Category Archives: technology

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). 

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

1blockchain

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.”

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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Polyglot and Proud of It!

June 1st, 2018

polygot

Yesterday, a male applicant from Mexico in his mid-50’s stopped by the office to drop off his documents. I overhead him speaking with a couple of our evaluators in Spanish. He had studied communications at the university and worked as a journalist for TV and print media in Mexico. I walked over and introduced myself, in Spanish. The life of a journalist or “periodista” in Mexico is hazardous, in fact, deadly. Outside of conflict zones, Mexico takes the No. 1 spot for journalists murdered in 2017. We spoke more about the dangers of being a journalist and how much he loved what he did but he also valued his life and the need to protect his family. He told us that he heads a professional association for “periodistas” who have been driven out of Mexico after either receiving death threats or seeing the writing on the wall before the grim inevitable was to pay them a visit.

English Only Scare Tactics

polygot1

Lately, the news chatter here in the U.S. is about citizens, tourists, visitors being harassed for speaking a language other than English. It’s what happens when a person reacts out of fear, out of ignorance, and I mean ignorance as in the not-knowing, or willfully choosing not to take the time to know and educate oneself. It brings out the ugly, the racist, the xenophobe in the person.

Embracing Multilingualism

polygot2

At, ACEI, we pride ourselves on being polyglots. We have native and non-native speakers of Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Farsi, Armenian, Russian, Italian, Moldovan, Croatian, Chinese, Turkish, and what we like to call “credentialese”. Our applicants appreciate our multilingualism and it is also good practice for those of us who don’t get to use their French, German, or whatever second or third foreign language it was we’d studied in college.

The expression on our Mexican applicant’s face was of pure joy when he heard not one but three people in our office who are not all native speakers of Spanish speaking to him in his native tongue, some haltingly, and some effortlessly. But everyone made the effort and that is how we learned about him and his plight. He, in turn, felt welcomed and more importantly, safe.

We don’t need to limit ourselves to speaking one language when engaging with people. We can keep English as our primary accepted language to conduct our business, but we need not feel afraid to switch to another language if we choose to do so. I don’t want to be intimidated or harassed when I chat in Armenian and Farsi interspersed with English with my mother in public, or French, or Spanish with an out of town friend or visitor.

Multilingualism and Brain Evolution

polygot3

Each day, studies show how knowing more languages is good for our overall mental health. As noted in a BBC report, most people in the world speak more than one language, suggesting the human brain evolved in multiple tongues. The human brain has evolved to be multilingual. I don’t claim to be a scientist, but I’ll hazard a guess that embracing monolingualism isn’t good for our brain; it impedes our brain’s evolution.

We need to put the ugly back inside the bottle load it into a space capsule and shoot into a galaxy far, far, and away.

jasmin_2015

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

President & CEO, Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI)
President, Association of International Credentials Evaluators, Inc. (AICE)
Chair, International Education Standards Council (IESC), AACRAO

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 http://www.acei-global.org.

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Student Data Mobility, Diversity and Inclusion, and Emerging Trends for 2018

April 27th, 2018

DARPA_Big_Data

In April 2017 in Melbourne, Australia, ACEI became a signatory on the Groningen Declaration Network. The Association of International Credential Evaluators, of which AICE is a Charter and Endorsed Member, also became a signatory on the GDN. This year in April, the Groningen Declaration Network held its annual summit in Paris, France. The summit was held at the Marie-Curie campus of the University of Sorbonne. Presentations continued to revolve around the digital mobility of students worldwide, security and trust in platforms serving as hubs for digital documents, and the overall acceptance of receiving and processing academic transcripts and degrees digitally versus the paper form in sealed envelopes which have been the traditional form of issuing and releasing documents.

What is the Groningen Declaration?

According to their website, “The Groningen Declaration seeks common ground in best serving the academic and professional mobility needs of citizens world wide by bringing together key stakeholders in the Digital Student Data Ecosystem – we make Digital Student Data Portability happen. Citizens world wide should be able to consult and share their authentic educational data with whomever they want, whenever they want, wherever they are.”

Students are technically savvy more than ever. International admissions offices should provide positive messages while adapting to the advances of technology.  More than 80% of international students use their mobile devices to conduct their communication. Not only do we have to address the advancements in technology, we need to provide positive messages that international students and immigrants are welcome and safe at our campuses and in our country. Diversity and inclusion helps foster this message.

What is diversity and inclusion?

Diversity is any aspect that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another, but it also means appreciation of and respect for differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education, and religion. Inclusion is about focusing on the needs of everyone and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve their greatest potential.

There are many factors that increase the need for student data mobility:

  • Rising demand for immediate information. There is a huge increase in the use of apps and the need for immediate communication. (Whatsapp, Viber, Tango, WeChat, Skype, etc.).
  • Key players for international student data mobility and referrals include USA, UK, Australia, Germany, Canada, France, China, and New Zealand.
  • Rising popularity of transnationalism. The forces of globalization and transnationalism have transformed many countries once known as immigrant countries into both immigrant and emigrant countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore.
  • Rise of web-based technology and learning. This is often called online learning or e-learning because it includes online course content. Discussion forums via email, videoconferencing, and live lectures (videostreaming) are all possible through the web. Web pages may contain hyperlinks to other parts of the web, giving access to a vast amount of web-based information.
  • Targeting and knowing your audience. By matching international students’ needs will increase engagement and improve significantly the relationship with them, as students want to be in control of the communication preferences. Send not only the right message to the right person at the right time, but also through the right channel.

Here are key trends affecting international education in 2018:

  • The price of oil. Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria all rely heavily on the oil industry, where low oil costs will affect their population and their currency. Countries that depend on oil exports and will be affected by low oil prices.
  • English as a Second Language face-lift. The English language market is finding themselves in competition for market share, so providers are overhauling their course offerings and revamping their programming. Agents are also drivers of this trend as they see added value to English language learning.
  • Instant Messaging marketing. Mobile marketing provides international student offices direct and personal contact with potential students. Instant messaging is immediate and these messages are more targeted and have a higher target success rate.
  • Refugee crisis. During this difficult time, international educators are finding solutions to help students and scholars who were among the millions of refugees seen fleeing war and persecution. There will be an increasing need to assist this population and migrant support and credit recognition will be in the forefront as more educators move to provide scholarships, assistance, and language training.
  • Political climate and our current administration affect internationalism, immigration policy – especially for STEM graduates, H1 visa issues, and overall international relationships shapes our future.

By moving forward best practices and common ground for student data mobility, we can provide the best service to our international students. Pairing this with the message, “You are welcome and safe here,” we can provide positive messages to ensure international student admission growth and stability.

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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Student Data Mobility, Diversity and Inclusion, and Emerging Trends for 2017

April 27th, 2017

DARPA_Big_Data

In light of our new administration and changes in the international landscape, there are positive efforts being done to advocate for internationalism and foster partnerships. ACEI and AICE President, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, is in Australia signing the Groningen Declaration on behalf of ACEI and the Association of International Credential Evaluators, Inc. (AICE) to move our profession forward.

What is the Groningen Declaration?

According to their website, “The Groningen Declaration seeks common ground in best serving the academic and professional mobility needs of citizens world wide by bringing together key stakeholders in the Digital Student Data Ecosystem – we make Digital Student Data Portability happen. Citizens world wide should be able to consult and share their authentic educational data with whomever they want, whenever they want, wherever they are.”

Students are technically savvy more than ever. International admissions offices should provide positive messages while adapting to the advances of technology.  More than 80% of international students use their mobile devices to conduct their communication. Not only do we have to address the advancements in technology, we need to provide positive messages that international students and immigrants are welcome and safe at our campuses and in our country. Diversity and inclusion helps foster this message.

What is diversity and inclusion?

Diversity is any aspect that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another, but it also means appreciation of and respect for differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education, and religion. Inclusion is about focusing on the needs of everyone and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve their greatest potential.

There are many factors that increase the need for student data mobility:

  • Rising demand for immediate information. There is a huge increase in the use of apps and the need for immediate communication. (Whatsapp, Viber, Tango, WeChat, Skype, etc.).
  • Key players for international student data mobility and referrals include USA, UK, Australia, Germany, Canada, France, China, and New Zealand.
  • Rising popularity of transnationalism. The forces of globalization and transnationalism have transformed many countries once known as immigrant countries into both immigrant and emigrant countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore.
  • Rise of web-based technology and learning. This is often called online learning or e-learning because it includes online course content. Discussion forums via email, videoconferencing, and live lectures (videostreaming) are all possible through the web. Web pages may contain hyperlinks to other parts of the web, giving access to a vast amount of web-based information.
  • Targeting and knowing your audience. By matching international students’ needs will increase engagement and improve significantly the relationship with them, as students want to be in control of the communication preferences. Send not only the right message to the right person at the right time, but also through the right channel.

Here are key trends affecting international education in 2017:

  • The price of oil. Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria all rely heavily on the oil industry, where low oil costs will affect their population and their currency. Countries that depend on oil exports and will be affected by low oil prices.
  • English as a Second Language face-lift. The English language market is finding themselves in competition for market share, so providers are overhauling their course offerings and revamping their programming. Agents are also drivers of this trend as they see added value to English language learning.
  • Instant Messaging marketing. Mobile marketing provides international student offices direct and personal contact with potential students. Instant messaging is immediate and these messages are more targeted and have a higher target success rate.
  • Refugee crisis. During this difficult time, international educators are finding solutions to help students and scholars who were among the millions of refugees seen fleeing war and persecution. There will be an increasing need to assist this population and migrant support and credit recognition will be in the forefront as more educators move to provide scholarships, assistance, and language training.
  • Political climate and our current administration affect internationalism, immigration policy – especially for STEM graduates, H1 visa issues, and overall international relationships shapes our future.

By moving forward best practices and common ground for student data mobility, we can provide the best service to our international students. Pairing this with the message, “You are welcome and safe here,” we can provide positive messages to ensure international student admission growth and stability.

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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Yachay: A South American Silicon Valley in Ecuador

August 14th, 2014

yachay

Ecuador is creating a new city of knowledge called Yachay; a Quechua Indian word that means knowledge, or learning. It is building a research university and city in Urcuquí, Imbabura Province to function as an academic, technological and scientific. The campus expands over an area of approximately 12,000 acres near the snowcapped Andean peaks in northern Ecuador. In one promotional video on Yachay, the tag line is: Ciudad de Conocimiento (City of Knowledge) Investiga! Innova! Produce! (Research! Innovate! Produce!)

Yachay is to become the first planned city of its kind and its mission is to transform the country into an exporter of knowledge which Ecuador sees as the key to access the new global economic structure. Yachay University is a proposed institution planned by the government of Ecuador.

yachay_future
Image of the future City of Knowledge, Yachay

The idea came about in 2013 after President Rafael Correa toured Asia and so impressed was he with the technologically advanced research and business clusters in the countries he had visited, in particular South Korea and Singapore, that he envisioned something similar for Ecuador. Rich in oil and gold deposits, the country’s natural resources may soon run out which is why President Correa wants to steer Ecuador away from an economy that is largely based on oil-extraction and mining. He wants to take Ecuador through an academic and technological revolution with Yachay; a $1.04 billion initiative to build a research university surrounded by labs, industrial parks and, ultimately, a city…a South American Silicon Valley in Ecuador.

The heart of Yachay will be Yachay University (Universidad de Investigación de Tecnología Experimental), the technological experimental university that Ecuador wants to make into an important academic establishment. The focus of the university is to develop research around five key areas: life science, nanoscience, petrochemistry, renewable energies, information and communications technology. Yachay University will be one of four universities, and supposed to collaborate with public and private research institutions. Here’s the link to the promotional YouTube video on Yachay

The university will cater to 4000 students, offering internationally recognized undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degree programs. It will facilitate access to national and international research endeavors. The institution is said to retain world-class teaching staff that will work with Ecuadoran universities on research projects. According to a July 14th article in the Miami Herald: “Some 174 students have been recruited from across the country and are taking intensive math and English courses on campus as they prepare for formal studies next year.”

Rene Ramirez, Ecuadorian Minister of Higher Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation, hopes Yachay University will one day be on par with the likes of Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the California Institute of Technology. Yachay University has already attracted the likes of Sanford, Cal Tech and Kansas State University is offering English language instructions. According to September 2013 plans, the University was to open in the first quarter of 2014.

Yachay wants to attract new, innovative and high tech businesses in telecommunications, petrochemistry, health sciences and nano technology. Companies such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and China Telecom have already set up in Yachay. The goal is to attract foreign investors converting Yachay into a hub of employment.

Success as a world-class research university requires not only financial security as well as also autonomy on the part of the institution, but to the critics of this project, Yachay is seen as a government enterprise leaving little room for academic freedom. Other critics see Yachay as a university of the elites, isolated and cut off from the rest of Ecuador operating in a vacuum while much of the country is poor and underdeveloped. Many also argue as to why the billions spent on building Yachay is not being allocated to Ecuador’s existing struggling public universities. Supporters of Yachay argue that Ecuador’s public institutions have failed to make any progress in research and innovation and that Yachay University in fact will help reduce the country’s brain drain. An example I recently heard was a report on Yachay by NPR’s All Things Considered about a 17-year old Ecuadoran who turned down a full scholarship to a top university in Belgium to study genetic engineering in order to attend Yachay University.

All this sounds very ambitious, or as the blogger Eric Mack said in his post, this could very well be the pipeline to the future or a pipe dream. I, for one, would like to see this ambitious endeavor succeed, but not at the expense of the country’s existing public universities. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Frustrated
The Frustrated Evaluator
acei@acei-global.org

ACEI
http://www.acei-global.org

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The Web-based Brain: Redefining Intelligence

May 30, 2013

pg 226 Our Brain

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” – Plato

How do we choose to measure intelligence, and what kind of intelligence do we value in society today?

On the Science page of the Huffington Post, the recent article, People Getting Dumber? Human Intelligence Has Declined Since Victorian Era, Research Suggests, stated, “Our technology may be getting smarter, but a provocative new study suggests human intelligence is on the decline. In fact, it indicates that Westerners have lost 14 I.Q. points on average since the Victorian Era.” Hmmm.

We currently measure intelligence with the understanding that each successive generation’s IQ will be smarter than the last, (The Flynn Effect.) It should stand to reason then, that each successive generation’s average IQ test scores would be higher. So why are our test scores lower?

There are two different types of intelligence which psychologists believe to be separate neural systems; Crystallized Inteligence, Gc. which is our ability to use skills, knowledge and experience we build over time as we memorize information, and Fluid Intelligence. Gf, which is the ability to analytically solve complex problems using logic, independent of acquired knowledge,

Recent scientific studies show that individuals trained on a video game could improve short-term memory skills, or working memory, i.e. the kind of memory you use to hold information and manipulate facts. If you improve your working memory– your Fluid Memory– from these computer games, the ability to solve complex problems increases, and it can be argued that we are actually increasing intelligence. Neurobiologists know that the brain has plasticity, and when stimulated, more “branching” appears at the “cortical” level, connecting different regions of the brain to one another; we make more fluid associations. Perhaps what looks to us now like stupidity, or a general dumbing-down may actually turn out to be a different sort of intelligence.

Dr. Gary Small, the Director of UCLA Longevity Center, proposes that we are at a major milestone in brain evolution, and clearly we are redefining intelligence. He states that it is important that we acknowledge the results of how we are searching and gathering information on the worldwide web. He says,” …what we may see with all the new technology is sort of a super brain which is evolving right now….”

Daniel Weinberger author of “Too Big to Know” says, “…we may be seeing the emergence of a type of Web-Form thinking, that is far looser, driven more by interest, less focused and reduced, and is more collaborative…”

Are current IQ tests a good measure of intelligence?
In December 2012, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article for Smithsonian.com, “Are You Smarter Than Your Grandfather? Probably Not.” He explained the theroy proposed in political scientist James Flynn’s book ” Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Are-You-Smarter-Than-Your-Grandfather-Probably-Not-181842991.html

Gladwell explains, “Ultimately, Flynn concludes that human beings are not smarter—just more modern.” He begins with Flynn’s investigation into the character of the standard intelligence measuring tests. He explains,” the Flynn effect puts the average IQs of the school children of 1900 at around 70, which is to suggest, bizarrely, that a century ago the United States was populated largely by people who today would be considered mentally retarded.” Harsh.

Flynn explores the nature of the tests, and explains that the IQ tests today want you to “classify,” thus children today “…picked up the habit of classification and use the vocabulary of science. They classify the world as a prerequisite to understanding it.”

Standard IQ tests have various subtests, such as “similarities” which ask children to find commonalities, or relationships. These showed significant gains, while the subtests that test arithmetical reasoning, had significantly smaller gains. Gladwell explains,”…In 1910, schools were focused on kids memorizing things about the real world. Today, they are entirely about relationships.”

The extreme intelligence of Autism
It turns out that the fastest growing trend in global IT companies is the hiring of autistic software developers. It is a proven fact that highly functioning people on the autistic spectrum display an extraordinarily high talent for both math and science.

The title of a recent cover story in the May 22 issue of Handelsblatt, Germany’s economic and financial newspaper, “Looking for Autism” caught my eye. The sub-headline was basically a disclaimer, stating that, lest you think that SAP (SAP AG, a large German, multinational software corporation which manufactures Enterprise Software – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enterprise_software) has discovered its social conscience, in fact its plan to hire 650 Autistic workers by 2020 is actually fueled by the desire to take advantage of their special programming talents. Very Interesting.

In the highly competitive race for creative innovation in software development, most IT corporations have recognized that some of the most startling advances in IT technology are created in collaborations. But what many may not realize is that IT corporations such as SAP have discovered that development teams with one or more Autistic team members had the highest rate of team member satisfaction, and out-performed other teams by a large extent in terms of the rapid advancement in technology and innovation. Bringing together such diverse talents frees each team member to express and use their individual strengths to their full potentials, as the autistic members could most effectively and rapidly handle the intricacies of testing the software codes and other time consuming repetitive tasks, by rapidly finding mistakes.

IT companies have begun collaborating with social institutions such as Specialistern, based in Denmark (which now has branches in the U.S, Poland, Switzerland and Germany), Left is Right, in Sweden and Auticon in Germany. Specialistern describes itself as, “… a socially innovative company where the majority of employees have a diagnosis on the Autism spectrum.” Based on the particular skills of those Autistic individuals, Specialisterne, Left is Right, and Auticon, work directly with corporations to help autistic people find work with IT companies, who are willing to work with them in order to increase their competitive advantage.

In explaining this unusual partnership, Luisa Deplazes Delgado, the chief human resources officer at SAP says that both Specialistern and SAP believe that, “…innovation comes from the edges,” and, “…Only by employing people who think differently and spark innovation will SAP be prepared to handle the challenges of the 21st century.”

Interestingly enough, while training Autistic children how to use the computer, human resources trainers at SAP reported that they had a noticeably higher success rate using the Apple iPad, because of its simple user-friendly interface.
One could say that we have embraced our destiny by creating and participating in the global change brought about by the construct of the Internet, and the endless free-flow and exchange of information it offers. If we have developed and are continuing to evolve a Web-based form of thinking, we are in effect increasing our brain plasticity, or Fluid thinking. We are right on schedule, and as James Flynn would contend, we are “becoming modern.”

Why not begin to consider that we are in fact creating new societies, which could be said to function on a higher, and more effective level as proven by the SAP team models?

We might just find out that if we respect and embrace our innate differences, and create school models and working situations which are intuitively “fluid” we actually allow the strengths of each individual to reach their full potential, because….they are doing what they really want to do.

Read more:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/22/people-getting-dumber-human-intelligence-victoria-era_n_3293846.html

http://www.ibtimes.com/sap-recruits-autism-employees-spark-innovation-1275541

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Are-You-Smarter-Than-Your-Grandfather-Probably-Not-181842991.html#ixzz2UfxWubQh

Listen:
A web cast on the Science page of the Huffington Post called Reverse Intelligence. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, it is worth a watch. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/22/people-getting-dumber-human-intelligence-victoria-era_n_3293846.html

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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