PRISM Magazine Online - April 2000
Briefings
The Oresund Fixed Link

By Ray Bert

The Oresund Fixed LinkAn ambitious engineering project will soon connect Denmark and Sweden with a roadway and rail link that takes travelers over, on, and under the Oresund strait.

Sweden and Denmark have yet to join the European Union, but they've been busy building a more concrete connection. In July, the first of an estimated 3 million cars per year will cross the 9.8-mile-long (15.8 km) Oresund Link--which includes a bridge, a tunnel, and an artificial island--between the cities of Malmo, Sweden, and Copenhagen.

Any of the three pieces of the two-level road and high-speed railway system, which took more than five years and $2 billion to build, would have been huge civil engineering projects in their own right.  The Oresund Bridge includes the longest cable-stayed span in the world carrying both rail and vehicles. The "submerged tube" tunnel required sinking the 20 sections into the channel, and then pumping millions of gallons of water out with enormous pumps. And what to do with the millions of cubic yards of dredged material produced by the project? Deposit them to form the 2.5-mile-long artificial island that serves as a transition between the bridge and the tunnel.

The Oresund Fixed LinkThe link should spur economic development in the newly connected region now dubbed Oresund, which has a population of 3.5 million.

The Oresund Fixed Link
Education
Part-time Professors on the Rise

Once upon a time, moonlighting in academia meant professors holding down part-time jobs in addition to their teaching chores. Now, it's increasingly likely that moonlighting academics are those for whom teaching is a part-time occupation.

A recent survey of 4,093 degree-granting universities and colleges by the National Center for Education Statistics found that the trend toward part-time profs is continuing slowly, but surely.  There were 682,650 faculty members at four-year schools in 1997, an increase of 35,591 over 1995. But of those new additions, 24,508--more than two-thirds--were part-timers. In 1997, 67.4 percent of all faculty at four-year schools--460,090 teachers--were full-time employees. That's down from 69 percent two years earlier.

Those numbers correspond with American Association of University Professors statistics, which show that the number of full-time professors has been dropping by about 1 percent each year. And AAUP spokesman Richard Moser is appalled. "It's part of the corporatization of universities and it's damaging the institutions," he says, adding that the trend could damage the quality of U.S. post-secondary education. Not because part-timers are necessarily bad teachers, he says, but because their lack of security, benefits, and decent pay has a debilitating effect on their ability to teach.

Moreover, the AAUP asserts that a reduction in fulltime professors could have a corrosive effect on research.  "Part-time faculty simply do not have the institutional support to conduct research," Moser says.  That could lead to more academics seeking the security of corporate largess and applied research, and further reduce the amount of "blue-sky" research conducted in American university labs.

Chicago's Hottest Import

The dearth of skilled high-tech workers is robbing the nation's classrooms of its teachers. It seems that many teachers who can command higher salaries in the private sector are bidding adieu to the profession, according to a study by the American Federation of Teachers showing that high-tech companies are partly responsible for a worsening teacher shortage.

In districts across the country, educators are leaving low-paying teaching posts for the greener pastures of IT jobs. And some districts find they can't even recruit first-year teachers with math, science, and computer backgrounds because of competition from business. The average national starting salary for teachers was $25,735 in 1997-98, the AFT says. College grads with math, engineering, and computing degrees can walk into jobs paying in the low 40s in industry. And experience only makes things worse. The average teacher salary was $39,347; engineers, on average, earned $64,500.

So there's a certain irony involved when the Chicago Board of Education borrows a high-tech industry recruitment tactic to help cope with a dwindling number of teachers. IT companies regularly seek qualified staff from overseas to help compensate for a shortfall of qualified domestic candidates. Now, the nation's third-largest school district is embarking on a plan to hire 50 foreign nationals as teachers.  Teacher shortages in the Windy City are particularly acute in the areas of mathematics, sciences, and languages. Chicago--which operates nearly 600 schools enrolling 431,000 students--are making use of an Immigration and Naturalization Services program that each year allows 115,000 people with specialty occupations--such as computer specialists and college professors--to work in the United States for three years. The INS will provide the recruits with H1-B temporary visas, the same type issued to foreigners hired by IT companies and universities.

The recruitment drive, which includes ads on the Internet and in foreign newspapers, is already bearing fruit. Hundreds of applications from job-seekers around the globe have already poured in. That's not too surprising. Low as they are, American teaching salaries look pretty generous in many areas of the world.

Science Shift Down Under

AUSTRALIA--A slump in the number of university students studying basic sciences worries some science department deans. "Budgets are based on enrollments so deans are understandably concerned about being cash-strapped," says Ian Dobson, associate to the deputy vice-chancellor at Melbourne's prestigious Monash University.

With Angel Calderon, the university's statistical services manager, Dobson conducted a national study and the findings confirmed the administrators' fears. While the overall number of science students is up significantly, the number studying within science departments don't reflect this growth.

The reason: students are steering clear of traditional disciplines such as physics, chemistry, geology and mathematics--opting instead to major in computer science, biological science and psychology among others.

What's wrong with that? In Australia, explains Dobson, "many of these 'newer' courses are taught outside science departments. Psychology sometimes comes under the arts, biological science can often be found in medical schools, and the fast-growing computer science discipline is likely to be based in the business school or in its own department. The traditional science faculty are seeing less of these students and budgets are shrinking."

He found that between 1989 and 1997 science enrollments at Australian universities grew from 60,700 to 95,800 students. While behavioral and biological science numbers surged 92 and 78 percent respectively, physics enrollments dropped two percent and mathematics tumbled five percent. "They're not huge drops," says Dobson. "Overall, the number of students studying science has grown hugely--but you wouldn't guess it from looking at science faculties."

A consequence has been severe financial constraints within science departments, which has prompted cutbacks in academic staffing.  Some fear there will be an erosion in the support base for future innovation growth areas of research, such as biotechnology. 

So far, there has been no research into the causes of the shift. Dobson suspects an explosion of female enrollments is a factor "with women more attracted to 'caring' sciences such as psychology or environmental sciences."

Nor are any solutions forthcoming.  However, Dobson observes, "it's commonly said that the government should be investing more to encourage careers built around physics and chemistry."

                                                                                                                          --Chris Pritchard