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July 6, 2006

Federal action spells relief for UCIS centers

Four University Center for International Studies (UCIS) programs have been re-designated for four years as National Resource Centers (NRCs) in their respective world areas by the U.S. Department of Education under Title VI of the Higher Education Act.

UCIS learned this week that its NRC Title VI funding will total more than $4 million over the next four years. In FY07, Pitt’s Asian Studies Center will receive $240,566, the Center for Latin American Studies will get $222,152, the Center for Russian and East European Studies will receive $240,093 and the Center for West European Studies will get $208,221.

Earlier this year, funding for the University’s International Business Center (IBC), jointly sponsored by UCIS and the Katz Graduate School of Business, was renewed with a four-year grant that includes funding of $340,000 for FY07.

UCIS’s request to fund a new global studies center was not approved, said U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Samara Yudof.

UCIS Director William I. Brustein was pleased with the re-designations. “The renewal of National Resource Center status for our area studies centers reaffirms the strength of the University of Pittsburgh in international studies,” Brustein stated in a prepared release. “I am especially pleased that all four of our area studies NRCs and our International Business Center were re-funded, in spite of fierce national competition. This success places Pitt once again among the top schools in the United States in the area of international studies.”

The announcement comes as a relief for UCIS administrators following months of uncertainty regarding Pitt’s share of the NRC grants. The highly competitive funding, which Brustein characterized as the closest thing to a U.S. News and World Report quality ranking for international studies, typically is awarded in spring. But, this year, the Department of Education’s decision about some of the funding was delayed until early July.

The reason for the delay remained unclear, Brustein said, adding that the nearest thing to an explanation was that the situation might be related to Hurricane Katrina. (The Department of Education extended the application deadline from Nov. 14, 2005, to Dec. 1, 2005, for schools in the area affected by the storm.)

“We found it a bit surprising given the emphasis the president has put on international education,” Brustein said.

Although the four UCIS centers all have held the NRC designation for more than two decades, the delay in announcing the award put administrators on pins and needles. The competitive nature of the grants means the existence of a center does not necessarily guarantee re-funding, Brustein said.

“We’re competing against the best in the country,” Brustein said. “It’s not unheard of, even if you had one, you lose it,” he said, citing examples of schools such as Ohio State, Yale, Virginia and Michigan who lost Asian studies center funding.

At Pitt, the uncertainty slowed efforts to hire faculty for the quickly approaching new academic year and placed in jeopardy outreach programs aimed at bolstering the global knowledge of K-12 teachers, Brustein said.

“The money we use to pay for that is all in the Title VI,” he said.

A number of teaching positions, particularly in the areas of less-commonly taught languages, are joint initiatives with other areas of the University, and UCIS relies on the Title VI money to pay its portion of the partnership, Brustein said. “By not having it, it’s very difficult for us to move forward to hire a person.”

Not all Title VI programs were affected by the delay. Pitt’s IBC, one of 30 centers for international business education and research (CIBERs) that are administered under a different portion of the Higher Education Act of 1965 than the NRCs, received notification of its award on time this spring, although there was a reduction in the amount, said interim director Jo Olson.

CIBERs aim to increase the nation’s capacity for international understanding and economic enterprise and serve as a resource to help American businesses compete in the global marketplace.

Brustein posited that the CIBER program’s smaller size might have made a difference in the timing. The larger NRC program has more than 100 funded centers — approximately 12-18 for each of 16 different geographic areas studied.

UCIS earlier received information on the amount of Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) grants, which fund language learning opportunities for graduate students.

Four-year FLAS grants ranging from $150,000 to $250,000 per year have been awarded. Each of Pitt’s four international studies NRCs can fund between four and eight FLAS fellowships for the academic year with the money, enabling students to devote their full-time attention to graduate study.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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