Now-Ruz, Persian New Year – Celebrating a New Day and New Beginnings

March 20th, 2019

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Seven years ago, I wrote a blog on the celebration of Now-Ruz (New Day) or the Persian New Year. At that time, the talk of war against Iran was the rhetoric of Washington.  Seven years later the rhetoric remains the same and the economic sanctions against Iran have been re-imposed. But threats of war and economic hardship have not dampened the spirits of Iranians in Iran when it comes to celebrating their long cherished festivities of Now-Ruz.

The celebration of Now-Ruz, takes effect at the exact astronomical beginning of Spring, known as the vernal equinox. Iranians in the diaspora and those living in Iran will celebrate the arrival of the Now-Ruz on March 20th at exactly 2:58:27 PM PDT.

Now-Ruz has been celebrated for nearly 3000 years. Its rituals and traditions date back to Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion that existed until 7th century A.D. before the Arab invasion and the enforcement of Islam. Today, besides Iran, Now-Ruz is celebrated by nearly 300 million people from several countries that share this holiday (Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan and of course, the Iranian diaspora living in all corners of the globe.

In 2009, Now-Ruz was recognized by the U.N. as a tradition of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which “promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness.”

In preparation for Now-Ruz, Iranians embark on the spring-cleaning of their homes, even make or buy a new set of clothes, and bake pastries in anticipation of visiting guests when gifts are exchanged and feasts enjoyed. Bakeries, food stores, bazaars (even those here in Los Angeles) are abuzz with shoppers stocking up on sweets, pastries, and all the herbs and condiments needed for baking and preparing traditional Persian dishes.

I left Iran when I was 10 before the Islamic Revolution, and remember receiving crisp bank notes from my parents and relatives.  Banks would issue newly printed paper bills and gold coins which were offered as gifts known as eidi.

The rituals surrounding the celebration of Now-Ruz are rich with symbolism and ceremony. They begin on the last Wednesday of winter with Chahar-Shanbeh Soori (Eve of Wednesday), a fire-jumping festival, where people create small bonfires in their neighborhoods and jump over them as the sun sets.

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Parents join in with their children and jump over the flames inviting happiness and abundance while releasing and letting go of darkness and negativity by chanting: “Offer me your lovely red hue and take away my sickly pallor.” With fire signifying light (day), the symbol of all that is good, and dark (night), the unknown and all that is evil, celebrants partaking in the fire festival look forward to the arrival of spring bringing longer days and new beginnings.

As a child growing up in Iran, I remember the minstrels or troubadours, known as Haji Firuz, who sang and danced in the streets dressed in bright red and yellow satin poufy pants and shirts, spreading good cheer and bringing merriment to neighborhoods.

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Another tradition, somewhat resembling the trick-or-treat of Halloween, included young men who disguised themselves as women under chadors (long veils) and went from street to street banging on pots and pans, shaking tambourines and raising raucous, warding off evil or any dark negative spirits. All this was done in jest as seeing a boy or young man in such a disguise invited laughs and more laughs.

Now-Ruz celebrations last for 13 days. As a child, Now-Ruz for me meant a school holiday lasting for 13 days. In fact, most businesses throughout the country would shut down for the duration of Now-Ruz. Everyone was on holiday!

A major feature of Now-Ruz is the preparation of the “Haft-Seen,” (seven “S’s”); a special display of seven specific offerings each beginning with the letter “S” in Farsi.

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Typically, the “Haft-Seen” includes the following: “seeb” or apple (promotes beauty and good health), “seer” or garlic (wards off bad omen), “samanou” (a sweet pudding, symbolizing affluence), “sabze” or wheat-germ (representing rebirth) grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year, “sek-keh” or coin, preferably gold (for wealth and abundance), “senjed” (dried fruit from lotus tree, symbolizing love), and “somagh” or sumac (color of sunrise). In addition, there will also be a mirror (symbol for the sky), a goldfish in a bowl (life force), lit candles symbolizing fire and promoting enlightenment, colored eggs (symbol of fertility corresponding to the mother earth), sweets to spread sweetness and a book of poems by Hafiz or Rumi.

The Now-Ruz festivities end on the 13th day known as “Sizdah Bedar” (out with the 13th), and it is celebrated outdoors. Staying indoors is seen as a bad omen and families spend the day outside in parks and in the countryside near streams, rivers, and lakes, enjoying a festive picnic.

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The “sabze” or plate of wheat-germ that was the centerpiece of the Haft-Seen is taken on this picnic so that young unmarried women wishing for a husband will tie a knot between the green shoots (symbolizing a marital bond) and toss it into running water.

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Despite the Islamic Regime’s attempts to do away with Now-Ruz, calling it un-Islamic and pagan, the ancient tradition of celebrating the arrival of Spring continues in Iran

Conquerors have come and gone, dynasties have risen and fallen, and the plans for war may have been penciled in, but Now-Ruz is in ink and etched into the cultural fabric of Iranians. Now-Ruz is a reminder that the darkness is fleeting and the day will soon be longer than the night.

Happy Now-Ruz!

Please refer to the links shared below, to learn more about Now-Ruz:

https://en.unesco.org/silkroad/content/nowruz-celebrating-new-year-silk-roads

https://nbpostgazette.com/happy-nowruz-all-you-need-to-know-about-iranian-persian-new-year/

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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The Global Educator Program: Engage with key influencers to leverage your international recruitment

March 15th, 2019

global_edu

In this week’s blog, we would like to showcase Branta, an international student recruitment, study abroad organization based in Seattle, WA. We recently learned about Branta’s Global Education Program which aims to build relationships between teachers and school administrators in India with administrators at U.S. institutions of higher education.

According to Syed K. Jamal, Branta’s Founder & CEO, “In India’s collective culture, both resident and the diaspora community, lived-experience and face-to-face meetings have a profound effect. They break boundaries and build bonds. To leverage the cultural aspect, and in order to equip principals/counselors from India and the UAE with international networks, we launched the Global Educator Program in 2018. At its core, it’s a professional development outreach both for international educators as well as for American campuses acting as hosting institutions. We are delighted to launch the 2019 version of the program which provides full funding to international educators.”

As one US educator noted in this video, it’s not about just sitting and having a quick conversation and exchanging brochures with students but building relationships with educators and administrators from the students’ countries.  The desire by the K-12 schools in India and wanting to collaborate directly with U.S. institutions with relation to teaching and partnership, and ways to enhance understanding of what it means to pursue an education in the U.S. is significant. For U.S. educators, the benefits include gaining a better and deeper insight of the Indian education system at a younger level and what it means to start talking about the practicalities of a global education at a higher level. Bringing these two groups together under one roof and sharing ideas, learning from each other, developing partnerships and forging long-term relationships are the takeaways of participation in The Global Educator Program.

Those US institutions who wish to enable this exchange, host the group on their camps and benefit from it are welcome to write to syed@gobranta.com for more details.

And, please share this with those in your networks in India and UAE.


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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Diploma to Degree: A Global Progression Pathway Made in Scotland

March 8th, 2019

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  • Introducing the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • SQA Qualifications
  • Quality Assurance
  • SQA International markets and SQA Diploma to Degree offerings
  • Partnership working with ACEI
  • Working with us

SQA wants to establish progression pathways for its international students who, on completion of an SQA Advanced Qualification in their own country wish to articulate to a related Degree program at an institution in the U.S.

U.S. colleges may wish to work in partnership with SQA and deliver SQA Advanced Qualifications either jointly with their own provision or as an alternative provision. In doing so, U.S. institutions can internationalize their campus by working with SQA, SQA’s existing progression partners and centers around the world. Once a pathway is established, SQA will work in partnership with the receiving institution and promote the progression pathway to its students and centers around the world.

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Who Will Benefit

  • Admissions Officers interested in recruiting international students
  • Staff with an interest in progression pathways from college based learning into higher education
  • Higher education policy makers with an interest in progression routes for lifelong learning and bridging the academic/vocational divide
  • Credential Evaluation Bodies
  • Community College Staff
  • University Staff

Thursday, March 21, 2019

10 AM – 11 AM PST

Free Webinar

Register Now


Your Presenters:

Margaret
Mags Hutchinson
International Articulation Manager
Scottish Qualifications Authority

SQA_LOGO

Mags has been employed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority for 18 years. Initially she worked in Qualifications Development, developing and maintaining qualifications to service the Engineering sector. In her current role as International Articulation Manager she seeks to build relationships with Community Colleges and Higher Education Institutions in the US.


Jasmin_Photo
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO
Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute

Globe___ACEI

Jasmin is a leading expert on international education and credential evaluation methodologies. She has authored several publications on world education systems, and is a regular presenter at regional, national and international conferences. She is currently the Acting President of the Association of International Credential Evaluators, and serves on the International Education Standards Council of AACRAO (American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers).


 

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IRAN: An Update on Primary and Secondary Education System

March 1st, 2019

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Iran’s education system has undergone a number of reforms since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. One sector that has been seen several reforms in the past four decades is the primary and secondary education system.

The most recent changes to the education system, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), took place in 2013 where primary education has been extended from 5 to 6 years, followed by 3 years of lower secondary and 3 years of upper secondary. In the new system, the 13th year, known as pre-university (pishdaneshgahi) has been absorbed into the upper secondary cycle and is no longer offered.

Students who complete the 12th year from the new system and pass final exams will receive their Certificate/Diploma of High School Completion. They will then be eligible to sit for the national entrance exam for universities.

We have prepared a historic overview of Iran’s primary and secondary cycle for use as a quick reference when reviewing and evaluating academic transcripts of students from Iran.

Pre-1979 Islamic revolution    [5+3+4]

5 years primary (grades 1-5)

3 years middle school/guidance cycle (grades 6, 7, 8)

4 years upper secondary (grades 9, 10, 11, 12)

Post-1979 Islamic Revolution (through 1995)            [5+3+4]

5 years primary (grades 1-5)

3 years middle school/guidance cycle (grades 6, 7, 8)

4 years upper secondary (grades 9, 10, 11, 12)

1996-2013       [5+3+3+1]

5 years primary (grades 1-5)

3 years middle school/guidance cycle (grades 6, 7, 8)

3 years upper secondary (grades 9, 10, 11)

1 year pre-university (year 12)

2013 to present          [6+3+3]

6 years primary (grades 1-6)

3 years lower secondary cycle (grades 7, 8, 9)

3 years upper secondary cycle (grades 10, 11, 12)

Here’s a good link to a page on the UCAS website dedicated to Iran’s pre-university certificate and the recent changes made to the primary and secondary system: https://qips.ucas.com/qip/iran-pre-university-certificate-pishdaneshgahi

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Detecting Fake University Degrees in a Digital World

February 22nd, 2019

digiworld

As we prepare for the 2019 AICE Los Angeles Symposium on digital retention and transmission of academic documents, an issue that is of great concern is how do we maintain credential evaluation standards in a world that is rapidly digitizing? How do we ensure credential integrity? How do we detect fraudulent documents in an age where digital technology is used by hackers and forgers with tech expertise to falsify and issue counterfeit documents, tap into university databases, create degrees and diplomas that appear flawless and authentic?

The topic of the 2019 AICE Los Angeles Symposium is “The future is digital…are you? Effectively using technology while maintaining credential evaluation standards” is timely and will address the many stakeholders involved in the digital document process: the universities, governments, and third-party platforms, while delving into the existing eco-system, security and reliability of the current digital systems and discussing the available tools for digital credential verification. The goal of the symposium is to seek digital solutions that promote data security and protection as we move toward a paper-free environment.

In this week’s blog, we share an informative and insightful piece written by our European colleagues Stig Arne Skjerven, Director of Foreign Education in NOKUT and President of the ENIC Bureau in the European Network of Information Centers, a frequent contributor to ACE-Global.Blog, and Linda J Børresen, Senior Legal Advisor in NOKUT (Norwegian ENIC-NARIC). The authors demonstrate steps being taken in Europe to combat fake diplomas in today’s digital world. This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of University World News and is shared in this blog with permission from Mr. Skjerven and Ms. Børresen.

We invite you to share your thoughts, experience, and questions in the comments section. Thank you.

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

** ** **

Using fake diplomas in order to get ahead is not a new phenomenon. As long as there is competition for jobs and admission to higher education, there will be people who are willing to take such shortcuts.

Articles in University World News often report new cases, the most recent on fake Scottish degrees. Over the summer in the United Kingdom, there was an article published in The Guardian in which the UK’s official service for verifying degrees, the Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD), urged new graduates who take selfies with their new degrees not to share the images on social media to avoid fueling the multimillion-pound trade in fake degrees.

What are fake diplomas?

Generally speaking, there are three categories of fake diplomas. The first category is typically a diploma that seems to be issued by an accredited institution, but the diploma is in fact produced illegally. The person who bought the document has never studied at the institution in question.

The second category comprises diplomas that are issued by accredited institutions, but the holder of the diploma has altered the information in the document, most commonly the grades.

The third and last category includes fake diplomas issued by diploma mills (fake universities). Diploma mills grant ‘degrees’ to people who pay for this service, but do not offer any educational training.

Fake diplomas can finance serious crime

The consequences of using fake diplomas are dire, ranging from wrongful job hires to illicit access to regulated professions. The latter can pose a danger to people and society, most obviously in the health, engineering and financial professions.

Just as worryingly, the income from sales of fake diplomas often finances serious crime. The court case in Norway following the terrorist attack on 22 July 2011 is a clear illustration. During the trial, the defendant admitted that he partly financed his terror operation by selling fake diplomas through the establishment of an internet site called Diplomaservice.com. Its revenue was nearly US$500,000, which was laundered in Antigua and subsequently used to finance his illicit activities.

How can we deal with fake diplomas?

In Norway, NOKUT is the Norwegian ENIC-NARIC center whose task it is to recognize foreign higher education qualifications in accordance with the Lisbon Recognition Convention. In order to combat the problem with fake diplomas, NOKUT has developed several tools, such as rigid documentation requirements and thorough quality assurance.

Verification is crucial and all diplomas are verified from certain countries, either by the issuing higher education institutions or by the ministry of education in that particular country. Equally important, NOKUT’s experienced credential evaluators are fluent in many languages and possess unique knowledge about various educational systems, enabling them to track logical inconsistencies in the applicants’ educational backgrounds.

Since 2003, 120 people have been reported to the police for using fake diplomas. This comes in addition to the number of cases that are reported by Norwegian higher education institutions and other competent authorities. NOKUT, as the ENIC-NARIC center, cooperates well with Norwegian law enforcement. Many of the reported cases have resulted in convictions, normally two to three weeks of unconditional imprisonment.

Most of these convictions are for regular falsified diplomas, but convictions for using documents from diploma mills are increasing.

The Council of Europe’s ETINED Platform

The ETINED Platform is a network of specialists appointed by member states of the Council of Europe and states party to the European Cultural Convention (50 states). The purpose of ETINED is to build a culture of ethics, transparency and integrity in and through education.

One aspect of this is combating fraud and corruption, including fraudulent qualifications. In this part of the project, cooperation between the ENIC and NARIC networks, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education(EQAR) have been established.

Suggestions for changes to the subsidiary text to the Lisbon Recognition Convention are being considered. An example is the establishment of a database with a list of criteria that students should look for when checking qualifications proposed by an institution.

FRAUDOC – An Erasmus+ project

All over Europe, significant efforts have been made to detect fraudulent documents. Recently, an Erasmus+ funded project, FRAUDOC, led by the Italian ENIC-NARIC CIMEA, launched guidelines on diploma mills and documents fraud for credential evaluators. The guidelines give an overview of the phenomenon, but they also provide tools and recommendations on how fraudulent documents can be detected.

The same group has also launched a handbook for credential evaluators with information about verification databases and other suggestions that should help credential evaluators in their daily work.

The future is digital

Routines developed by ENIC-NARIC centers are helpful for combating the use of fake documents. However, even in the world of recognition and credential evaluation it is true that the future is digital – soon, most diplomas will be digitally accessible in secure systems which will guarantee documents’ authenticity.

Norway has digitalized all diplomas that have been issued by Norwegian institutions, with a few exceptions, in an online portal called Vitnemålsportalen. Graduates can provide secure and time-limited access to their data to an employer through an electronic link. This procedure ensures the authenticity of the documents and is a safe and cost-effective way for an employer to verify someone’s credentials.

Other systems, at varying stages of development, are in operation in AustraliaBelgium (Flanders), ChinaEstoniaFranceIndiaMexicothe NetherlandsNew ZealandRomania, the Russian FederationSouth Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The network of EMREX aims to further connect and enhance student data portability and provide student data globally. EMREX empowers individuals to manage their student data and to transfer credentials securely to employers, institutions and more.

Fake diplomas will continue to pose a threat to higher education institutions, employers and recognition authorities in the years to come. However, recent initiatives involving digital diplomas in secure databases may be one of the most promising ways to combat false diplomas in the future.

stig

Stig Arne Skjerven is the Director of Foreign Education in NOKUT and President of the ENIC Bureau in the European Network of Information Centres.

lindab

Linda J Børresen is Senior Legal Advisor in NOKUT (Norwegian ENIC-NARIC). 

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Institutional Accreditation: A Standard Under Attack? Misunderstood? Ignored?

February 15th, 2019

iaasuami

Last year, the Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE), of which ACEI is an Endorsed Member, hosted its annual Symposium in Orlando, FL and tackled the issue of institutional Accreditation.  Those of us in the credential evaluation field live and breath accreditation. Determining an international institution’s recognition status is the first step any junior or seasoned credential evaluator takes. It is what sets an international school or institution of higher education on a par with its accredited counterpart in the U.S. There are many types of accreditation in the U.S. and I will not go into each of them in this blog (CHEA would be a good source to visit for details), but the one we focus on and use as the standard is regional accreditation.

Unlike most countries where the Ministry of Education is responsible for the oversight and recognition of schools and institutions of higher education, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) does not have this authority. It does, however, recognize accreditation boards and provides this information to the public. In most countries, when evaluating international credentials, we look to see if the studies were completed at an institution that is formally recognized and endorsed by the country’s Ministry of Education (MOE). I’m over simplifying but as I said, in most cases, we look for MOE recognition.

Lately, I see there’s a disconnect between educators, school/college counselors, and admissions professionals in relation to accreditation. In some cases, it’s an afterthought or entirely forgotten. As if accreditation is a bad thing, a nuisance. I even find that many, even those in the education sector, are unfamiliar with what is meant by accreditation and the different types of accreditation available in the U.S., especially regional. For example, I recently read a question in a forum intended for admissions officers at local colleges here in Southern California about a “university” in Downtown Los Angeles. The individual was asking whether anyone had heard about it and did not even consider checking the list of regionally accredited institutions CHEA has available on its website. A quick online search found this so-called university to be nothing but a diploma mill with a defunct website.

Everyone involved in education or counseling students for further education must, I repeat, must keep this link handy for reference.  The USDE also dedicates a page to Diploma Mills and Accreditation. Many of you who follow my posts on this blog know that I frequently write about Diploma and Accreditation Mills, warning fellow credential evaluators, educators, admissions officers, counselor, and prospective students against the perils of falling prey to these fraudulent entities.

Every day, I come across news of yet another individual holding a prominent position in government, whether here in the U.S. or overseas who has been discovered to have a degree from a diploma mill or misrepresented him/herself as a degree holder from an institution never attended. Examples abound, but I’ll share a couple in this blog. First, there is the Deputy Foreign Minister of Malaysia who had falsely claimed to have a degree from the prestigious University of Cambridge in the UK. He has now admitted that he had misspoken and his degree is from Cambridge International University in the U.S., which is still dubious in status given it lacks regional accreditation by one of the accreditation boards recognized by the US Department of Education. A little digging on the Internet shows it to be yet another diploma mill. Read this piece and you’ll see all the red flags. Click here.

Next, we have Nigeria where the Minister of Education announced last month that the government will shut down and demolish 68, I repeat, 68, institutions discovered to be operating illegally and without accreditation and will apprehend and prosecute their owners.  What is disconcerting is the following quote in the article posted by University World News: “Some academics are asking if closing down “illegal” universities is the answer, in view of the inability of Nigeria’s current legally-established universities to absorb the number of school leavers wanting places.”  Begs the question, have we slipped so far down the slippery slope of mediocrity that attending a sub-standard “university” or one operating illegally is better than none at all?

Accreditation in the U.S. is also under scrutiny. The USDE, under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, released newly proposed changes to rewrite several rules concerning regulation of colleges, universities, and their respective accrediting agencies. The proposed changes would loosen federal oversight of these institutions.  In an article for Inside Higher Education, a former for-profit college executive speaks out against plans by the USDE to weaken requirements for oversight of college quality. It’s a disturbing expose of the misappropriation of funds and other unethical activities.  Just as I was about to post this blog, a new report came out by Inside Higher Education that USDE is rolling back or toning down some of its proposed changes in the face of strong opposition.

Right now, the jury is out as to how USDE’s proposed changes will impact accreditation regulations. Personally, I don’t have a good feeling about the direction it is headed. Do we really want less oversight of our schools, universities, and accrediting agencies given the proliferation of questionable for-profit schools and the booming diploma mill industry?

Additional Links:

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=b024016f-e13c-4897-8290-817c71b7a3f1

http://www.insightintodiversity.com/u-s-department-of-education-plans-to-overhaul-several-college-accreditation-rules/

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Fighting Diploma Fraud & Protecting Credential Integrity with Technology

February 8th, 2019

blockchain

Diploma mills are here to stay as long as there is little or no regulation monitoring them and there is a demand for degrees which do not require classroom or online attendance, exams, research papers or thesis.  Fake degrees are purchased from online sites offering an à la carte menu of “products” at a fraction of the cost of an actual earned academic degree. Their websites can range from the tacky, cluttered with advertisements to the sophisticated boasting a litany of institutional accreditations with equally fraudulent accrediting entities. Individuals visiting these sites can select a degree of their choice in their preferred major from the menu and even select their graduation date.  They can order class rings, mugs, sweatshirts and other paraphernalia with the fake university’s emblem. At the strike of a few keys on the keyboard, and payment of fees with a credit card, they walk away with the promise of a Bachelor, Master, and even a Ph.D.  As employers post job openings requiring degrees, and in most cases, advanced degrees such as a Master’s or Ph.D., the absence of an earned credential has driven many to willingly seek a diploma mill or fall prey to sales schemes and tactics that lure the naïve and unsuspecting consumer to purchase a degree they were promised from what they assumed to be a prestigious, though non-existent, university.

Earlier this week, we came across a question on an online quorum where a counselor at a local community college here in California was asking about a “university” a student at his college was considering transferring to because, and I quote, “he could get a bachelor’s quickly.” The college counselor could not find any information on the so-called university that cited its physical address in the Downtown Los Angeles area.  A quick search on the Internet took me to the university’s website that was “under maintenance” and thanks to GooleMaps, found its campus to be a strip mall with a “For Lease” sign posted on the door. I warned the college counselor to advise his students against applying to this university as it was not regionally accredited and most likely a diploma mill.

And, just when we thought diploma mills are set up by nefarious entities, we recently learned that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had set up a fake university in Michigan to crack down on illicit operations allowing foreign citizens to stay in the U.S. illegally. The sting operation was to catch recruiters and others engaging in immigration fraud. Indictments were issued with charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit. Fighting fraud with fraud. To read more, click here

Clearly, there is a market for fake degrees. Where there is demand, there is supply. And it’s proven to be a very lucrative industry…a billion-dollar industry.

What is being done to protect against fraud when it comes to academic credentials?

Blockchain Platforms

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We are beginning to hear about Blockchain technology being used as a platform to help combat against falsified diplomas and certificates. There are several companies offering Blockchain platform to address this issue. One that I read about recently is EchoLink Foundation that has designed the EKO Blockchain Platform with the goal to provide verified education, skill, and work experience information. To avoid tampering from third parties, EchoLink Foundation allows only approved educational, training, and other institutions access to enter their information. To read more, click here and for learn more about for more on how universities are adopting blockchain technology , click here.

There are many institutions and countries that have adopted digital platforms for the secure archival, verification and transmission of their academic credentials. Here’s a partial list of  countries that have sprung into action by using technology to fight against fraud and protect credential integrity:

Republic of Georgia

The Business and Technology University in Tbilisi, Georgia has implemented an educational credential verification system using the blockchain technology powered by Emercoin. To learn more, click here

Russia

We just learned that the Russian Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Education and Science, (Rosobrnadzor) will implement blockchain technology in the country’s main graduation examination. To learn more, click here

Caribbean Examination Council:

In November 2018, the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) started distributing blockchain-based certificates to “24,000 shortlisted candidates” to ensure a faster verification process of educational credentials. To learn more, click here

South Africa

Fake degree from diploma mills is one problem, the other is falsification of academic documents from legitimate institutions. South Africa is taking steps to tackle fake degrees and its universities have the ability to verify qualifications through a fully-automated centralized online degree verification systems called MiE. To learn more, click here

Switzerland

In 2018, University of Basel started using blockchain technology to protect and verify academic credentials. It has partnered with the Center for Innovative Finance, a research group within the University of Basel which focuses on financial technology and another company called Proxeus. This partnership is intended to end reliance on traditional paper-transcripts and adopt a digital platform for the archiving and distribution of academic credentials. To learn more, click here

This is just a sample of countries and steps they’ve taken to protect against credential fraud. In future blogs, we will showcase other digital platforms set up by institutions, third party providers, and governments to protect against falsification of academic documents.

As technology progresses, so do the entities operating diploma mills. They are using sophisticated tools to reproduce believable documents. At the same time, institutions and some countries are taking measures to fight these mills by taking advantage of advances made in technology.

Is the blockchain platform for credential verification deemed effective? It’s too early to tell, but according to retired FBI Agent, Allen Ezell, “as long as everyone gets on board and participates, it may be practical towards the future. (Similar to a chain link fence, with electronic record keeping.) Also, keeping out just one rogue entity will also keep the ‘chain’ trustworthy.”

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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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