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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  1. Not sure if you've heard, but an American -raised girl of Korean heritage went to a top ranked (100) high school in So Cal that is noted for its academic achievement.

    She didn't get into her number one pick, which was Stanford.

    Rather than tell her parents, she faked her way in. She talked her way into a dorm room, saying she didn't like her roommate, and could she stay with them. She sat in on classes.

    Some RA's finally figured out that she was a fake. The girl has since disappeared. Maybe she's back in Korea now. But it does seem to be an enormous strain, living lie and probably worse when they actually find out.

  2. How are you doing Kanani? Long time, no see.

    Anyway, that's the level of the crap going on here. While, I know there are frauds who are here as English teachers, that doesn't even scratch the level of fraud on the Korean side.

    It's pretty sad, but what it points to is a society very prone to corruption and bribery on a fundamental level because it's not about what you know it's about superficial qualities. One reason I can't watch Korean TV very long...fake, fake, fake. Wait, I've got the same opinion about TV in general...nevermind.

  3. Interesting how Bill Gates, as a college dropout, would not be qualified to teach at a hagwon.

    I just don't understand why Korea doesn't simply administer a basic licensing test for all foreign English teachers. Make them take the TOEIC and be done with it.

    Oh, but that would be both logical and practical. Scratch that idea...

  4. Well, in their defense, Bill Gates wouldn't be qualified for a lot if not having a degree was the sole barrier.

    A basic licensing scheme would be a great idea. However, even then you know people would wiggle their way around it (or, at least, would try). But that is a very good idea.

  5. You're absolutely correct about the level of corruption in asian countries in order to keep up appearances.

    I'm sure the girl, Azia Kim, who faked her way not only into Stanford but also the Santa Clara Univeristy ROTC will no doubt move back to Korea. Maybe she'll pass herself off as a Stanford grad and start to teach. Who knows? But it does seem to me that a society that refuses to check authenticity of credentials is in part, creating its own inferior educational system.

  6. "But it does seem to me that a society that refuses to check authenticity of credentials is in part, creating its own inferior educational system."

    Well, good that you see it because they don't. Or, more likely, if they do see they realize it's a huge problem that will take a lot of work to resolve as this burrows to the some fundamental values. It would mean changing not their values but their perception and interpretation of those values. Now it's about superficial degrees when it should be about knowledge. I'd like to think the people who came before them valued knowledge and that's what lead someone to a level of respect. Now they're so focused on getting to that level that they ignore the process by which you get there and, if everyone is taking short-cuts, then the system gets weak. We've got similar issues in black American culture (the focus is on status and respect but people take short-cuts which usually yield neither) and that's really where my focus is. I'm sure the Koreans will sort it out eventually.

    What's more common here is lamenting because their universities don't even approach international standards and thus never make it on any list of rankings. That leads to what are usually vain attempts to bring the system up to snuff, but, of course, never following through on it because the real problem goes so deep that it would take more than meetings, speeches and banquets to solve.

    I wish them luck because it's going to be painful change as a lot of people have taken advantage of the system as it is now.

  7. Kanani,

    "I'm sure the girl, Azia Kim, who faked her way not only into Stanford but also the Santa Clara Univeristy ROTC will no doubt move back to Korea."

    Why, because she is of Korean descent and is destined to join "the herd" in Korea? I know she lied her way into Stanford, but that does not excuse your racist mentality. She was a fraud because she was a fraud, NOT because she was Korean, which you imply.

    "Maybe she'll pass herself off as a Stanford grad and start to teach. Who knows?"

    You're being presumptous here.

    "But it does seem to me that a society that refuses to check authenticity of credentials is in part, creating its own inferior educational system."

    ExpatJane's post discussed instances of corruption in Korea. You're generalizing that to all of Korean society. And who gives you an authority to speak about Korean society? If you had said something of substance, I wouldn't question it. But your biases reveal themselves oh so well.

    You need to check yourself.

  8. Hey jstele...

    I'd say both yes and no on that. We'll see if Kanani will come back to chime in.

    I tend not to make generalizations of this type as black folks get generalization after the generalization thrown at them constantly, but there might be a correlation the between behavior, and surely the values, of some Korean-Americans and Koreans in general.

    I'm not sure how strong that correlation would be, so that's what would make me be very careful. But the pressure to succeed academically is very strong with Korean-Americans and that's one huge reason why they're doing so amazingly well back home. It just seems this time in morphed into Azia becoming a sociopath.

    I do think, in general, that the tie between Korean immigrants abroad and Korea (if they're from the south) is a lot stronger than some other ethnic groups, but it could be that's what I see since I live here.

    Maybe young Ms. Kim will stay in the States, but she's got one heck of a rep to live down. Right now, however, I don't think anyone knows where she is.

    Also, it's Kanani's opinion and she's entitled to it, just as you're entitled to yours.

    May the debate continue...civilly.

  9. Hiya, I dropped in from Metropolitician's. You've got quite a lot of interesting things to say, I appreciate it!

    As for generalising (because everyone does it) about Korean-Americans, are Korean-Canadians and Third Culture Kid Koreans included in that group as well?

    When certain families (and certain cultures) put a lot of pressure on their children to excel, or put too much emphasis on certain superficial things (like money or looks) it is incredibly unfortunate, but some of the children's behavior become affected , being so afraid of rejection from their own family because they haven't achieved "the goal". I wonder if that's because they haven't been taught to pick themselves up? More speculation and analysis, and more generalising. :)

    Schools should be a little more selective with their teachers, but the good schools usually are. Nevermind the government. I agree that teachers should have some sort of TEFL degree - having a university degree doesn't necessarily mean you will be a good teacher. I think a lot of teachers have seen them; it's a little like watching "Can You Dance?" or Pop Idol. Horrific.

    Back to work!

  10. Hey there.

    With these topics, generalizing is part of the game. As long as we realize we're doing it and recognize that the more interesting stories are those quirky outliers, we'll be okay.

    I actually do think it applies to kyopos for sure. Even kids that are born of Korean mothers who marry foreign men seem to do better.

    Honestly, for example, the half-Korean/half-black kids appear to do so much better than black kids in general it seems. I can't help but think it's because they've got that Korean mom with her "go and get it, no matter what" value system helping them push through the hurdles and succeed. I had black parents that had that "go and get it, no matter what" approach, but I seem to be an exception and I don't know why (different topic for a different post, speaking of generalizing...)

    In fact one kyopo sociopath came up in this discussion: Aiza Kim. She's famous for basically going to Stanford but not really being a Stanford student.

    I think that's a horrible story because, clearly, she's wicked smart but was so pressured and so focused on Stanford that she neglected realize her parents would have been happy if she went to Cal or UCLA instead.

    I'm just thinking if she was that clever she had to have gotten into some other schools on that level.

    Stanford rejected me for law school, but out of the 5 schools I applied to three let me in and I know that's a great acceptance ratio for law school when all of the schools on your list were in the top 30 or so schools.

    She lost perspective and she's so young that I hope she knows she can turn it around.


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