ensuring that researchers spend more time in the laboratory rather than in seeking funds for their work. NSF is supporting 21,590 grants in 2002, and hopes to maintain that number under the proposed new pattern due to increased funding levels from the federal budget. See

19)  Three years ago, the National Science Foundation set out to change how mathematicians are trained in the U.S., according to an article by Dana Mackenzie in the 24 May 2002 issue of Science. Responding to a drop in the number of mathematics majors in graduate programs, NSF launched a Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education (VIGRE) program to stimulate innovation in mathematics and related disciplines. Heavy emphasis is placed on mentoring of graduate students, including advising them of nontraditional careers. A dozen universities received the first round of VIGRE grants in 1999, and 19 more have been added in subsequent rounds. This spring a first set of evaluations was delivered by NSF, with some originally funded programs not continued. The message seems to be that the culture of math departments is changing, but even the most prestigious departments will find themselves out in the cold in they don’t do it the NSF’s way. See

20)  Education and civil rights leaders are trying to persuade Congress not to eliminate spending on two federal programs designed to bridge the “digital divide”, according to an article by Dan Carnevale in the Chronicle. President Bush has proposed eliminating $47.5-million for Community Technology Centers run by the Department of Education, and the Technology Opportunities Program run by the Department of Commerce. The programs offer people living in inner cities and rural areas access to computers and technology training. A coalition of interested groups is planning a campaign to persuade Congress to keep the programs funded. See

21)  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving to clean up power plants through a plan to target several pollutants at once, using a market-based trading scheme that makes pollution control cheaper. According to an article by Jocelyn Kaiser in the 10 May 2002 issue of Science, the “clean skies” initiative has a feature that previous policies have lacked – a research program to collect data on how these pollutants move through the environment. The inclusion of this research component appears to be intended to prove that EPA is injecting more science into the agency’s activities. EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman has recently stressed that she is taking steps to better integrate science and policy, including beefing up the science team that helps develop regulations. See

22)  After sharp criticism from researchers, the Department of Defense is revising proposed rules that would have required academic scientists doing military research to obtain approval before publishing or discussing their work. According to an article in the Chronicle by Ron Southwick, university lobbyists had expressed concern that the tight regulations originally proposed would have caused many institutions to stop working with the military. Review of the proposed rules is ongoing, with no indication yet as to what specific protections may be retained. See

23)  President Bush, as part of a White House speech about a “new Cuba” described a proposal to grant scholarships to Cuban students, professionals, and relatives of political prisoners. According to a note in the Chronicle by Richard Morgan, the scholarships would be offered to Cubans “who try to build independent civil institutions in Cuba” .The White House has released no details on the proposed scholarships. See

24)  A major article on the causes of collapses of the World Trade Center buildings is featured in the May 2002 issue of Civil Engineering. “Dissecting the Collapses” is a distillation of a report prepared by the building performance assessment team that examined the collapses. The report analyzes the impact caused by planes traveling at extraordinary speed, fire burns at extremely high temperatures, and the resulting global collapse. While commenting on areas of building design and construction that may need to be reevaluated, the committee concluded that “Resources should be directed to airplane security rather than to hardening buildings against airplane impact”. See


Distance education, technology

25)  An organization of accreditors has released a report saying that accrediting agencies could effectively judge the quality of distance-education programs even if the government relaxed regulations aimed at keeping them honest. According to an article by Dan Carnevale in the Chronicle, a report written by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation describes how its 17 regional and national accreditation bodies are adapting to the growth of online accreditation. In addition to applying current standards to evaluate virtual institutions, the accrediting bodies are developing new standards applicable to distance education. The report is meant to answer critics who are afraid of easing two federal financial-aid regulations that affect distance education. One rule requires programs to provide 12 hours a week in order to give federal financial aid, and the other prevents institutions that enroll more than 50% of their students at a distance from providing the student aid. See

26)   An initiative spearheaded by the Department of Defense to make various online training technologies work together has quickly produced an unofficial set of standards for the industry, according to an article by Ellen McCarthy in the 14 May 2002 issue of The Washington Post. Once there is a first big buyer in any industry, a standard emerges – and DOD is the largest single trainer in the world. A collaborative effort by government agencies, private companies, and academic institutions – the Advanced Distributed Learning initiative -- has developed standards for not only the military but also all e-learning systems. To a large extent, the initiative is more a compilation of existing specifications than creation of new standards. A Pentagon spokesman says that the advantage of the standards is a digital knowledge environment where chunks of knowledge are going to be shareable and reusable. See

27)  A major article in the Chronicle by Jeffrey Young reviews how online teaching redefines faculty member’s schedules, duties and relationships with students. While critics of distance education have worried that virtual classrooms mean less contact between professors and students, many professors say that the opposite is true – due to intense, personalized electronic communications. Response time is an issue, with some professors promising to answer each e-mail within 24 hours. Some distance education courses have specified electronic ‘office hours’ where faculty members or teaching assistants are on line to handle student questions. See

28)  Dell Computer, the world’s number 2 PC vendor, is providing a program to help staunch the flow of electronic waste containing toxic substances that can leak into the environment. According to a note in ZDNet by Jonathan Skillings, the new program provides for consumers to trade in old computers or monitors, auction them off, or donate them to nonprofits. Other electronic vendors, such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, charge fees to consumers who want to exercise their recycling option. A National Electronic Product Stewardship Initiative – in which Dell is not participating – is trying to set up a national electronics recycling infrastructure which might embed the cost of recycling in the purchase of new PCs, televisions, and similar equipment. See

29)  In the midst of a general downturn in new spending on technology, officials at several technology companies say that colleges and universities have been the exception. According to an article by Florence Olsen in the Chronicle, colleges have continued to invest in new information systems and networks. In some cases the money for such expenditures was allocated before the recession hit, and there is doubt that it will continue at current levels – particularly at public institutions. See

30)  By next fall, Ball State University intends to link its students and those at 10 other universities worldwide through an Internet-based videoconferencing network. According to an article in the Chronicle by Michael Arnone, the Global Media Network will allow students at distant institutions to take seminar courses together and to gain an international perspective on their studies. The 10 institutions involved are located in South Korea, Brazil, Hong Kong, Australia, China, Thailand, and Germany. Courses to be offered include English literature, landscape architecture, and nanotechnology. Funding for the project comes from a major grant from the Lilly Foundation. See


Students, faculty, education

31)  The Labor Department has released a report indicating that companies are hiring more engineers, according to a story by Siobhan Hughes in the 16 May 2002 issue of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Engineering jobs grew to 796,400 in March 2002, compared to 784,400 a year earlier, according to the Labor Department. Corporate spending on engineering projects also grew in March and April 2002. These trends may be in response to orders for defense capital goods which rose by 24% this year, through March. A surplus of highly skilled, experienced engineers and declining salaries may be making engineers even more attractive to firms. See

32)  Higher education groups are urging the U.S. to make teaching of global affairs a priority, according to an article in the Chronicle by Sara Hebel. The American Council on Education and 33 other higher education groups have released a plan to put the goal of improving American’s knowledge of foreign languages, policy, and culture near the top of the national agenda. The education groups argue that the events of 9/11 and its aftermath have highlighted U.S. shortfalls in making enough of its citizens proficient in world affairs, and that the government has long underfunded programs that foster international education. They say that the federal government should provide greater increases than President Bush has proposed for Education Department programs that support the study of foreign languages and cultures. The report also urges that the U.S. rejoin UNESCO as a way to give scholars more opportunities to collaborate with their colleagues around the world. See

33)  In 2001, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering in the U.S. increased to 65,195, according to the Engineering Workforce Commission. As reported in the Winter 2001 issue of Engineers, this increase continued the growth that began in 2000 after the number of bachelor’s degrees had reached a 19 year low of 62,500 in 1999. In looking at the distribution of degrees among technical fields, civil engineering has decreased significantly – down an average of 6.5% per year since 1997. Computer engineering is growing most rapidly, and could have the largest number of degrees in 2002. These statistics are from “Engineering and Technology Degrees, 2001”, the Engineering Workforce Commission’s annual survey. See

34)  An online course is teaching students to use libraries and the Internet while avoiding plagiarism, according to a note in the Chronicle by Brock Read. The University of Maryland University College is offering an online course entitled “Information Literacy and Research Methods” in attempting to reduce unintentional plagiarism – most of which comes from the Internet. In the seven-week course, students learn strategies for forming and researching theses, using electronic resources like Internet sites and e-books, citing documents, and searching for information at libraries. See

35)  Carnegie Mellon University has announced the formation of a group of businesses and government agencies to develop higher technical standards for software that would make it more dependable and less prone to problems such as crashing. According to a  note in the Chronicle by Dan Carnevale, the Sustainable Computing Consortium will conduct research on software design, dependability, and governance. Software defects cost businesses around the world $175-billion in 2001, according to the consortium. The consortium hopes to announce new technical standards within a year. See


36)  A federal appeals court has ruled that the constitution permits colleges and graduate schools to seek a ‘critical mass’ of black and Hispanic students in assembling their entering classes each year, as long as those rough targets do not harden into precise quotas. As reported by Jacques Steinberg in the 15 May 2002 issue of the New York Times, voting was close, 5 to 4, in the closely watched case which centered on the University of Michigan Law School. In its decision, the court subscribed to a 24-year-old Supreme Court opinion in the landmark Baake case, which has been used to justify race-conscious admissions policies at both public and private universities. In recent years, federal courts in several states have issued often-contradictory rulings on the issue of affirmative action. It is expected that the U.S Supreme Court will address this issue soon to clarify such disparities. The Michigan case may be the one to be heard by the top court. See


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