IRAN: Student activist sentenced

Majid Tavakoli, an Iranian pro-reform student activist, has been sentenced to eight years in prison for giving a speech at Tehran's Amir Kabir University where he branded President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a 'fascist' and the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, a 'dictator'.

Tavakoli was also banned from political activity and foreign travel for five years, YNet News reported. Tavakoli had previously been arrested and allegedly tortured for taking part in a protest against a visit by Ahmadinejad to the University in 2007.

Meanwhile, BBC News reports that students at Amir Kabir University are boycotting examination in protest at the detention of 12 classmates arrested for attending pro-reform demonstrations. The university's management threatened to fail students who did not turn up for examinations but lecturers sympathetic to the students' cause offered to intervene on their behalf.

UK: Debate over controversial speakers on campus

The Jerusalem Post reports that an academic from Tel Aviv University is to give a speech next month at the University of London, during which she will call for an academic boycott of Israel.

Dr Anat Matar's speech, Supporting the Boycott on Israel: A view from within, will be given at the School of Oriental and African Studies as part of a series of events being held to mark a year since Israeli forces bombed Gaza. Matar's stance has attracted criticism from University of London lecturer Dr David Hirsh who believes a boycott would be 'dangerous' and 'delusional'.

Meanwhile, The Jewish Chronicle reports that concerns have been expressed by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism after a man who had allegedly spoken in support of suicide bombing was invited to speak at Birmingham University.

MALAYSIA: Court overturns book censure

A Malaysian court has overturned a government ban on a book about Islam in a decision hailed as a landmark for freedom of speech, AFP News reports. The book, Muslim Women and the Challenges of Islamic Extremism, published by pressure group Sisters in Islam, was banned in 2008 after complaints it could confuse the Muslim community and cause public disorder.

The decision was applauded by the book's editor, Noraini Othman. He said it was a serious academic book that dealt with Islamic family law and the implementation of certain provisions in the Sharia criminal law, and how it affected women.

TAIWAN: Higher salaries to lure top academics

Taiwan is considering offering increased salaries to attract foreign professors to its universities, CNA News reported. Education Minister Wu Ching-ji announced his ministry was taking the initiative to obtain the services of recognised lecturers from abroad.

Taiwan has suffered a brain drain from its higher education sector as many academics left for Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Western countries, attracted by higher salaries. Wu said the Ministry of Education would also remove regulations that limited university presidents to two terms and stipulated the retirement age of 65.

NORWAY: Academic backs boycott debate of Israel universities

Rector of Bergen University, Professor Sigmund Gronmo, said his institution would support and sponsor a positive debate on boycotting Israel, according to the newspaper Haaretz.

Although Gronmo does not personally support imposing an academic boycott on Israel, he recognises the importance of open, free and critical debates to academic freedom. If the debate at Bergen takes place, it will be the second time in less than a year that a Norwegian university has sponsored a debate on boycotting Israel.

Last November, the board of the University of Trondheim in Norway held an official vote on boycotting Israel. The board's members voted against the move.

IRELAND: Universities urged to sack incompetent academics

Former EU Commissioner Peter Sutherland said Irish universities should have the power to sack incompetent professors and lecturers, according to the Irish Independent.

Sutherland said Ireland had been out of line with most developed countries on this issue for years and could not understand how Ireland could justify a system in which tenure was granted effectively on appointment.

He also criticised the lack of flexibility in determining pay for academics, and questioned the financial implications of rejecting top-up fees.

UK: Bogus institutions still a problem

A report seen by the Times Higher Education revealed that, despite recent introduction of tougher regulations, the UK is still home to more than half of Europe's counterfeit education institutions.

Figures compiled by Verifile, a CV verification service, showed the UK had 271 bogus institutions, a number exceeded only by the US with 892. In total, Verifile's database contains details of 3,307 fake universities worldwide.

Laws regarding accreditation of higher education institutions were strengthened in the UK following revelations last year that four men arrested by police on suspicion of terrorism had been enrolled at the bogus Manchester College of Professional Studies.

* Daniel Sawney and Jonathan Travis work for the Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR)

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