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Monday, January 9th, 2012

Dateline Beijing: Can foreign universities screen rigorously?

Recently, I received a notice from an individual with GMAT Test Security. The email read in part:

The score was attained by a proxy test taker. The name of the test taker(s) and the registration ID(s) for that test are listed in the attached letter.

The number of Chinese students studying overseas has skyrocketed since 2000. Along with this growth has been a similar escalation in the tendering of fraudulent documents. As has been documented elsewhere, in order to get an offer from an overseas institution, or get an offer from a university with a better ranking (students being consumed with rankings whether substantive or frivolous), students invest much time and energy in preparing application documents. Working with applicants, agencies and institutions daily, I see my fair share of dubious practices.

There are many different tricks. Some students falsify school transcripts, others use fake certificates, agencies prepare essays for students that may or may not furthermore be accurate; some students even cheat in interviews by having someone else talk to the interviewer. A student who can hardly make basic communication in English may have a very good English result in her high school transcript. Of course, getting ‘experts’ to take examinations like TOEFL and GMAT, like the case above, has been a well-documented abuse.

Sometimes I ask myself, why don’t more institutions overseas seek to limit these fraudulent practices? I recognize that prominent companies like ETS or IELTS which oversee test examinations have been trying for years to reduce the risk of abuse in their tests. But while many academic institutions do try to be rigorous, a great, great many seem to do little and hence, become part of the problem.

This blog will be in two parts. In this part, I thought I would address the question of “Why every institution should take better care in assessment of student qualifications”.

First, although cheating students are only a small fraction of students from China as a whole, when they get away with their cheating it can have an adverse effect on other students from China. Others, be they fellow students, faculty, administrators, may make inferences based on anecdotes that reflect unfairly on those perceived to be in a similar bracket.

Secondly, “getting away with” may mean fooling the institution, but not necessarily other students. Hence another reason to exert more scrutiny is for the protection of other students who may feel exceedingly frustrated if they see students in their program who can’t perform, academically or in terms of reasonable English proficiency, or in regards to other facets important to their education.

Thirdly, it is not a ‘victimless crime’. Students who gain admission through falsification or misrepresentation may take the place of a student who deserved to be there on true merit.

Finally, even the institution itself is a vicim, if not initially, ultimately over time. This is because people talk, and especially in China, word-of-mouth is powerful. If people hear an accumulation of anecdotes of known poor students having gained admission to an institution, eventually their reputation suffers. And do not think it is not known who is a poor student. Students talk, students share classes in China and abroad, students know.

The “why” is the easier, and more obvious part. Part II of this two-part blog series will cover ways in which much better screening and vetting can be performed, systems which can be implemented to reduce the extent to which students end up on your campus wanting in any academic respect. In fact, this blog will be useful even where the shortcomings are not due to misrepresentation but simply due to inadequacy not apparent from the student’s academic record.

Author, April Wang

Ms. April Wang is Manager, Bejing for Higher-Edge, China. She is a graduate of Renmin University with a Master of Management, and several years experience in international and international education endeavours.

1 comment

#1boringnicknameJanuary 12, 2012, 4:56 pm

Very interesting post. I look forward to reading the second post. As an IEP administrator in charge of testing who is welcoming several new Chinese students this week, this is a constant issue.

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