Category Archives: Credentials

A 1st Timer’s Reflections on the NAFSA 2019 Annual Conference

June 7th, 2019

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My excitement and expectations as a first-time participant to the NAFSA Annual Meeting were exceeded. It was a great experience to see how united and collaborative the community of international higher education is. I think this was the first time when I truly understood what networking really means. I was waiting by the information desk to meet with my IEM mentor (via the IEM Connector Program) and I happened to glance over the long hallway of the Convention Center. Everywhere I could see, there were people with a big smile on their face and arms open wide, recognizing and old friend or collaborator. My experience with the conference was one of belonging to a community wholeheartedly dedicated to excellence in higher education.

Two prominent plenary speakers at the conference were former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Collin Powell. Both talked about the importance of international education and the role of the government in creating supporting policies for attracting international students. They shared their own experiences in the White House and expressed intense criticism for the current government’s actions against internationalization. They were so funny and witty!

The recurrent theme of this year’s NAFSA Annual Conference was the anticipated diminishing numbers of international students. The main reasons for predicted lower numbers are the following: difficulties in obtaining student visas, higher visa processing fees, perceived racism and discrimination, higher tuition costs, unstable political discourse, future USCIS plans for restructuring the OPT and CPT, rise in H1-B visa denials.

Where do international students go and why? International students mostly go to Canada and Australia, with the US and UK seeing lower numbers than ever. Canada is seen as more welcoming, with less visa restrictions and more opportunities for securing work after study completion.

At the conference, I attended sessions on how to develop recruitment, admissions and retentions strategies in response to the current unsteady global enrollment climate. I basically tried to learn from what other institutions are doing to develop and implement systemic change to deal with future enrollment. What I found was not a surprise: apply cross-cultural competencies to understand the incoming international student population, make data-driven policies and procedures, and create informative communication plans to teach students/applicants how to navigate the US academic system.

One of the most informative session I attended was Canada’s International Students: A Study in Diversity. This was an exceptionally interesting presentation with a tremendous amount of government data. Contrary to the perception that increased numbers or international students are due to the US and UK’s detrimental policies, the Canadian Government had created a plan to enhance the international student population back in 2013. US and UK’s discriminatory environment has indeed helped their numbers but only because they already had a very structured plan in place to absorb the high number of international students. It was not just luck, it was tremendous work and strong support from the government.

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POLIXENIA TOHANEANU, has been working as an International Admissions Specialist and Credential Evaluator in the Graduate Admissions Office at University of Idaho since 2016. She holds an M.A. in Francophone Studies from University of Cincinnati. As a previous international graduate student herself, she is passionate for researching new ways to make the process of evaluating international credentials more efficient. Email: polixeniat@uidaho.edu

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Albright & Powell: Two Former Secretaries of State in Conversation

International Students, Immigration, Diplomacy

May 31st, 2019

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This year’s NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo was held in Washington, DC and wrapped up on May 31st. The highlight of my 2 ½ day attendance besides the fruitful meetings with colleagues and strengthening partnerships with client institutions and organizations was the opening plenary that included two former U.S. Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and General Colin Powell which was moderated by Dr. Esther Brimmer, Executive Director & CEO of NAFSA.

The following are excerpts of their discussion on international education, immigration policy, and diplomacy which I’ve paraphrased to the best of my ability based on notes I was able to take:

On International Students:

Secretary Albright stressed that we need to have an understanding of international education and the importance of students from U.S. going abroad and international students coming to study in the U.S.  As a professor at Georgetown University she knows how dire the situation is as the number of international students coming to study in the U.S. has been declining. She sees this as a great loss to U.S. higher education and U.S. diplomatic relations with allies and adversaries.

On the Iron Curtain and the Cold War:

General Powell said when he joined the military 60 years ago, the military had a clear understanding of its mission. His first assignment was to stand guard behind the Iron Curtain. He said the rules were clear. Stopping the Russians was the mission. Both the Soviet Union and the United States knew that they had the capacity to destroy each other, and knew each other’s capabilities. This knowledge had a stabilizing influence. Both countries looked to the Third World and competed for it.  But the Soviet Union started to show cracks. Then the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed on Christmas Day 1991.  “The world as we had known it and the sense of anticipated destruction we’d been preparing for went away,” he said. The President at the time, George Herbert Bush, saw this as a brand new world, but one thing became clear was that throughout the Cold War years the U.S. knew its enemies and was prepared to take them down and defend those western European nations and any one who wished to join the American theory of democracy, equal rights and open economic policy. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union the lid on the proverbial boiling pot came off and what was inside was a scorching stew of sectarianism, different economic positions, and people who still wanted to be autocrats. And, these beliefs were spreading around the world. The U.S. and its allies may have predicted the fall of the Soviet Union but they had never anticipated the sectarian differences and rise of autocratic political systems in countries like Poland, Hungary, Turkey, and Egypt.

On Immigration and Diversity:

General Powell continued by saying that immigration, this wonderful national identity that America upheld for many years, is now becoming a problem in Europe because they did not prepare for it well and have not done a good job in managing it. And now it has hit the U.S. He urged that the U.S. must sort out what its policy should be with respect to immigration and international students. He warned that the U.S. is on the brink of turning into a country that has become more autocratic than any time in his life time. “We have a President who thinks he knows what he is doing,” he said. General Powell was chagrined by the lack of dialogue between the two political parties. He recalled that during his and Ms. Albright’s respective tenures as Secretary of State, they were able to resolve problems by having members of both political parties communicating with each other. “The Republican party is solidly behind the president no matter what he says or does and the Democrats are trying to figure out what they’re going to do,” he continued.  “Immigration has been the life and soul of America. It is who we are,” he added.  General Powell spoke of his parents who came from Jamaica to America on the banana board in 1920’s. His parents met in New York, married, and led a comfortable life. “I grew up in a diverse multi ethnic neighborhood. Born in Harlem, raised in the Bronx, called Fort Apache. It was called a bad neighborhood, but I loved it. I met every ethnicity of the world in that city block. I loved it.  I learned how to live with people who weren’t just like me, except they were just like me. We are human beings, we are Americans,” he continued.  He emphasized the importance of developing a solid immigration policy one that doesn’t make it difficult for young people to come here to study and doesn’t make it even more difficult for them to stay if they’ve succeeded in getting a solid education.  He feared that these young people’s opinion of the U.S., “once the crown jewel of the world,” will not be looked at the same way again. He said that “this image has been damaged but that America is still a country you can believe in, but that we need to sort ourselves out. It’s not about Make America Great Again, America never stopped being great.”

On Technology and Globalization:

Secretary Albright continued with General Powell’s sentiments and said that the world is counting on a U.S. that demonstrates “normal reactions to the problems going on,” but that is not what the U.S. is currently doing. She spoke about technology, both its positive influences as well as how disruptive it can be.  She said there are two megatrends that we are witnessing that have both positive and negative results. The first megatrend is ‘globalization’ and most of us have benefited from it in one form or another and most of it are the students who were able to travel from their country to another to study and saw themselves as a global citizen. “Being a global citizen is not an insult. But there is a downside to it. Globalization is faceless. People want an identity. We want to know who we are and where we come from.  But if my identity hates your identity, we end up with hyper-nationalism. Which is very dangerous and that is the downsize of globalization,” she said. Another megatrend is ‘technology’ which has great benefits, and she used the example of a Kenyan woman farmer who no longer needed to walk for miles to pay her bills and can do so now by using her mobile phone and even get an education online, or start her own business.  But the negative part of technology is that it “disarticulates voices.” She referred to the Egyptian Uprising of 2011 that was part of the Arab Spring movement, where people in Egypt in January 2011 were summoned to Tahrir Square by Social Media. But once the people gathered at the Square they had no sense of what their organizational system was going to be once they had overthrown President Hosni Mubarak. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood was organized and had been organized for many years. In her opinion, the November 2011 elections in Egypt following uprising were held too soon and this is why the Muslim Brotherhood was able to win the election which caused more disruptions since it wasn’t what the people who had gathered in Tahrir Square had wanted. But the continuous disorganization made it unbearable for the merchants and shopkeepers who

were trying to make a living in the marketplace in a city that was riddled with chaos and disorder. They wanted order which led to Egypt having a military government. She sees what happened in Egypt as an example of why people, during periods of rapid change and disorder, call on autocratic leaders.  She quoted a Silicon Valley individual whose name she had forgotten as having said the following appropriate statement: “People are talking to their governments on 21st century technology, the governments are listening to them on 20th century technology, and are providing 19th century responses.”

On World History, Geography and Culture

Secretary Albright then spoke of the importance of learning and understanding the geography, history and culture of countries in order to help share cultural policy. She said she is known as “multilateral Madeleine,” and that Americans don’t like the word multilateralism that it has “too many syllables and ends with an “ism.” She regards international education and cultural diplomacy and learning about the other as the ultimate aspect of partnership. “We need to understand where we come from and none of that will happen if we decide to see ourselves as victims,” she added.

On Post 9/11 Immigration Policies:

General Powell recalled that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. reacted by shutting down the flow of refugees and enforcing stricter visa regulations on international students. No sooner had these regulations been enforced that he began receiving angry calls from university presidents who implored the State Department to ease up on the student visas.  They argued that international students were financially beneficial to U.S. institutions of higher education and helped keep their institutions operational. He said today China has about 400,000 students studying in the U.S. and the current Administration is accusing Chinese students as spying for their government as an excuse to make visa requirements more difficult. General Powell quipped that the U.S. need not worry about Chinese students spying as “there are spies amongst us here.” He blamed TV news and social media as exaggerating events to scare the American people so much so that we cannot have rational intelligent conversations. “They (N. Korea, Iran, China, Russia) are not enemies, but our adversaries. If N. Korea has a nuclear weapon, it wouldn’t use it because it would be assisted suicide. If they were to drop a bomb on a U.S. city, the U.S. would in turn annihilate them,” he said. He found it odd that the current Administration is arguing that Iran is going to build nuclear weapons when this issue was taken care of in the Nuclear Agreement of 2015 which stopped them from further developing their centrifuges. He did not view Russia as a military threat because “it lacks the economic strength to back it up.” As for China, he found this Administration’s fear tactics concerning China baseless in that China is already defeating the U.S. economically and doing so very well. He asked: “Why would they (China) want to attack us, when they have us buying the stuff they make?”

 On Diplomacy:

Secretary Albright stressed the importance of diplomacy but said that “diplomacy means having people who are diplomats and allocating resources to fund the diplomats” and the need to have a State Department that is properly staffed with appointed Ambassadors at their posts in countries around the world. She also stated that the foreign students who come and study here build a network and when they graduate they return home and hold positions in the private or public sector. Some run for political office and some get appointed to be ambassadors of their own countries. She shared that the current Japanese Foreign Minister was her student at the Modern Foreign Government course she teaches. “This is how you build diplomatic relations. The people that you meet at school are people who are going to show up again. It’s an automatic network. Diplomacy works, if you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This can be achieved more easily if there is a basis of understanding of each other’s cultures,” she said. “ One could prove the importance of international education by the mere fact that it works. It helps create friendships,” she emphasized.

General Powell recalled that at every post he had held, one thing he learned that has proven effective is the ability to listen to people and talk to people, and not shout at them.  He also mentioned that today, at City College of New York Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, the institution he had attended as a young adult, 90% of the student body is a minority and 80% were born in another country. “They are going to be great Americans. This is who we are and this is what makes us great,” he said.

On Immigration (Reminder why America is the Land of Immigrants):

Secretary Albright said that she and her parents came to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia in 1948, Her father had been a Czechoslovak diplomat and she remembers him saying that during WII when they had sought refuge in other countries, people would say “we’re so sorry your country has been taken on by Hitler, you’re welcome here, what can we do to help you and when are you going home?” When she and her family came to the U.S. after the communists took over Czechoslovakia, people would say, “we’re so sorry your country has been taken over by a terrible system, you’re welcome here, what can we do to help you and when will you become a citizen?”  That is what made America different from other countries and she felt that this has been forgotten by many Americans. She saw the anti-immigration sentiments of the past two years to America’s detriment. She said that one of her favorite things to do is give people their naturalization certificates. The first time she did it was on July 4, 2000 at Monticello. She overheard one person say: “Can you believe it…I just received my naturalization certificate from the Secretary of State and I’m a refugee!” She went up to him and said: “Can you believe the Secretary of State is a refugee?” She added, “We are great, we don’t need to be great again, we just need someone who understands this about America.”


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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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Diploma Mills & Fake Degrees: A billion $$$ industry

May 24th, 2019

According to an article by The Star, a recent report from Akhbar & Associates, a corporate fraud investigation agency, has found that “an estimated one in 20 potential hires in Malaysia has fake qualifications while one in 10 has credentials from unaccredited institutions.”

Many of these individuals are applying for senior management jobs at banks and the health care industry. The investigation agency found that the fake diplomas were purchased by Axact, the diploma mill in Karachi, Pakistan. You can read the full report here

The problem with fake diplomas and credentials from unaccredited institutions is not something new and is also not going away any time soon. ACEI has been covering the epidemic of diploma and accreditation mills in past blogs. In this week’s blog, rather than write more about this topic, we thought you’d prefer watching a documentary Al Jazeera’s program 101 Documentary aired on Axact and how entrenched the problem of diploma mills around the globe.

Don’t fall prey to diploma mills or get duped into accepting a fake diploma. Stay aware! Research! Verify!


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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Dispatch from the 105th AACRAO Annual Meeting – Los Angeles CA

April 5th, 2019

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AACRAO’s Annual Meeting held its largest meeting of higher education professionals from around the world this week in Los Angeles California. The Association of International Credentials Evaluators (AICE), of which ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member,  joined more than 2,000 administrators to address the issues that affect our work, collaborate on goals and guidelines for meeting those challenges, and provide a forum for learning and sharing experiences.

The Annual Meeting provided an extensive program of over 200 sessions, roundtables, poster sessions, and workshops.

AICE Endorsed Member, ACEI, FCSA, Scholaro, shared their expertise in these workshops and several sessions regarding credential evaluation, country profile of Cuba and the AACRAO Cuba Project, the Alphabet Soup of International Credential Evaluators, updates on the standards for AACRAO EDGE, and how to conduct armchair recruiting.
The meeting was kicked off with half-day workshop on how to use the AACRAO EDGE, which AICE President, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert together with Drew Carlisle from AACRAO led.

The meeting then continued with the opening plenary featuring a warm awards ceremony, honoring the years of service of Janie Barnett, AACRAO’s Associate Executive Director. The awards ceremony also honored an AICE Affiliate and an Endorsed Member.

AICE is proud of the latest AICE Endorsed Member, Incred Evaluations, Inc., Leah McCormack, Director, who won the AACRAO award for Emerging Leader in the profession.

AICE Affiliate, Karee Head, International Admissions Specialist of University of Idaho, won the Thomas A. Bilger Award for her dedication to the profession. AACRAO was also the perfect arena to share the collaboration of AACRAO and AICE, as an MOU was signed by both parties to agree to partner on various issues surrounding applied comparative education. It was definitely a moment for AICE Endorsed Members and Affiliates to shine!

The plenary continued with a moving discussion led by Nightline’s Byron Pitts, who overcame many obstacles to reach his life goals. He provided motivation for change and gave us a sense of hope during these trying times in International Education.

The Annual Conference continued with several more sessions, including, “Alphabet Soup for International Credential Evaluation” with AICE Endorsed Members, Aleks Morawski, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, and Robert Watkins.

Laura Sippel, AICE Director of Communications, represented AICE Charter Endorsed Member, Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI) through her session: “International Student Recruitment Without Leaving Your Office,” with California State University Northridge.

The International Luncheon brought together dedicated professionals for a inspiring informational presentation by Dr. Keith David Watenpaugh, Director of Article 26 Backpack Project, that assist refugees and displaced persons. He said through the Backpack enrollment, refugees guide their peers and this program also helps digitize their documents and create profiles that put a story to their accomplishments. AICE will be working with AACRAO to foster this initiative.

The evening continued with the lively International Educators reception sponsored by AICE Endorsed Member FCSA’s William Paver and the Paver Family Foundation. We then continued to an intimate gathering to truly honor the years of service of Janie Barnett, with AACRAO Executives and sponsors providing moving speeches, wonderful stories of working with Janie, and wishing her well.

On Wednesday, AACRAO Annual Meeting came to an end with the closing plenary featuring George Takei, Author, Actor, Director, and Activist, who used humor and warmth to address the large crowd. George Takei is of course well known as Sulu, on the USS Enterprise in the long running TV series, Star Trek. He spoke of his early days as a five-year old having lived with his family in the Japanese internment camps in Arkansas and California during WWII.

It was truly a week of collaborating, celebrating new partnerships, and honoring our colleagues and friends.

AACRAO indicates on their website, “Our programming reflects the diverse nature of our members’ roles and responsibilities, and strives to meet the changing demands and needs of the professions we serve. Join us in Los Angeles to gain the knowledge and skills that ensure personal, student, and institutional success.”

As the meeting closed, we felt the positivity of the meeting, as we discussed new initiatives, gave each other encouragement to be a strong advocate for our profession and have the right tools to serve those affected by our work so we can change lives.

As the sun set on the 105th AACRAO Annual Meeting, we very much looked forward to moving on to the AICE Symposium, directly following the productive meeting.


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

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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.


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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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

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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.


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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO
Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute

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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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Detecting Fake University Degrees in a Digital World

February 22nd, 2019

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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.

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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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