Machines I want

Now, isn’t this frustrating. After a hard day’s work, putting all effort in converting my thoughts to text, I read this: Philip M Parker is the world’s fastest book author, and given that he has been at it only for about five years and already has more than 85,000 books to his name, he is also probably the most prolific. Parker himself says the total is well over 200,000.


So how does Philip M Parker (professor of innovation, business and society at Insead in France) do all that? When he turns to a new subject, he seizes and shakes it till several books, or several hundred, emerge. Parker invented a machine that writes books. He says it takes about 20 minutes to write one. I don’t know what kind of device this is, but I am sure I want one! Beats an iPod, Kindle or a Mac Air anytime. Next week, the Education Guardian Weekly will have a closer look at the machine…

Update: here is how it works and here’s a video

Student protests and the rise and fall of Suharto

At the age of 86, Suharto, the former president of the republic of Indonesia has died. Suharto has been in Pertamina hospital since the 4th of January and passed away today at 1.10 PM local time. A week ago, University World News published an article I wrote on the role of student protests in the rise and fall of Suharto. Here is a slightly revised version of the article.

For most, Suharto’s name is inextricably connected with corruption, collusion and nepotism. Only few will remember him as Bapak Pembangunan (the father of development, as Suharto was fondly called in his better days). Among the few bright spots in his dark history is his realisation of near universal primary education. In terms of higher education, his legacy also includes the expansion of the Indonesian higher education system, by establishing universities in all provinces covering the archipelago and by allowing private providers.

However, the activities in and around these institutions became under increasingly strict control of his New Order regime. Students and academics have played a major role in the Suharto Era. Many courageous men and women have given their lives in the struggle for change and independence. First in the movement towards independence from the Dutch, later in the transition from the Old to the New Order that brought him into power and ten years ago in the Reformasi movement that ultimately led to his fall.

The 1960s: Helping Suharto in the saddle

Suharto’s rise to power started with the 30 September movement, an event surrounded by mysteries, even after more than 40 years. The official Indonesian version claims that the unsuccessful coup was staged by the communist party. Other versions point to the involvement of the army and even western intelligence agencies. At that time, the Indonesian student community was heavily politically polarized. The most prominent student organisations were linked to political organisations. The students aligned with the anti-communist parties played an important role in the transfer of leadership from Sukarno to Suharto. The most powerful of these organizations was Kesatuan Aksi Mahasiswa Indonesia (KAMI), a federation of student organisations established on October 27th 1965.

Continue reading Student protests and the rise and fall of Suharto

A Teacher Certificate for New Academics?

Some more interesting news from the Netherlands. According to an article in Dutch newspaper the Volkskrant, new teachers at Dutch universities will need to get a teaching certificate. All universities will require starting assistant professors/lecturers to get such a certificate within a few years from the start of their position. At one university – that already used a similar system – early career academics spend around 260 hours for the teacher training.

I’m happy with the attention given to teaching, especially because of the current over-emphasis on research (because it is easily quantifiable and internationally comparable). But 260 hours…? Two or three weeks would be enough, I would think. I already heard one Dutch academic on radio expressing fears for ‘the terrorism of educationalists’…

But what I am most surprised about is the fact that the training is meant for those that will start an assistant professorship or lecturer position. I am sure that this will be a major distraction for early career academics. Considering that a Ph.D. is a normal requirement for this position, why not integrate the training in the Ph.D.? Considering that the Dutch Ph.D. training is predominantly research based (as opposed to course-based), there should be some time to include a couple of weeks of teacher training in that.

And one more question for my readers: do you know of any other countries that require a similar teaching qualification for starting assistant professors or lecturers?

Authoritarianism or Participation? That’s the Question!

Is China proving that developing countries are better off under an authoritarian regime that focuses on developing the economy, rather than under a democratic regime that gives emphasis to political participation? It’s the question posed by Randall Peerenboom from UCLA in his new book China Modernizes: Threat to the West or Model for the Rest?becquelin

He tries to answer the question by exploring China’s economy, its political and legal system, and its record on civil, political and personal rights. Peerenboom’s answer is “yes”. At the forum of the Far Eastern Economic Review, Nicholas Bequelin has a review on the book. Bequelin is researcher at the Asian division of Human Rights Watch, so it’s no surprise that he disagrees with Peerenboom.

I haven’t read the book yet, and neither am I an expert on China. For me the question often pops up in my comparisons between Indonesia and Malaysia. Where some say that Indonesia might be ‘too democratic’, others might say Malaysia is too paternalistic and authoritarian. It seems that strict government control has helped countries like Malaysia and Singapore in creating a higher level of development than for instance the rather chaotic countries of Indonesia and the Philippines. So….is Peerenboom right? I think in the short term he might be. But for the long term, I sympathise with Bequelin’s critique. But let’s read the book first…

Is Academic Freedom as Precious as it is Believed to Be?

This weeks’ edition of University World News has a special on academic freedom. Most of the European coverage in this edition is based on a recent article in the journal Higher Education Policy: Academic Freedom in Europe: A Preliminary Comparative Analysis by Terence Karran. The outcomes of the article raise interesting questions. Not just on the different levels of academic freedom in different countries, but also about the nature of academic freedom and its value.

On the basis of comparative data from 23 states within the European Union, the article concludes that academic freedom is highest in Finland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Spain. The lowest levels of academic freedom can be found in countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. Not exactly what most readers would expect, I guess. 

So how does the author operationalise academic freedom? Basically it is measured on the basis of five dimensions: (i) Constitutional protection; (ii) Specific legislative protection; (iii)Self-governance; (iv) Appointment of rectors; (v) Academic tenure. The first two refer to the question whether freedom of speech and academic freedom are legally embedded in a nation’s constitution and other legislation. The other three refer more to the way higher education in a country is organised and governed. Let’s have a look at both the legal and governance dimensions to explain the surprising outcomes.

Continue reading Is Academic Freedom as Precious as it is Believed to Be?

W-E-B links for Today: Globalisation

What did the internets bring me today? A lot of globalisation…

  • The World and globalisation – Globalisation is globalising. A site by Axel Dreher of the ETH Zurich containing lots of data on economic, social and political globalisation: the KOF index of globalisation.


  • Education & globalisation – There are many many definitions of globalisation and this is the one taught in French textbooks: "globalisation implies subjugation of the world to the market, which constitutes a real cultural danger". Stefan Theil in Foreign Policy on bias and indoctrination in German and French economics textbooks.
  • Blog post on globalisation – The brave men and women of the Australian Customs Service protect Australia from the dangers of globalisation. Mercurius over at Larvatus Prodeo praises the dedication of these fine officers and the hardships they have to endure.

Iranian students, international security & academic freedom

After 9/11 the number of international students in the US dropped considerably due stricter visa requirements and security regulations. Just now that the US is relaxing the regulations, the Netherlands seems to become more restrictive towards international students, at least those from specific countries.

My former university – the University of Twente – this week announced that they had rejected a number of Iranian students and that they will not be able to process new applications from Iranian students. Is the University of Twente (UT) getting paranoid? No! They are acting according to a United Nations resolution and a following decision by the Dutch Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They had requested universities to give a formal guarantee that the Iranian visa applicants do not have access to certain specific scientific knowledge (read: nuclear knowledge). UT’s president explained:

Students have the right to attend all courses and they should be able to develop freely. We don’t want to exclude students from education and therefore we cannot give the guarantee that the Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs demand from us. (…) As a university we cannot exclude the possibility that Iranians will be exposed to nuclear knowledge. We can’t control that.

Continue reading Iranian students, international security & academic freedom

W-E-B links for Today: US Elections

What did the internets bring me today? A lot of presidential hopefuls.

  • The World & the US elections – Alan S. Blinder analyses whether Americans are ready to stop the world and shut out reality: among Democrats, this may manifest itself in attitudes toward international trade that range from lukewarm support to outright hostility. Among Republicans, it shows up in attitudes toward immigration – and most things foreign – that border on xenophobia.
  • Education & the US elections – Barack Obama, the winner of last week’s Democratic caucuses in Iowa was a favorite of academe. He received about one-third of the total donations that college administrators, faculty members, and other educators have made to presidential candidates. From the Chronicle’s election blog.
  • Blogs & the US elections – Over at Crooked Timber they are ahead of the rest. Anticipating an Obama victory, John Holbo polls the likeliness of an Obama/Clinton ticket. The commentators clearly have other combinations in mind.