Monthly Archives: May 2020

Travels, Education and Observations in Oman

Written by: Alistair Wylie

The view across Nizwa. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

During 2016, I had the opportunity to visit Oman, based in Muscat, on three separate occasions to support the work of the Ministry of Education. As with other Arab nations, women generally play a secondary role to men in society. For example, during daily prayers, men and women do not mix. Women dress conservatively with hair, arms and legs covered but faces visible. That said, high fashion is often pursued in relation to footwear, watches, accessories and dress trim! Oman differs from other Arab nations though in being regarded as progressive when it comes to working lives. Many Omani women are highly educated and hold senior positions in government and industry. During the time that I visited, the appointed Minister of Education was a woman. In work situations, where a woman is the boss, men will answer to her actions. This clearly sets aside life in Oman from its Arab neighbours.

Oman, officially known as the Sultanate of Oman, is a country on the south eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It sits at in a strategically important position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and is bordered by Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as sharing marine borders with Iran and Pakistan. Muscat is the capital, and largest city, whilst the country population is approaching 5 million people and is classed as a high income economy. The late ruling Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, who died earlier this year, had ruled for 50 years and was credited for driving and leading much of the massive investment and improvements across the country. Oman is recognised a progressive state in the Middle East and predominantly peaceful. As well as oil, it relies on agriculture, tourism and fishing to support its economy.

My main task while I was in Oman was to assist colleagues in the Ministry of Education. This work was to inform their future planning and thinking around course creation and approaches to assessment and awarding within the school sector. Quite a wide remit and lots of areas to cover! On each of my visits, I worked with staff from the Ministry of Education who were responsible for managing the national school curriculum and covering the full range of subject choices. I delivered a series of seminars, workshops and Q&A sessions to meet an agreed brief and enable them to link into a clearly defined progress plan. They had approached the Scottish Qualifications Authority as there are parallels in several key areas when comparing Scotland and Oman; similar size of country and population, similar approaches to school education and assessment and a desire to learn, review and change their approaches to assessment and national awarding.


The Omani people themselves are extremely friendly, welcoming and reverent.  Arabic is the native language but the majority of educated people are also fluent in oral and written English. I was fortunate enough to have the assistance and support of a wonderful translator during my interactions. I was also spoiled on a daily basis with home brewed cardamom coffee (an Omani staple) and home-baked delicacies.

Sunset in Muscat. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

I was able to experience the difference in seasons whilst on my different trips. My initial trips were in the Spring months where it was hot, dry and sunny but not unbearably so. This changed when I visited again in the month of August and it was well beyond 100 degrees Fahrenheit at barely 11 o’clock in the morning! I also had the opportunity to do some exploring in and beyond Muscat. The country itself is split into several distinct regions. Muscat is in the northern area bordering the United Arab Emirates and sits on the eastern coast. There is a lot of greenery and vegetation in this area as well as mountains the further north you travel but once you head inland you are soon met with relentless desert. Moving further south, the country borders Saudi Arabia and travelling away from the coastline you are again met with desert. The same is true of most of the southern part of the country, where the border is shared with Yemen, making this the hottest part of Oman.

Top of the Fort Nizwa. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

Friend and colleague, Houd, on top of the fort in Nizwa. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

I experienced a trip to a local sook which is an amazing experience to see all the different local goods on sale and had the opportunity to interact with local people. I also visited the inland fortified town of Nizwa, some 150km from Muscat. The capital itself houses many beautiful buildings such as the new opera house. Old Muscat town is even more interesting and is where I found the most intriguing sook as well as a visit to Al Alam Palace.

Al Alam Palace. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

Muscat Opera House. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

A wadi outside Muscat. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

The one lasting impression that any visitor has when visiting Oman, apart from the friendly people, is the cleanliness and the wonderful smells and aromas wherever you go. I was never a huge fan of oud and “heavy” perfume scents before I visited Oman but once I got to experience real Middle Eastern oud and the rich aroma of pure perfume-based scents I became hooked. Virtually anything that contains oud is now my fragrance of choice! My advice is that if you have the opportunity to pursue any kind of work that involves Oman then take the chance, and if you that means you get to visit too then it will be a trip that you won’t regret. Oman is certainly on my holiday destination list having been ticked off my professional and business list. It is, for me, the unspoiled and relatively undiscovered jewel of the Middle East.

Alistair Wylie has worked in education for the past 25 years, originally qualifying as a teacher in high schools before moving into the further and higher education sector and eventually joining the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) in 2004 as a national manager. He has held the post of Head of Qualifications at SQA since 2016 and has also had a successful career as a published education author. He is current Chair of the TAICEP Organisational Advancement Committee and is interested in all things to do with assessment, education and technology.


The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, California, USA.  ACEI is a full-service company providing complete and integrated services in the areas of international education research, credential evaluation, and translation. ACEI’s Global Consulting Group®, offers expertise in the following specialties: Media and Branding, Global Pathways, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to interested institutions and organizations around the globe.


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8 Benefits to Virtual Fairs

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA.  ACEI is a full-service company providing complete and integrated services in the areas of international education research, credential evaluation, and translation. ACEI’s Global Consulting Group®, offers expertise in the following specialties: Media and Branding, Global Pathways, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to interested institutions and organizations around the globe.


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Detecting Fake University Degrees in a Digital World

In 2019, the Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE) hosted its annual symposium discussing the digital retention and transmission of academic documents.  An issue that was of great concern then and continues to be today 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 title of the 2019 AICE Los Angeles Symposium was “The future is digital…are you? Effectively using technology while maintaining credential evaluation standards” which is timely today given the rapid adoption of digital platforms to offer online courses and transmitting official transcripts during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The goal of the symposium was to seek digital solutions that promote data security and protection as we move toward a paper-free environment.

This week’s blog is a re-posting of one we had shared in 2019, an informative and insightful piece written by our European colleagues Stig Arne SkjervenDirector 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.

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), will be hosting a free webinar on June 10, 2020 on fake online courses and diploma mills. To register, please click here.

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

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


By Stig Arne Skjerven and Linda J. Børresen

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

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


The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA.  ACEI is a full-service company providing complete and integrated services in the areas of international education research, credential evaluation, and translation. ACEI’s Global Consulting Group®, offers expertise in the following specialties: Media and Branding, Global Pathways, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to interested institutions and organizations around the globe.

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