Tag Archives: college degree

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Credentials, Education, technology

The Three-Year Bologna Bachelor’s Degrees: A U.S. and European Perspective

July 14th, 2017

post

U.S. Perspective

At the invitation of Rafael Nevarez with the US Department of Education, Melanie Gottlieb, Deputy Director of AACRAO, and Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, Chair of AACRAO’s IESC, President of AICE, and President & CEO of ACEI, presented a session at the ENIC-NARIC meeting on June 26th in Copenhagen, Denmark. The topic of their presentation was the U.S. perspective on the 3-year Bologna compliant bachelor’s degrees. Joining Melanie and Jasmin was Allan Bruun Pedersen, Senior Adviser with the Danish Agency for Higher Education and Science who presented the European perspective.

The U.S. representatives shared the results of surveys that were conducted by the Council for Graduate Schools (2005/2006) and IIE (2008/2009) on the three-year Bologna-compliant degrees and the 2016 AACRAO-AICE survey. The key take-aways from the most recent survey was that the U.S. perspective is still evolving and that, based on institutional policies, it is split between two schools of thought: qualitative versus quantitative or benchmarking versus year counting.

The absence of a nationwide admissions policy for graduate studies and a lack of cohesiveness in policy even among departments within universities are the challenges facing a standardized approach in recognizing the three-year Bologna compliant bachelor’s degrees. In addition, there are various players other than institutions of higher education (e.g. state licensing boards, USCIS and employers within state and federal agencies) with their own set of requirements and criteria. The fact that not all Bologna-compliant countries are moving in the same direction at the same pace, that the three-year degree model is not always used in a coherent way, especially in fields such as law, teacher training and medicine, and the lack of consistency in how ECTS credits are used (especially in master’s degree programs where designating credits for student-centered learning remains unclear), pose additional challenges for educators and credential evaluators in the U.S.

But not all is doom and gloom, as survey results also show more U.S. institutions are becoming familiar with the three-year Bologna-compliant Bachelor’s degree and modifying their policies. The three different admissions models employed by US institutions of higher education—open admission, threshold admission, and holistic admission—lend themselves for flexibility and variety when it comes to accepting three-year Bologna-compliant degrees. A cursory search of institutional websites demonstrated that some U.S. institutions accepted the three-year Bologna-compliant Bachelor’s degree for graduate admission, some accepted the said degree but required completion of a one-year bridge program, and some accepted the degree holder but also placed emphasis on GPA, and performance on GRE/GMAT exams in their final admission decision.

European Perspective

The European perspective, as presented by Allan Bruun Pedersen, confirmed the survey findings shared by Jasmin and Melanie, in that there has been progress in accepting the three-year Bologna-compliant degrees in the U.S. but it has been slow. According to Allan, close to 50% of U.S. institutions of higher education sill do not accept a three-year Bologna-compliant degree for access to graduate studies.  The European perspective leans more toward benchmarking, qualitative rather the quantitative year counting model. And using the Lisbon Convention approach, three-year degrees are recognized based on the following qualifications: level, quality, learning outcomes, and workload. However, the Europeans are also aware of the double standard such an approach holds, especially where there is still controversy over three-year degrees from other parts of the world, e.g. the three-year Indian bachelor’s degrees.

The different educational philosophies between the U.S. and the European education systems was also recognized, especially where in the US general education is a key component in the four-year bachelor’s degree program versus the narrower subject specific European bachelor programs. There are still many European countries where a US high school diploma (with its broader range of subjects and often with less workload in subjects preparing candidates for university admission versus the European general upper secondary access qualification with fewer subjects and more workload in subjects) is not considered sufficient for admission to the bachelor’s degree programs and the U.S. bachelor’s degree (with its general education component and less subject specific courses in major/specialty) may not provide access to graduate degree programs.

It is essential for European institutions to understand and accept the differences in that the U.S. places a greater emphasis on quantitative recognition criteria where completion of general education courses as well as subject specific courses are a prerequisite for admission to U.S. master’s programs. And, that functional outcomes, whether the program completed meet the quantitative (that is number of years and credits) criteria required by a professional licensing board. There is a paradigm shift in European educational systems towards output oriented learning versus outcome oriented higher education and there needs to be acceptance that different pathways can lead to the same learning outcomes. The outcome of a degree is not just subject specific knowledge, but also more generic outcomes: the ability to communicate, analyze, and team work.  One aspect to be appreciated about the general education component of the US bachelor’s degree is that it also serves the purpose of generating broader competences than just the subject specific competences obtained through the three-year European bachelor’s degree.

In closing, we are asked to embrace the long tradition of transatlantic cooperation and student exchange within higher education and recognize the different admission systems (open vs threshold vs holistic) that require different responses. If an institution has adopted the open admissions model, then both sides can accept for admission the three-year Bologna-compliant degree (to US institutions) or the US four-year bachelor’s degree (to European institutions). If admission policies are more restrictive, candidates need to be allowed to apply for admission (access) to Bachelor’s degree programs and their eligibility to be determined in accordance to the same criteria as for national qualifications and reviewed on a case by case basis and not be automatically rejected.

The gaps and differences between the two systems may not be as large as perceived. By basing admission (access) on a broader range of criteria that takes into consideration both the quantitative and qualitative approaches and the longstanding history of cooperation and student exchange we will help support the mutual recognition and understanding of the U.S. bachelor’s degree and the 3-year Bologna-compliant bachelor’s degrees.

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

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

1 Comment

Filed under Credentials, Education

The never ending case of Credential Fraud and Misrepresentation

January 19th, 2017

mill

On January 5, 2017, the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA), frustrated with the continued proliferation of diploma mills and fraudulent qualifications, made a bold announcement that it will name and shame holders of these bogus degrees and diplomas.  The SAQA has established a national registry where those found guilty of having misrepresented their achievements with the use of fake degrees will be listed and said registry will be made public.

The issue of diploma mills and misrepresentation of academic documents is not new but it is a growing problem which continues to fester in countries around the world.  Here at ACEI, we realize the importance of doing our due diligence in vetting and verifying academic documents and ensuring that they are in fact issued by legitimate educational institutions to individuals who have duly earned them through actual attendance and participation in classes and coursework validated by final examinations.

From time to time, we share tips we’ve gleaned from our years of experience with academic documents and in this week’s blog we’d like to do exactly that and repost a comprehensive to-do list for you. We welcome any tips you would like to add to this list.

Ensuring the authenticity of educational credentials is by far the single most important step in credential evaluation and international student admissions. Without due diligence in fraud detection, we may run the risk of evaluating documents that may have been falsified, or fraudulently procured and admitting the students into our institutions based on unauthentic credentials. As professionals involved in international credential evaluation and admissions, we must remain vigilant and adopt best practices that protect us and the community from fraud.

In this blog post, we offer some tips to consider when evaluating international academic credentials.

What is an authentic academic credential?
The definition adopted by the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers is as follows:

An official transcript is one that has been received directly from the issuing institution. It must bear the college seal, date, and an appropriate signature. Transcripts received that do not meet these requirements should not be considered official and should be routinely verified for validity and accuracy before proceeding with the evaluation and admissions consideration.

The 5 Most Common Types of Non-Official and Illegitimate Documents

1. Forged or altered documents – Official, legitimate document that have been altered in some way (usually by omissions, addition, or changes)

2. Inside jobs – these are special cases because the documents are actually produced by institutional employees, usually for a fee; inside jobs are virtually impossible to detect upon initial review.

3. Fabricated (counterfeit) documents – documents fabricated to represent official documents from real or non-existent institutions (including use of letterheads)

4. Degree or Diploma Mill Products – The products of degree/diploma mills are not in themselves fabrications but the academic study they purport to represent certainly is.

5. Creative translations – “Translations” of foreign-language documents that are not just inaccurate but systematically misleading, tantamount to fabrication.

Watch for the Red Flags!

redflag

Checklist of Clues:

• The application is unusually late, assuming that it would impede verification, or is accompanied by a long letter from an impressive office – usually located in the U.S. – which may be attempting to lend an aura of officialdom to otherwise unacceptable documents. Do not be pressured or rushed into completing the evaluation or reaching an admissions

• Discrepancies/inconsistencies noted in the application for evaluation;

• Evidence of corrected personal data (birth date, gender);

• Document is tampered and has evidence of white-out, burn-marks, erasures, corrections;

• Credentials do not display misspelling, wrong course titles for the time period, smudges, white-outs, or erasures;

• Fonts, text layout, and symmetry of documents are correct for that institution’s credentials.

• Interrupted/obliterated lines where information is generally typed or printed;

• Missing pictures on diplomas or professional identification cards;
• Partial seals on the surface of superimposed pictures not on the document surface;

• Institutional logos are clean and correct for the time period.

• Signatures of institutional authorities do not look forced, unsteadied, nor copied and pasted.

• The type is inconsistent throughout the document because subjects have been added or grades changed. In some cases, crude alterations have been made in longhand, or lines may have been typed in at a slight angle to the computer generated originals;

• Irregular spacing between words or letters, or insufficient space for the text;

• Questionable paper quality, texture, size (regular or legal), weight coloration;

• Ink color and quality;

• Inappropriate or outdated signatures;

• Incorrect seals/emblems, colors, shapes;

• Excessive seals and stamps attempting to help the document appear official;

• Does the document security features, such a embossed seals, foil printing, raised text, or holograms that should be the official document of that country?

• Does the document include a stamp “not to be released to student’ or “confidential,” yet it is provided by the student?

• Applicant claims to have lost the original documents;

• Applicant claims to have graduated from an institution but can provide only a letter indicating completion of program;

• Although the applicant had taken external examinations, the certificates have been lost and all he/she has left is a statement of attendance or graduation from the school;

• You know the education system to be different from US system, yet the transcript appears to be very American, giving, subjects, grades and credit hours in US terms;

• Grade certificates prepared in a language other than the official language of the country where the document originated. Many countries are currently using official transcripts in English: Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Canada (except Quebec), Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and India.

• Names may have been substituted. Typically, a person will type his/her name on a sheet of paper, cut it out and paste it across a copy of an original, which he/she then photocopies; the substitution of names will rarely appear on an original;

• Grades listed may be absurdly high, or the number of course hours claimed to have been carried per semester an improbably load;

• Numerical aberrations: credits do not add up and the overall grade point averages are a mathematical impossibility;

• Is the educational terminology correct for the country concerned?

• Use of unprofessional language on academic documents, poor grammar, misspellings;

• Are there any dates or signatures on the documents?

Our advancement in technology is both a blessing and a curse. With sophisticated computers and printers at their disposal, counterfeiters today produce flawlessly perfect documents that for the uninitiated make it difficult to detect fraud. We hope that the tips shared in this blog and your institution’s enforcement to have in place strict standards for the submission and receipt of academic documents help thwart it and eliminate fraud.

Who ever said international credential evaluation is dull doesn’t know and appreciate what we do. Stay vigilant and happy sleuthing!

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Credentials, Education

How To Verify Chinese Degrees

January 5th, 2017

verify-chinese-degrees-1

This was initially posted on June 23rd, 2016

Leave a comment

Filed under Credentials, Education

Education and Experience: A Healthy Partnership

October 10th, 2013

eduexperience

The only source of knowledge is experience.
-Albert Einstein

There are those who are book smart and those who are street smart. Some get their “education” from the school of hard knocks and some from sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher’s lecture. The rising cost of a college education and the anemic job market has many scratching their heads wondering if it’s worth it. However, not having a degree or too little education is also not an option in many industries where a bachelor’s or master’s degree is the norm. Someone with experience but no college degree may qualify for certain jobs but may find growth opportunities and advancements limited or non-existent. Yet, the four or six years spent sitting in college lecture halls and pouring over books and reports leave many little time to acquire the hands-on work experience potential employers are looking for when hiring. How do you prioritize between education and experience?

We’ve all heard the arguments from both sides. Proponents of a college education quote statistics and studies to demonstrate how a college degree helps a person’s employability and earnings while those who dismiss education as a waste of time and money remind us of the famous college dropouts like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to prove their point.

Is education more important than experience or vice versa? The truth is they are not mutually exclusive but together are the combination needed to begin a career path and grow.

Recently, we received documents from an applicant who had attended a university in Australia and received a Master’s degree. When asked to submit his undergraduate documents for evaluation, he explained that the university considered his professional (work) experience and admitted him to its Master’s degree program in lieu of the earned bachelor’s degree. The university provided a detailed document explaining the methodology it employs in recognizing professional experience and qualifications for entry into its post-graduate degree programs.

Experience-based evaluations based on a set of guidelines/criteria by which professional practice can be recognized and applied objectively is an approach some institutions, especially in today’s market, are adopting. The Australian institution in question provided the following criteria by which credits are allocated for the learning acquired through the experience, which in the case of the candidate being evaluated was in the field of music:

1) Nature of training
-Duration
-Mode of learning, teachers and so on
-Any other relevant considerations (partially completed degrees/non recognized qualification etc.)

2) Nature of professional practice:
-Context(s)
-Duration
-National/International Experience
-Professional Referees /Peer Recognition
-Other relevant professional experience/considerations: Recording contracts/nature of collaborations/performances

3) Recordings/Publications:
-Context
-Publisher

In addition, candidates for this mode of entry to the Australian university mentioned are required to provide relevant documents that support their case for admission, including recordings, press reviews, letters of reference, proof of prior study and so on that can be examined by the subcommittee (comprised of the Head of Department, Program/Curriculum Developer, and one Faculty member).

Recognizing experience, that is; proven and well-documented experience-based learning is one approach institutions of higher learning can take into consideration offering individuals the opportunity to bring the knowledge gained through hands-on experience into the university classroom environment.
Another approach is implementing work-based training/experience into the degree program so that the college graduate leaves not only with a diploma highlighting his/her ability to think analytically and logically, demonstrating his/her exposure to an intellectually stimulating environment, but with basic skills set of experience in solving real-world work problems.

According to a recent Northeastern University survey, higher education students and employers strongly support experiential learning where a student’s classroom education is integrated with professional work experience. An interesting finding in the Northeastern U. survey shows that nearly 75% of hiring decision-makers surveyed believe students with work experience related to their field of study are more successful employees, while 82% of graduates from experiential learning programs say the experience was valuable for their personal and professional development. The business world is taking notice and sees the link between academic with industry as a big step forward.

Some Universities, like Purdue U. have in place study-abroad opportunities as experiential learning models. This international experience is seen as exactly what their students need in order to polish their talents and become more competitive in the global market place.

Experiential learning programs represent a logical blend of the old adage of hands-on-learning in the work place and a college education. Even the White House is a fan of experiential learning programs. James Kvaal, the Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House has commended Northeastern and Purdue for “delivering good value for students and continually improving and innovating.”

Education, a great foundation for any professional, is no longer enough in a competitive marketplace. One way to stand out among other professionals who have the same degree is to show work experience, whether acquired through a paid-full-time job, volunteering, apprenticeships, freelancing, internship or part of co-operative work placements of their college degree. The debate is no longer about education “or” experience, or education “versus” experience; it is about the right combination of a successful academic history and relevant work experience.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com

1 Comment

Filed under Credentials, Education