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Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

International recruiting’s (not so well kept) dirty little secret

It may be news that America’s Dickinson State University was giving bogus degrees to undeserving students from China, but it’s hardly surprising.

The Vancouver television exposé (Global News, “16×9″ documentary) on BC’s Douglas College granting degrees with doctored grades to its students at its Chinese college partner – is also not going to shock anyone in the academic community – unless they have been asleep for a decade.

The dirt has been swept under academe’s carpet for years, but that bump is getting bigger and messier, and it threatens to trip up more than just a few institutions who have been banking on the easy money which up until now, has been piling up.

There have been plenty of upset professors (mainly in university business programs), who have seen legions of students from China that just can’t cut it in their classrooms. Most say nothing. To challenge their own institution is seen as rebellious.

“The tacit and sometimes even explicit collusion of stakeholders,” writes Dr Daniel J Guhr, managing director of the Illuminate Consulting Group in his recent article in University World News on fraud in international education. “[The stakeholders] place the economic contributions from international students above the integrity of a test regime, admissions system or institutional brand. The motivation is fairly obvious – money.”

China has been by far the major source of this fraud. It produces tens of thousands of students who want the degree for status, but not the required work that comes with earning it (it’s very different fraud commonly found in South Asia, where even more students want a visa as a ticket out of their own country, and have no interest in even pretending to sit in a foreign classroom).

China is perfect for such scams. There has been a boom in private providers of high schools and colleges. The Chinese business leaders who built the schools can smell the foreign thirst for students at any cost, and know very well that few questions will get asked if you can just provide “bums in seats” as colleges and universities like to say.

How is it that Grade 12 students with supposedly 80% averages in Canadian curriculum programs, can barely write two sentences in English, is a question that is very bad for university budgets, to be asking.

We’ve seen how universities embrace foundation programs which purport to provide a magic elixir turning mediocre students en masse not fit for degree programs, into degree holders. It’s about the easy money they earn from these programs, and be damned if truth is twisted on dumbing down standards of admissions.

So will these shameful stories in North Dakota and British Columbia, bring more of this into the light ?

Likely not if you factor in higher education’s rising costs, the ever shrinking government subsidies, and ever increasingly weighty institutional pension obligations. Just who will be left taking the high road on academic integrity ?



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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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