Category Archives: international education

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 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 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. www.acei-global.org

Leave a comment

Filed under credentialevaluation, Credentials, diplomamills, Education, evaluation, fakediploma, international education, international students, onlinecourses, study abroad, unaccredited, verification

A Quick Look at: Online Learning, Virtual Learning, E-Learning, Distance Learning, Blended Learning

Contributed by: ConexEd

As the COVID-19 global pandemic has forced schools, colleges and universities around the world to offer alternative methods to their traditional in-class instruction, we thought it would be helpful to share this informative piece that was created and posted by ConexEd.

 What is Online Learning?

  • Online learning always involves an internet connection and can include virtual face-to-face interactions (webinar, online lecture, virtual meeting)
  • Uses online tools for learning, such as online curriculum or virtual space or conferencing software.
  • Could be considered a mix of virtual learning and blended learning.

What is Virtual Learning?

  • Can be used inside or outside the physical building of the educational organization.
  • Uses the computer and an online program or software to enhance the learning experience.
  • Can be used in a self-pacing format (individualized) or live web conferencing between students and instructors.
  • Students have remote access to content and instructors.
  • Student can connect and interact with other students and their instructors online.

What is E-Learning?

  • E-Learning utilizes digital tools for teaching and learning, and the technology facilitates the learning process.
  • Can be used online or in a classroom setting.
  • Students take a course from a teacher but only interact with the teacher online.
  • Students have unlimited access to the content.
  • The course completion, program, or degree is distributed online.

What is Distance Learning?

  • Same structure as online learning.
  • Specific purpose is to attract students from all locations.
  • Can provide instruction to someone learning in a different time and place than that of the teacher and other students.

What is Blended Learning?

  • Blended learning is the combination of classroom and virtual learning.
  • Ideally integrates virtual learning in a way that individualizes and enhances instruction for students.

When planning online resources and incorporating learning online in the classroom, the objectives for content learning, the intended student outcomes, student needs, and student access to technology and their current digital literacy should be taken into consideration, at which point instructors can determine which approach fits their goals best.

Links:

ConexEd: https://www.conexed.com/are-online-learning-virtual-learning-e-learning-distance-learning-and-blended-learning-the-same/

Applied Educational Systems: Online Learning vs Distance Learning https://www.aeseducation.com/blog/online-learning-vs-distance-learning

 

Kickboard: What is Distance or Remote Learning:  https://www.kickboardforschools.com/blog/post/distance-remote-learning/what-is-distance-or-remote-learning/

 

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. www.acei-global.org

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, evaluation, Human Interest, Innovation, international education, international students, Language, News, study abroad, technology

International Students and COVID-19

Written by: Fazela Haniff

In August 2006, I was elected the first woman president of the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA). It was the beginning of a love affair with the internationalization of higher education that would never leave me. Even today, I am not even working in the sector; I am always drawn to the work that is done to keep minds open with a diversity and inclusion lens.

I recently reconnected with a colleague who I met during my presidency at a NAFSA conference, Laura Sippel, amid the COVID-19 posts on LinkedIn. It took only a few chat exchanges to spark all the things on my mind, especially about international students at risk, as I had been posting several issues under the hashtag #HumanityAtRisk. Humanity at risk is what I am concerned about, and for international students, those from financially and politically challenging environments are at higher risks.

Concurrent to my presidency at IEASA, I was also the director of the Wits International Office at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa. The international student population at Wits was around 3,000 students. A small percentage was from North America and Europe, but it was significant to foster deep collaboration and partnerships. One, in particular, was the development of a multidisciplinary, international human rights undergraduate credit-bearing program. The more substantial percentage was from other African countries, only a small portion are supported by their governments or sponsorships, which were often the bare essentials. The remainder were students who had gotten there on their dime or by family support.

Most of these students survived by pooling their resources to live together, sometimes up to 4-6 people are sharing a small living space. These are the students I am thinking about in this COVID-19 environment. I am sure that the situation at Wits (2006-2011) is no different from campuses around the world. Also, in the North American and European institutions, these students are people of colour. Not too long ago, the targets were Arab Americans, and Arab/Muslim students were on the attack. Now it is Chinese/Asian students. There is a cocktail of brewing discriminatory issues that go along with them, international students and us, local students, politics and the financial situation. Putting this all together in the COVID-19 position is more frightening for the international student population. How can they get the right help for any particular problem, financial, discrimination, health, abuse and stress? Most offices are working off-site remotely. While all institutions are trying to respond to the service needs of their general student population, COVID-19 is adding more barriers to international students.

In South Africa, international students face significant challenges. The housing situation in 2020 is unlikely any different from that that McGregor mentioned in 2014, “Many landlords require them to pay the entire year’s worth of rent in advance. There are medical insurance costs. This is an enormous burden for international students financially, particularly those from less developed countries. International students in universities are still fairly new, and the demand is outpacing the resources that are being allocated. Lack of accommodation is by far the greatest challenge.” It is however a common issue for all students in Sub-Sahara Africa. While data is scarce, according to Samia Chasi of IEASA, “Three days earlier, a local newspaper reported that an estimated 5,382 international students were stranded in university accommodation across the country. Regardless of where they are stranded, these students have required dedicated assistance from often overworked and under-resourced internationalisation professionals at host and home institutions, in collaboration with relevant ministries and diplomatic missions.” She further indicated that COVID-19 is not an equalizing force, as, “Its impact is felt differently in different contexts, with underprivileged individuals and institutions finding themselves on the receiving end of the digital divide.

In Canada, there are different support in different provinces and universities; however, there is a sense of no coordinated effort from a federal level. According to Wesam AbdElhamid Mohamed, international students commissioner at the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), “There is no clear direction of health institutions that are protecting international students.” The organization (Students International) is also asking for post-secondary students, including international students, to be included in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which allows people economically impacted by the pandemic to claim $2,000 for four months for emergency support. International students contributed an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2018, according to the federal government. “So that’s why we feel that it’s truly essential to include them in the emergency program,” Mohamed said.”

[1] Karen MacGregor, 06 September 2014,https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20140905134914811

[2] Samia Chasi, https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20200408093750683

[3] Sherina Harris, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/author/sharris01

In the current situation, some good practices and solutions can come from different parts of society. In Australia, last Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international students and other visa holders were “not held here compulsorily. If they’re not in a position to be able to support themselves, then there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries,”. The Melbourne City Council has become the first government at any level in Australia to pledge financial support for international students amid fears they are falling through the cracks because they are not eligible for government welfare. Later, the government of Australia make a shift, in the same light, to now offer financial support to international students.

According to Viggo Stacey, New Zealand has introduced a wage subsidy for international students; however, it is for students who cannot do their jobs during the lockdown period.

Callan Quinn stated that last week, Canada announced that international students will be included in measures to help those who lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Like citizens of the country, they will be able to apply for temporary income support of up to CAN$500 a week for up to sixteen weeks provided they meet certain criteria. This is the most comprehensive support, so far, by a federal government.

According to a report by Dr Rahul Choudaha, International Students contribute over US$300 Billion to economies across the globe. “Together, the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, and the Netherlands enrolled half the world’s international post-secondary students in 2016. That year, considering direct, indirect, and induced impacts, international students contributed:
US$57.3 billion to the US;
US$25.5 billion to the UK;
US$19.8 billion to Australia;
US$14.5 billion to France, and France charges no to low tuition fees for international students;
US$14.4 billion to Germany, and international students do not pay tuition fees in Germany;
US$11.1 billion to Canada;
US$5.3 billion to the Netherlands, a country that charges differential tuition fee for EU and non-EU international students.”

From a diversity and inclusion lens, let us see how universities and countries, that benefit from this injection of wealth from international students, will treat them during this pandemic. I am sure their respective reactions will impact what happens to their institutions, cities and country and the flow of international student’s income after COVID-19.

[4] https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/melbourne-city-council-pledges-financial-support-for-foreign-students-20200408-p54i63.html

[5] https://studytravel.network/magazine/news/0/27376

[6] Viggo Stacey,  https://thepienews.com/news/nz-wage-subsidy-scheme-open-for-intl-students/

[7] https://thepienews.com/analysis/top-study-coronavirus-intl-students/

[8] https://monitor.icef.com/2019/08/international-students-generate-global-economic-impact-of-us300-billion/

Fazela HANIFF immigrated to Canada in 1974 from Guyana, lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for plus 2 years, then to South Africa from 1994 to 2012 and returned to Canada in 2012. Through a Diversity and Inclusion Lens, Ms. Haniff is an HR, OD and HE internationalisation specialist. Ms Haniff completed her Human Resources Management studies at Ryerson University, Higher Education Management from the University of the Witwatersrand and Bachelor of Business Administration from Yorkville University. She is the Past President of the International Education Association of South Africa and first woman president. In 2010 she received an award in recognition of “Exemplary Leadership as IEASA President”. She has contributed widely to the internationalization dialogue via presentations and workshops to IIE, NIEA, NAFSA, EAIE, EAIE, IEASA, APAIE, and contributed to numerous publications related to international higher education. Fazela currently lives in Toronto, Canada.


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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, COVI-19, COVID-19, Education, History, Human Interest, international education, international students, News, Politics, study abroad, technology, Travel