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Faking the grade for overseas study

Updated: 2014-07-23 07:21
( China Daily)

'Improvement process'

Chen Yin, a former manager of the US section at a large recruitment agency in Qingdao, Shandong province, said profit is the main culprit fueling the rampant practice.

"We don't call this 'faking materials'. It's seen as a process of 'improvement'. Good students have much material to use and we mainly help them select the most attractive parts to highlight and invite high-level writers to edit their application documents," Chen said.

"But for average students, especially those from rich families with poor academic performance, we will provide a package service," she said.

"US colleges favor students with abundant experience. We will ask parents to use their relationships to get references of internships with well-known companies or NGOs.

"For academic transcripts, some schools will help students adjust their scores. But for schools under strict management, we will sometimes fake academic certificates," she said.

In her eight years of experience, Chen said she found that 80 percent of the teachers approached would sign and approve the recommendation letters the agency had prepared without any changes.

But with increasing scrutiny and regulation from US colleges, it is also becoming more risky to fake materials. Every year, several students will leave school after being found with fake application material or grades that do not match the academic levels reflected in their applications, she said.

Measures from the US

Many US colleges have rolled out several measures in recent years to assess students, such as conducting remote video interviews and accepting academic transcripts processed by third-party institutes.

"Students submit fraudulent credentials every year. This isn't something new, though we do see fraudulent credentials submitted with increasing frequency," said Shawn L. Abbott, assistant vice-president and dean of admissions of the office of undergraduate admissions at New York University.

"Through our holistic admission process, however, which now often includes an interview with candidates to probe deeper into their resumes and English language ability, we are able to frequently uncover cases where students have submitted fraudulent credentials," he said.

Keeping it personal

Students should apply to US schools personally instead of depending on recruitment agencies for their admission applications, the US consulate general in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province, suggested.

"Instead of helping, some poor recruiting agencies may bring disastrous consequences to your future application or even visit to the US, ” Seth Bailey, US cultural consul of theconsulate, said in an interview with China Daily.

In 2013, the success rate of Chinese students applying for US visas soared to 90 percent nationwide on average.

But the rate was much lower in the northeastern region. The consulate carried out investigations and found that the problem appeared to be the recruitment agencies.

"We got evidence that two big recruiting agencies in Shenyang and Dalian were involved in a large amount of deals in counterfeiting application materials and offering such training for students. Their behavior will stain China’s image abroad and have negative effects on the normal personnel exchange between the two countries,” he said.

Bailey said the two agencies have been blacklisted and he remindedstudents not to be cheated by such groups.

He Na and Liu Ce

"Much like many American universities, NYU does see many students submit fraudulent credentials every year. And each year, we investigate each fraudulent submission to the best of our ability and resolve accordingly. It is increasingly common for us to revoke admission for candidates when we are certain that fraudulent credentials have been submitted.

"When students submit fake materials to gain admission, the integrity of our entire admission process is called into question. This is precisely why our admission process is a holistic one where we look at multiple credentials and variables before making final admission decisions," he said.

"There are many, many variables that we evaluate in our admission process including academic records, test scores, resumes, extra curricular accomplishments, talents, personal characteristics, letters of recommendation, interviews, and a number of writing samples."

Rhine Lu, admission officer of New York University Shanghai, a Sino-US joint venture university, said they have zero tolerance over fake application materials.

Paul Turner, Asia Pacific director and business development director of the Northern Consortium of UK Universities said: "I am not aware of any major problems with fraud. Certainly NCUK students don't have problems but I think the US may be different as it is an immigration country and people are looking at all ways to get there."

He also pointed out that there have been some problems with private colleges not keeping an eye on foreign (non-EU) students in the UK who then go off and spend more time working than studying. Recently, the UK government removed 57 such colleges' right to invite non-EU students.

More needed

Many Chinese parents' view of overseas diplomas as a shortcut to good jobs and success is a fundamental reason for the problem, educators said.

Strict penalties for fraudulent university applications must be enforced as meritocracy is an important aspect of society, Xiong, from the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said.

"Why do Chinese parents want to send their children to the best schools, not the ones most suitable for them? They really need to rethink the problem as a diploma is not everything," Lee, the Amber Education Group CEO, said.

"I also suggest fully opening the market for recruitment agencies and letting it decide. Students in Hong Kong will consult at least six agencies before using the most reasonable one. But in the Chinese mainland, there are not as many options," he said.

Wang Xiang, the owner of an overseas study intermediary agency in Shenyang, Liaoning province, also blamed the increasing number of overseas "diploma mills" - which offer illegitimate degrees and diplomas for fees - as one of the reasons that have led to the growing number of fake application materials from Chinese students.

"For the sake of money, these diploma mills even help students counterfeit material to pass admission investigations by foreign governments. It's not only China's problem. It also needs other countries' efforts," he said.

Contact the writer at hena@chinadaily.com.cn

Liu Ce and Luo Wangshu contributed to this story.


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