9 August 2000


Copyright © 2000 World Expertise LLC – All rights reserved


A periodic electronic newsletter for engineering education leaders,

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






International activities


At the Okinawa G-8 Summit, world leaders endorsed the idea of international action to promote renewable applications, especially off grid energy in rural areas of developing countries. Largely the initiative of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, this action is intended to address the challenge of bringing electricity to the nearly two billion people who lack access to it currently. The effort is to be a joint one between the world’s largest economies and business, co-chaired by a leading executive from an energy company and a top government official. Solar, wind and water power are expected to be features. Results anticipated include improved jobs, health and education in developing countries, with the added benefit of mitigating problems of air pollution and climate change. See paragraph 66 of the Okinawa summit communiqué at


 Faculty members in Nigeria are threatening to strike to oppose what they see as government moves, which they think are sponsored by the World Bank, to reduce support for higher education. Burton Bollag reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education that the planned government action would end highly centralized state control of the country’s 41 public universities and give institutions a large degree of autonomy. Critics of the plan say that the move is a cover to allow the state to reduce its financial support for higher education. The federal minister of education, however, has stated that state support will increase, and that the government would not introduce tuition payments until the economy and living standards improved and a student loan program was put in place. See


The government of Singapore has approved plans to give more autonomy to its two national universities, in an effort to position their city-state as a hub for learning in Asia. David Cohen writes in the Chronicle that major changes will include phasing out the current civil service system for faculty pay, and ending of the close oversight of academic programs by the government. The changes were recommended by a committee set up to determine how the local universities could be made more attractive to American scholars and their institutions, in order to gain collaborators for Singapore’s global endeavors. See


At a private American-style university in Baku, the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan, faculty and students are protesting a decision by government authorities to close the institution, according to Burton Bollag in the Chronicle. While owned by local individuals, the American University of Baku is largely staffed by faculty from the United States, and its programs follow American models. The University has some 90 students, who pay over $ 7000 in tuition yearly – an amount that puts the university out of reach to all but the wealthiest. It has developed a reputation for being nonpolitical and having high academic standards. According to a local paper, the closure is the result of a falling out of the institution’s five powerful founders. See


According to an audit issued by university leaders, government support for New Zealand’s eight universities has fallen by more that one-third since 1980. The report shows that the percentage of operating costs universities received from the government fell from 73 percent in 1991 to 50 percent in 1998, reports David Cohen in the Chronicle. Over that same time period, tuition revenue rose from 14 percent to 21 percent. Successive governments in New Zealand have argued that students should pay a larger share of their higher education costs. Current annual expenditures by the government are US$ 8380 per student, some US$ 3000 less than nearby Australia. University leaders see the results of diminished government support leading to increased workloads, less time for student interaction and research, and reduced international competitiveness. See



U. S. Developments


The National Science Foundation has awarded $49 million in grants for graduate science and engineering research at 18 universities. The five year grants will support projects in areas such as advanced networking, computational problems in atomic and molecular systems, human evolutionary biology, nanotechnology, and urban ecology. For a list of grant recipients, compiled by Christine Kennedy in the Chronicle, see


The House Science Committee has abruptly delayed consideration of Reauthorization of the National Science Foundation, whose current funding authorization expires on 30 September 2000. Controversy appears to have erupted over a proposed amendment by committee chair Jim Sensenbrenner which would freeze NSF funding levels for the next three years, make cuts in the Director’s travel budget and add more ethical requirements to awardees of NSF grants. In a separate effort, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee leaders Christopher Bond and Barbara Mikulski are pressing for doubling of the NSF budget over the next five years, as a way of under girding advances in medical research and driving the increasingly innovation-driven American economy.


A study conducted for the Library of Congress indicates that the Library is lagging in providing digital resources. The National Research Council study states that the Library of Congress must become actively involved in creating digital libraries or risk becoming irrelevant to scholars and the public. As reported by Florence Olsen in the Chronicle, it depicts the Library as an inward-looking institution that no longer leads in setting library standards or in building collections for the digital age. In response James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, said that the study highlighted the library’s needs for more flexible hiring practices, better information technology, and new relationships with corporations and other libraries. See


Congressional and White House action on H-1B Visa policy, which would increase the number of skilled technical workers permitted to obtain temporary visas to enter the US, appears to be stalled. Even though the White House and the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress support increasing the number of such visas beyond the current 115,000 per year, agreement on details has not been reached. The White House and Congressional Democrats want to attach other immigration reforms, including many supported by Latino groups. Congressional Republicans want a “clean” bill. The high tech industry has pressed for such legislation, citing its manpower needs. Several engineering and scientific societies have questioned the efforts to increase such visa limits, urging Congress to instead address any worker shortage through increased education and training efforts.



Distance education


A first virtual academic conference is underway in the Middle East, according to a report by Haim Watzman in the Chronicle. The conference, which includes papers by Arabs, Israelis, Turks, Iranians and Greeks, has been organized by Michael Dahan of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Formal discussion of the conference papers posted on a Web bulletin board has attracted an average of 300 unique visits a day from countries all over the region. The People Across Borders Web site displays a keynote address as well as conference papers that examine the socio-cultural, technological, legal, economic, and political aspects of the conference theme – new media and globalization in the Internet age. See



A US congressional commission has been told by top administrators from distance learning institutions that federal regulations governing financial aid and accreditation discourage additional use of technology in education. As reported by Dan Carnevale in the Chronicle, the Congressional Web-based Education Commission has been told by such administrators that federal regulations need to be changed to provide more money for research to reflect the growing influence of online programs within higher education, and to encourage their expansion.  The Provost at the University of Phoenix, a major provider of distance education courses, noted that current Education Department rules require a university to hold 50 percent of its courses on campus and require students to take at least 12 hours worth of on-campus instruction each semester to qualify for federal aid. A representative of the Education Department noted that to replace such rules, methods of assessing what students get out of a course would have to be developed. The Commission, chaired by Senator Bob Kerry, will send its recommendations to congress in November – outlining what laws need to change in order to support online education. See


Adults over the age of 50 are eager to continue learning, according to a survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons, but they are not anxious to reenter the classroom. Writing in the Chronicle, Brock Read reports that the 1000 older adults surveyed prefer individualized study and hands-on experience rather that the traditional classroom setting. Just 10 percent preferred college classes, while 36 percent search the Internet, 64 percent read newspapers, magazines or books, 11 percent use educational computer programs, and 18 percent enroll in community classes or workshops. The over-50 set is now the fastest growing group of Internet users, chipping away at the enrollments of older people in traditional university programs. See


Out of concern that Canadian institutions are being left behind in the race to offer distance education, the Canadian government has created a national Advisory Committee for Online Learning. As reported by Janice Paskey in the Chronicle, the concern is that Canadian universities have not been as aggressive in using online learning tools as their competition in their local markets from foreign educational institutions. The committee is to report in November, recommending how online learning can be accelerated and suggesting a time line and priorities for funding. One challenge to creating a coordinated approach to online learning is that Canada has no federal minister of education, leaving education as a provincial responsibility. See



Professional practice


Older engineers are facing a shortage of job opportunities, according to an article by Terry Costlow in the 24 July 2000 issue of Electronic Engineering Times. Companies may feel that members of the baby-boomer generation are too expensive, asking for higher salaries due to their experience levels, and that their health care needs are greater. Older engineers may also resist the demands of high pressure jobs, such as substantial overtime and the need to travel extensively, and so are seen as uncooperative by potential employers.


Virtual reality technology is making its way into surgical training and surgical procedures, according to an article by Sorid and Moore in the July 2000 issue of IEEE Spectrum. Improvements in computing power have made it possible for desktop virtual reality training stations to incorporate highly realistic graphics, and sometimes the sense of touch. Affordable simulators are available for learning such techniques as threading endoscopes down a virtual patient’s throat, and maneuvering the surgical instruments used in laparoscopy. Because complications during surgery can be simulated in a safe manner, such virtual reality trainers can better prepare students psychologically for intricate surgical procedures. A typical virtual reality trainer consists of a computer, a mono- or stereoscopic display, and an interface device for simulation interaction. See


How fast and powerful computers are able to become may depend largely on how small and dense computer circuits can be made, according to an article by Reed and Tour in the June 2000 Scientific American. In the past year researchers have achieved significant advances that may change the future of computing – particularly in molecular-scale electronics, which is based on the premise that it is possible to build individual molecules that can perform the functions of transistors, diodes, conductors, and other microelectronic components. A recent series of demonstrations has shown that individual molecules can conduct and switch electric current and store information. Many challenges remain, including the technology to secure many millions of molecular devices to an immobile surface and link them in patterns dictated by circuit diagrams.


Science and the Law is the focus of the Summer 2000 issue of Issues in Science and Technology. Articles include Science and the Law, Science in the Courtroom, Expert Testimony, Reconciling Research and the Patent System, Science Advocacy and Scientific Due Process, and Medical Privacy. In the article on Science in the Courtroom, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer describes how judges have begun to work more closely with scientists and engineers to ensure that their rulings are founded on scientifically sound knowledge. In the article on Expert Testimony by Margaret Berger, three decisions in the 1990s which have clarified the judge’s role as the gatekeeper who controls what testimony a jury will hear are analyzed. See



Ranking universities


As the National Research Council prepares for its next study of research-doctorate programs, arguments continue over continuing to use reputational surveys as the primary measure of quality – as opposed to more objective measures of research performance. In an article in the July/August 2000 Change, Diamond and Graham review the strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches. Tables compare rankings of top institutions using reputation versus objective criteria such as citations/faculty and awards/faculty, for various academic fields and for institutions as a whole. Significant differences can be observed. See


Researchers at the University of Florida have developed a new ranking system for universities, according to an article by Vasugi Ganeshananthan in the Chronicle. Unlike the publicly popular rankings published by U.S.News and World Report, which are disliked within higher education, the Florida system lists institutions in tiers rather than individually from top to bottom. The system ranks public and private institutions separately in nine categories, then places them in tiers based on how many top-25 mentions they get. Categories include total R&D expenditures, number of professors who are members of the major national academies, average SAT scores of students, and endowment size. The report is available at



Minorities, women


According to an article by Jeffrey Mervis in the 21 July 2000 issue of Science, the National Science Foundation is searching for the right way to help women progress in science and engineering. The agency has long believed that the best way to assist women scientists is to give them research or training support at key points in their careers. But with a rising political and legal tide against programs restricted to one group, NSF has scrapped that approach and is planning to replace it with a new effort, called ADVANCE. The new initiative, expected to be ready this fall, would provide grants to academic institutions rather than to individuals, in support of comprehensive projects designed to lower gender barriers. Deputy NSF director Joseph Bordogna hopes that this new program will have a greater impact by funding long-term campuswide activities aimed at increasing participation in science and engineering by women. But critics note that this will be the fourth or fifth such change in direction by NSF in this area in the past decade, and wonder whether any of the approaches has been allowed to run long enough to show whether they are effective. One complication is that the status of women varies greatly from one discipline to the next. NSF will put $20 million into ADVANCE initially, planning to add funds if this experiment succeeds. See





Researchers at Georgia Tech are examining how engineering faculty evaluate the effectiveness of their courses. They hope that this information will help design better course evaluation systems to enhance professor’s teaching efforts. The researchers have posted a survey form on the Web, and invite input from engineering faculty. Results of the survey will be made public at the end of the summer. The survey, which takes only a few minutes, is located at


In an article in the Chronicle, Scott Carlson reviews the issue of who owns computer software developed by faculty members – themselves or their institutions. With the move of new software from labs to laptops, more professors have been trying their hands at developing potentially saleable programs. This trend has raised urgent new questions about the ownership of faculty generated software. Is software traditional scholarly publishing, and thus owned by professors, or is it more like an invention and thus owned by the university? Some faculty members protect their rights to ownership by such extreme measures as doing all the programming personally, not using any college resources, buying their own computers, and paying for their own Internet access. It appears that each university needs to have a comprehensive policy in this area. See


Texas A&M University has started charging students who do excessive printing in university computer labs, according to an article by Florence Olsen in the Chronicle. Responding to a 51 percent increase in computer-lab printing costs in the past two years, students who print more that 150 pages a semester will be billed 4.9 cents for each extra page. Some other institutions, like Purdue University, still offer students unlimited printing in computer labs, within payment of a technology fee. Other institutions, such as the University of Texas at Austin, require students to pay for all printing done in computer labs. See


Reporting on a meeting of 120 leaders in publishing and biomedicine, Eliot Marshall in the 14 July issue of Science says that major disagreements surfaced about the Internet’s effect on scholarly journals. Participants clashed over two very different views of the future – one maintaining that private publishing firms will continue to produce the most reliable and readable journals, and the other that scientific authors will abandon traditional journals and report results directly to other researchers via the Internet. A major electronic publishing experiment is underway in the biomedicine field, with the National Institutes of Health setting up PubMed Central. To date the NIH effort is making back issues of printed publications available on the Web, with plans to publish original, nonreviewed research on hold for the present. See



Call for papers


The International Association for Continuing Engineering Education is accepting proposals for papers to be presented at its 8th World Congress on Continuing Engineering Education, to be held in Toronto, Canada, from 12-16 May 2001. The theme of the conference is Professional Competence in the Information Age. Abstracts should be sent to Dr. Ron Venter at the University of Toronto, at

Submissions should include a double spaced abstract of up to two pages, and full author contact information.



Positions of possible interest


The following positions are listed in the 11 August edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education:


Ø      Head, Chemical Engineering, Northeastern University, MA

Ø      Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University of Washington, Tacoma WA

Ø      President, Tennessee Board of Regents


And the following are listed in the 4 August edition of the Chronicle:


Ø      Dean, School of Environment, Duke University, NC

Ø      Associate VP for Research/Dean of Graduate Studies, Lamar University, TX

Ø      Associate Dean, Continuing and Professional Development, University of Virginia

Ø      President, University of Kentucky






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