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  • American HE - the Republican way

    - Next week is “Super Tuesday” in America. 10 states will vote which Republican candidate they support to challenge Obama in the presidential elections this November. What are their views on higher education and research?

    Four Republicans are currently engaged in a fierce campaign over who will challenge Obama in the upcoming presidential elections in November. Former private-equity guru and Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, is currently leading the race for presidential candidacy. Top challenger and right wing favorite, Rick Santorum, is trailing 11% behind Romney's 35% support in national polls.

    Then there is also Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich which are currently seen as underdogs given limited support in polls. A game changer in these primary elections will be impending Super Tuesday. On March 6, ten states will vote on the candidates at once.

    Past campaigning focused so far on economic (tax regime, job creation), ethical (gay marriage, abortion) and national security issues (war on terrorism). What is more interesting, however, is how these Presidents-to-be want to shape policies in research and higher education. ScienceGuide compiled some of their statements in the following overview.

    Romney: boost for-profit higher education

    "Our institutions of higher learning just keep passing on higher and higher costs. They don't recognize that they need to compete, that they need to keep their prices down." Mitt Romney favors for-profit higher education, but has very little to say about student financing.

    On his official campaign homepage he features a list of "issues" of pressing concern. Higher education is not mentioned there. What Romney's views are on student loans, Pell grants and HE policy is still obscure.

    Still, he believes that America's skills shortage should be tackled by granting permanent residency to foreign graduates with STEM (sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics) degrees. "One of the troubling features of the American economy today is the mismatch between the skill set of the American workforce and the requirements of the employment market."

    Santorum: universities are indoctrination mills

    Rick Santorum has gained particular support among right-wing, Christian Republicans. Recently, he called Barack Obama a "snob" with his desire to widen university access. "I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country. 62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it."

    Santorum is a strong supporter of home schooling as he believes that "education should be the parental responsibility. The federal government needs to get out of education. The state government by and large needs to get out of education, other than making sure there are sufficient resources, particularly in poorer neighborhoods, to be able to help (have) some sort of equality of education in America … to have the resources to have the best customized education."

    Although it is not clear what his research agenda would be, Santorum's rejection of evolution becomes apparent: "What we should be teaching are the problems and holes and I think there are legitimate problems and holes in the theory of evolution. And what we need to do is to present those fairly from a scientific point of view."

    Gingrich: teaching from the White House

    PhD Newt Gingrich is the only candidate with a strong academic background. Being an historian, he announced last December that he would start teaching free online courses from the White House if he was elected. He repeatedly voiced his support for expanding spending on basic research.

    Regarding higher education, Gingrich advocated for abolishing state-subsidized student loans in favor of bank-based financing. Also he proposed building work colleges in every state where students are employed on-campus in exchange for free higher education. This approach is inspired by a small Christian college that lets its undergraduates work at the university library and fruitcake bakery.

    Furthermore, Gingrich supports Romney's approach towards STEM graduates. "If America is going to remain competitive with China and India in the 21st century, then we must commit to improving education. We can even consider a program that grants foreign graduates of our sophisticated math, science, engineering, and business programs a work visa with their diploma."

    Paul: home schooling over state education

    Ron Paul has so far expressed little on his views on education and research. He is known, however, to support home schooling similar to Santorum. "The truth is, no big government spending program can or will solve our nation's education problems."