Flogged Saudi blogger wins Pinter free-speech prize

LONDON: A Saudi blogger who has been jailed and flogged for insulting Muslim clerics was awarded a major free-speech prize on Tuesday.

Raif Badawi shares the PEN Pinter Prize with British poet James Fenton.

Badawi is serving a 10-year sentence after being convicted of insulting Islam and breaking Saudi Arabia’s technology laws with his liberal blog. He also was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, spread over 20 instalments, and fined $266,000. The flogging has been suspended since Badawi received 50 lashes in January, a punishment that sparked international outrage.

Western governments have condemned Badawi’s treatment, and rights groups including Amnesty International have campaigned for his release.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who accepted the award on the blogger’s behalf at a London ceremony, criticized Britain’s foreign office for saying it would be “interfering” to comment on Saudi Arabia’s judicial process.

Saudi Arabia is a major strategic and trading partner of Britain, and Wales urged the British government “to show moral leadership” and seek Badawi’s release.

The foreign office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Tuesday, Badawi’s wide, Ensaf Haidar, protested with a few dozen others outside the Saudi Embassy in Vienna. Haidar, who lives in Quebec with the couple’s three children, is on a European tour to push for the release of her husband.

The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 in memory of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter and is run by writers’ group English PEN. It goes jointly to a British writer seen as sharing Pinter’s “unflinching, unswerving” gaze on society, and a “writer of courage” who has faced persecution.

Fenton _ a former Oxford University professor of poetry and war correspondent _ said Badawi’s punishment represented “a world of inconceivable cruelty, but intimately linked to ours by business, strategic interests, military and diplomatic ties.”

Nobel laureate hopes work could pave way to fusion power

Nobel laureate hopes work could pave way to fusion power
Arthur McDonald. (Reuters photo)
OTTAWA: Canadian Arthur McDonald, who shared the Nobel Physics Prize with Takaaki Kajita of Japan, said today he hoped their work on neutrinos could pave the way to nuclear fusion power.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles created as the result of nuclear reactions, such as the process that makes the Sun shine.

The prevailing theory was long that neutrinos had no mass, but work carried out separately in underground labs by teams led by Kajita in Japan and McDonald in Canada showed that this was not the case.

Speaking on Canada’s public broadcaster CBC, McDonald said his work on the particles could be used for “measuring the fusion reactions that power the Sun.”

“Knowing that the calculations that are applicable to the Sun are correct helps a lot when you’re trying to understand what’s being done here on Earth,” he explained.

In contrast to nuclear fission, nuclear fusion holds out promise of a cheap, plentiful and safe form of power.

Understanding how fusion works in the Sun would help efforts to replicate the process — on an infinitely smaller scale — on Earth.

At age 72, Arthur McDonald said winning the Nobel Prize brought him back many years.

“We started in 1984 with 16 people, and we went on to work at this for many years with tremendous support from Canada to do something really unusual here,” he recalled.

“It turned out to be a great success that we’re very proud of.”

When McDonald received the call at 5 am local time informing him he had won the Nobel Prize, he said he knew right away it wasn’t a prank because he recognized the caller’s Swedish accent.

Receiving such an honour, he said, is “pretty unusual, but a great tribute to the hard work of all our team over many years.”

“And it’s wonderful to have that happen in Canada and for us to have been able to give many students (who worked at his Snolab) a real moment in the process,” he said.

McDonald has retired from teaching, but is still involved in research.

His original underground lab — located two kilometers below the surface in an old mine near Sudbury, Ontario where he experimented with neutrinos — has tripled in size and is now experimenting with dark matter particles.

“And that may lead to another (eureka) moment, we hope, before very long,” he said.

Texting behind poor academic results in girls

WASHINGTON: Teenage girls who compulsively text are more likely, than their male counterparts, do worse academically, scientists have found.

“It appears it is the compulsive nature of texting, rather than sheer frequency, that is problematic,” said lead researcher Kelly M Lister. “Compulsive texting is more complex than frequency of texting. It involves trying and failing to cut back on texting, becoming defensive when challenged about behaviour, and feeling frustrated when one can’t do it,” she said.

For the study the team surveyed 403 students (211girls, 192 boys) in grades eight and 11. Most came from households with two parents (68%) and were primarily white (83%), representative of demographic characteristics in the school district.

Researchers designed a Compulsive Texting Scale to examine whether texting interfered with the participant’s ability to complete tasks; how preoccupied they were with texting; and whether they tried to hide their texting behaviour.

The students also completed a questionnaire that focused on their academic performance and how well-adjusted they were in school. Only girls showed a negative association between this type of texting and school performance, which included grades, school bonding and feeling academically competent.

MCI proposes common entrance tests

MCI proposes common entrance tests
To spruce up the educational infrastructure, Rs 2,482 crore was on Friday allocated to the education sector in the Delhi budget.

NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: The Medical Council of India (MCI) on Monday sent recommendations for a unitary Common Entrance Test (CET) for admission to MBBS, postgraduate and super-specialty medical courses to the central government. The regulatory body has recommended to the government to amend section 33 of the Indian Medical Council Act to ensure proper implementation of the new system.

MCI chairman Dr Jayshree Mehta told TOI, “We have sent recommendations for common entrance test for MBBS, PG and even super-specialty courses in nearly 400 medical colleges across India to the Union government. If the government makes a favourable amendment, a unified test for medical admissions will become a reality in 2016”.

A common entrance test for medical students across the country was proposed in 2009 by former MCI chairman Ketan Desai. The test was called National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET). Many believe Desai’s persistent perusal may have led to his ouster from the MCI. “I am happy with the MCI decision. I hope the government will act on the recommendations as it will immensely benefit the meritorious students,” said Desai.

While NEET was notified through issuance of a regulation under section 33 of the Indian Medical Council Act, an amendment was not made despite MCI recommendations.

The Supreme Court had, in June 2013, ruled the MCI’s notification for holding common entrance tests for MBBS, BDS and postgraduate medical courses as invalid mainly because the amendment to the MCI Act was not made. A three-judge bench by a 2:1 verdict held that the notification was against the Constitution. The majority verdict by the then Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir and Justice Vikramajit Sen said that MCI is not empowered to prescribe all India medical entrance tests. The bench said the MCI notification was in violation of Articles 19, 25, 26, 29 and 30 of the Constitution. Justice A R Dave had dissented from the view. The court’s decision had come on 115 petitions challenging the MCI notification on NEET for admission to MBBS and postgraduate medical courses conducted in colleges across the country.

Over 90 medical entrance tests are held across India, said Mehta. Apart from students being forced to cough up thousands towards the fee for appearing in multiple exams and travel expenses, many students are robbed of the opportunity to stake admission claim to different colleges.

Moreover, medical entrance tests are held only on Sundays of May and June limiting students to appear for a maximum nine out of 90 entrance exams.

British home secretary rules out changes in student visa

LONDON: Talking tough, home secretary Theresa May on Wednesday ruled out any relaxation in Britain’s student visa system, saying overseas students should return home as soon as their visa expires unless they have a graduate job.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, she said, “We welcome students coming to study. But the fact is, too many of them are not returning home as soon as their visa runs out.”

“If they have a graduate job, that is fine. If not, they must return home. So I don’t care what the university lobbyists say, the rules must be enforced. Students, yes; over-stayers, no. And the universities must make this happen,” May said.

Leading NRI industrialist, Lord Swraj Paul, chancellor of the Wolverhampton University and Lord Karan Bilimoria, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, have been emphasizing the need for removing students from the immigration figures and reintroducing the post-study work visa.

Lord Paul today said, “Britain should attract high caliber students to study in the UK. We must also provide opportunity for them to work in the UK for two years following their studies. It does not help foreign students alone. It also helps British student as they gain experience in international living. This is important in today’s world.”

Expressing concern over decline in the number of Indian students coming to study in the UK universities, Bilimoria has asked the British government to remove students from the immigration figures and reintroduce the post-study work visa.

Participating in a recent debate on the Immigration bill in the House of Lords, Lord Bilimoria had said: “The Prime Minister (David Cameron) talks about Britain having to take part in a global race yet the government’s insistence is on following this madcap immigration cap policy and targeting bringing down the immigration level to the tens of thousands. This is shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Indian students constitute the second-largest foreign students group in the UK after the Chinese and nearly 20,000 Indian students went to the UK for higher studies in the academic year 2013-2014.

The number of Indian students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses have declined by nearly 50 per cent between 2010 and 2012 after UK scrapped the two year post-study work permit.

US most preferred destination for higher education

HYDERABAD: The US is the most preferred destination for higher education for students all over the world and it receives second highest number of pupils from India, an American diplomat said today.

Michael Mullins, Consul General US Consulate General in Hyderabad, said America is the most preferred destination for higher education for students all over the world. India contributes the second largest population of international students after China.

He was addressing students and their parents who attended the ‘University Fair’ of US India Education Foundation (USIEF) and Education USA organised here.

The Consulate at Hyderabad sees the largest number of student visa applicants in India, he said.

“This is because of the flexible curricula offered, choice of over 4,500 institutes, quality that is recognised the world over and several options available for financial aid. According to the Open Doors 2014 report, there were close to 1,02,673 Indian students in the US in 2013-14 academic year,” the Consul General said.

The universities participating in the fair offered a range of academic programmes at under-graduate and graduate levels.


Big shift from Hindi to English in Delhi schools

Big shift from Hindi to English in Delhi schools
In the 5 years between 2008-09 and 2013-14, the total enrolment in Hindi medium fell by over 1.4 lakh, while the enrolment in English medium in the same period rose by almost 4.5 lakh.

NEW DELHI: In 2008-09, only two of Delhi’s nine districts had more students in English medium schools than in Hindi medium ones. Five years later, in 2013-14, the picture has flipped completely, with only three districts now having more Hindi medium students than English medium ones.

For the state as a whole, there are almost as many students opting for English medium as those in Hindi medium with the difference between the numbers of students enrolled in the two mediums at just over 53,000. From 37% of students in 2008-09, the share of English jumped to almost 49% by 2013-14.
The district with the highest proportion of students in the English medium was, not surprisingly, New Delhi (almost 80%) followed by South West Delhi (64%) and East Delhi (56%). The districts with the lowest proportion in English medium were all in the northern part of the state — North East (35%), North West and North (both 42%).
In the five years between 2008-09 and 2013-14, the total enrolment in Hindi medium fell by over 1.4 lakh, while the enrolment in English medium in the same period rose by almost 4.5 lakh.
These trends are revealed in data from the states put together by the District Information System for Education (DISE) of the National University of Education Planning and Administration under the human resource development ministry. DISE has been covering unrecognised schools and recognised and unrecognised madrasas since 2010-11.

If the Delhi data is to be believed, there are no unrecognised schools in the capital though the all-India data shows that unrecognised schools comprised 2.4% of all schools in 2013-14. A total of 5,387 schools have been covered in Delhi. The number for English enrolment could be much higher if the hundreds of unrecognised so-called English medium schools in Delhi were counted.

Interestingly, two of the districts with the least proportion of children in English medium, North East and North, have shown the highest growth in enrolment in English medium, about 90% and 64% respectively.

Most districts showing high enrolment in English medium are also those with a large proportion of private schools such as East and South West where there are almost as many private schools as government schools. However, in New Delhi district, a relatively small district with just 98 schools and with the highest proportion of English medium students, the number of government schools is higher, 58, compared to just 40 private schools.

Without exception, in every district, government schools dominate among schools with only primary section, and hence the number of children in Hindi medium too is highest in the primary section with a gradual shift to English medium in the higher classes. This is in keeping with the pattern in other states as well.

GGCU English department head appointed varsity registrar

BILASPUR: Guru Ghasidas Central University (GGCU) vice-chancellor professor Anjila Gupta appointed English department head and foreign languages professor Manish Shrivastava as university registrar on Tuesday.

Professor Shrivastava has replaced professor HN Choubey. Choubey has taken over as joint registrar, stores and development. Deputy registrar SK Mehar has been relieved of his work as deputy registrar, stores and development.

Professor Manish Shrivastava has been associated with department of English and foreign languages for the last eleven years. He has penned two books in his career of about three decades and has presented over 30 papers during this time. A dozen students have earned PhDs and 25 have got their M Phil under his guidance. Professor Shrivastava has been member of several committees of the university.

President ignores HRD missive on DU VC

President ignores HRD missive on DU VC
DU VC had said university will pay for his business class air travel, provide him place to stay and office space.

NEW DELHI: Delhi University vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh has written to President Pranab Mukherjee, also Visitor to the university, that he wants to step down on October 28 and not continue as officiating VC. He has also sought an appointment with Mukherjee.

As per the DU Act as well as other central universities act, VC generally continues to hold office till the successor joins. The Act states that either the Pro-VC or the South Campus director can be made in-charge DU. But sources point out that since Pro-VC has already crossed the retirement age, Umesh Rai, director, South Campus could be the front-runner to become officiating VC.

Highly placed sources said HRD ministry’s recommendation to President that Singh be sent on “forced leave” was not acceded to because VC had indicated he would not stay a day longer after his term ends.

HRD ministry has also disputed Singh’s claim that it was an oversight to recommend K Kasturirangan as university’s nominee to the search-cum-selection committee for the next VC. Sources cite a letter written by Singh to Kasturirangan on February 1, 2013. Singh had said that it was his proposal to university’s EC that Kasturirangan be made honorary professor. “How can this be an oversight?” a source asked.

In his letter to Kasturirangan, Singh had said, “This conferment is for life and carries with the right -should you choose to exercise it – of visiting the University of Delhi once a year for a period ranging between a week and a month and engage through lectures and seminars with the students and faculty of Cluster Innovation Centre.”

DU VC had said university will pay for his business class air travel, provide him place to stay and office space.

“This amounts to conflict of interest. DU statute is clear that EC nominee should have nothing to do with university. In fact, this was brought to HRD’s notice by Kasturirangan himself. University did it with a malafide intention,” a source said.

Ministry says DU game plan was that after the name of new VC is finalized, it would have been legally challenged due to Kasturirangan’s conflict-of-interest.”Singh would have continued as officiating VC for more time,” the source said.

Number of aspirants for medicine, law seats on rise

NEW DELHI: A growing number of students are opting for medicine and law after class XII. Entrance test trends in the last five years show that for around 3,700 seats, the number of aspirants for All India Pre-Medical/Dental Test (AIPMT) rose from 2.07 lakh in 2011 to 6.3 lakh in 2015. Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), which is a centralised test for admission to prominent national law universities, has seen a consistent rise in the number of applicants from 23,875 to more than 39,000 in the corresponding period.

The same cannot be said about engineering though, which, despite having a larger number of seats, witnessed a fall in the number of aspirants. In 2015, there has been a 3.9% decrease in the number of students sitting for the Joint Entrance Exam (Main) (JEE) conducted by CBSE, with 12,92,711 aspirants as compared to 13,44,907 in 2014. Overall there has been a moderate increase of aspirants in the five-year period surveyed, up from 10,53,833 in 2011.

As per the 2015 figures, for every seat under AIPMT, there are over 170 candidates as against 32 candidates per engineering test under JEE, which is inclusive of the undergraduate seats in the Indian Institutes of Technology.

Another professional course which has seen continuous decrease in number of applicants for the last three years is chartered accountants. For the Common Proficiency Test (CPT) conducted in June this year, by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, 1,28,916 candidates appeared which is down from 1,39,226 in 2011.

Speaking to TOI, principal of DPS Ghaziabad, which is ranked 14th among top 20 CBSE schools in terms of best overall aggregate in class XII boards 2015, Jyoti Gupta said, “Earlier children used to have a second thought about medicine because of the number of years it takes to complete the course. However, in the last four to five years medicine as a profession has grown in popularity, primarily because there are lots of allied job opportunities coming up.”

K K Chaudhary, controller examinations of CBSE feels that the popularity graph has improved as medicine and law are also private practice-based professions. “Lawyers and doctors, unlike engineers, don’t have to wait for job openings.”

The postgraduate test for the IIMs also witnessed a fall. After recording a high of 2.76 lakh aspirants in 2008, the numbers have fallen to 2.18 in 2015. In 2014, it had significantly declined to 1.95 lakh.