Thursday, July 19, 2007

They're Just Now Recognizing This?

In Korea there are all sorts of scams and frauds surrounding education. For good reason as education is seen as the way to the top.

These scams and frauds range from cheating and plagarism being pretty much accepted as normal and not punished to people faking their degrees.

I thought it was odd when I was first hired to come here that they didn't go out of their way to verify my degrees. I asked if they wanted information on my school's registars and I got "no" for an answer. I did, however, take it upon myself to take my degrees to the Korean consulate to, at least, have them authenticated by the person there.* However, that's still not verification with the schools themselves. However, since my credentials are real, I just have my schools send sealed transcripts directly to new employers just to head off any possible scandal or questions.

They've gotten more strict now with foreigners although there are still stories about some foreigners in hagwons, schools and colleges or universities with no credentials at all. However, it seems Koreans are still getting away with this left and right. There are recent scandals that indicate they've yet to subject Koreans to the same level of verification.

A few recent stories:

I'll chime in to say that one problem is, no matter how talented or skilled you are here it's crucial to have the degree too. Otherwise forget it.

It's similar on some level back home, but not to this degree. In the States we have Bill Gates, who went to Harvard but dropped out to start Microsoft. For all of his brilliance, I'm not sure how far Bill Gates would have gotten here without graduating and relying heavily on his network of university connections. The inverse is also true. That means you meet and deal with a lot of educated fools who are simply inept.

There is also the aspect of culture where rank is still very important. Big university names means big respect. That I noticed at my first job teaching at a university in the South Jeolla province. There was a lot of the "we're not as good them" stuff going on around me. My naive American "all people are equal" programming couldn't really absorb what they were saying and I didn't understand it then. I do now.

Here is the Chosun Ilbo's take on this:

How Degree Frauds Get Away With It
In Korea, it is not rare for academics or instructors to come to fame based on false academic certificates or backgrounds. A scandal surrounding the fake degrees of prominent Dongguk University art historian Shin Jeong-ah suggests there must be many others who lie about their achievements and get away with it. Part of the reason is a culture that relies excessively on glamorous-looking degree certificates and a system incapable of sifting the grain from the chaff.

◆ How fakes succeed

In March last year, some 120 people were indicted by prosecutors for buying fake master's or doctoral degrees from a Russian conservatory of music. Each paid a broker about W20 million (US$1=W915) for the fake degree certificate. All they did was visit Russia for a week. Many were lecturers, and some were even professors. They went so far as to organize a Russian Music Society based on their flying visit.

Until 2002, Hwang In-tae was a famous TV panelist on the strength of a bachelor's degree in economics from Seoul National University and experience as a CNN reporter and a fund manager at Magellan Fund. None of it was true. His highest academic qualification was a few subjects in a high-school graduate equivalency exam.

In 2004, a private university in Seoul hired a 37-year-old American as an assistant professor of English on the strength of a master's degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from Central Michigan University. Both were fake. Early this month, police arrested a professor at Gwangju National University of Education for having registered a doctorate from a regular U.S. university with the Korea Research Foundation, although the degree came in fact from a non-accredited American institution.

◆ Loopholes in verification

Despite the flood of scandals, measures supposed to prevent falsification of degrees or academic background offer many loopholes. The Education Ministry vowed in spring last year to establish an ethics department within the KRF to strengthen supervision of degree holders. But no such department has opened yet. Some American degrees such as JD (juris doctor), DMA (doctor of music arts) and D.Min. (doctor of ministry) are not subject to the KRF's listing. That makes them easy targets for con artists. In addition, there has been no study of how many degree-related frauds there have been and how they succeeded.

According to the Higher Education Act, holders of foreign doctoral degrees have to report to the KRF under the Education Ministry within six months after their return home. They are supposed to make entries about their personal information and degrees on the KRF webpage first, and submit copies of their certificates and theses later. The KRF then reviews the documents and issues receipts, and publishes the theses in the archives of the Korea Education and Research Information Service.

But the KRF only checks if the necessary documentation is received but does not verify certificates' authenticity. And even if graduates fail to report their degree to the KRF, there is no disadvantage. "The system aims to check how many holders of foreign degrees are working in the country, not to verify their authenticity,” a KRF official says. “Colleges or universities should check and verify the theses of their recruits. That's their responsibility." But, as seen in the case of Shin Jeong-ah, this has proved useless.

Park Sung-hyun, a professor of computer science and statistics at Seoul National University, said, "The culture where many people are bent on succeeding by all means, is leading many people to falsify their academic background. Each school has to strengthen its degree verification system."
Honestly, the excuses seem a little flimsy and the solution is a bit too much.

What do you need with another level of bureaucracy? Find the school's information (the Internet makes that very easy), check whether the school is accredited with a reputable organization, pick up the phone and call the school's registar to find out what the process is to verify degrees and make it regular procedure.

Believe me, I've got a JD from a first-tier school* and US law schools on all levels take their reputation very seriously. It would help if Koreans made a habit of listening to the advice given to them by foreigners on how to do it. Rarely does that happen. US law schools would be more than happy to cooperate and verify graduates. They're not in the business of scamming people. Well, the legitimate ones aren't.

I know that back home frauds happen too. However, back home there are human resources departments that go out of their way to verify academic credentials, so this stuff is much more rare.

A great blog on this phenomenon: Diploma Mill News

* That was also done because there is horror story after horror story about Korean employers hold people's real degrees hostage; mine are safe and sound back home.
* US News and World Report's 2008 rankings

Oh, the incident Kalani mentioned in the comments below: O.C. impostor outwits Stanford (how on Earth did she think she'd get away with this?)

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