by Carol McQueen
Governments have long faced the problem of fraudulent documents. False
birth certificates, false passports and false drivers licenses are
a common occurrence for Citizenship and Immigration Canada officers. Now
false transcripts and false letters of recommendation are finding their
way onto the desks of admissions officers at universities across North
America. Concordia is no exception.
There is a huge problem in terms of verifying international documents,
said Graduate Studies Dean Elizabeth Saccá. The further away
and the more remote a school is, the more difficult it is to verify the
documents. The most serious problem is that with the technology in printing
now available to them, people are creating their own credentials.
With the number of foreign applicants to Concordia graduate programs having
doubled in the past two years (from 900 to 2,000), the problem is growing
and is putting a severe drain on the resources of graduate admissions.
Weve been detecting more fraudulent documents over the last
two years than ever before, said Associate Dean of Graduate Studies
James Jans. Like most universities, we havent got the funds,
the personnel or the manpower to check every international application.
To combat this fraud and safeguard the integrity of the university, Concordia
graduate admissions engages in random checks and looks into anything that
If something looks suspicious as obvious as something whited
out on a transcript for example we check it out, Jans said.
We write to the university in question and ask it to verify the
Jans recalls that in one blatant case of fraud, Concordia received four
different official transcripts for the same student. All copies proved
to be fraudulent.
The main problem is that these checks are not always effective. Its
surprising how often we do not hear anything back, said Jans, adding
that referees in particular often fail to respond to queries about letters
In recent years, a listserv has been set up that registrars across Canada
can access. Any fraudulent admissions claims are posted on the server
so as to pool information about problematic applicants.
Although helpful in some cases, this tactic is inadequate in stemming
the overall tide of fraudulent admissions claims.
Some universities are so plagued by the problem that they are considering
banning applicants from certain countries. UCLA, for example, is discussing
the possibility of barring Chinese applicants because it cannot find a
way to verify their documents effectively.
Having discussed the problem extensively at the national conference of
the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies a few weeks ago, Dean Saccá
is in Washington D.C this week to attend a U.S. Council for Graduate Studies
workshop on the issue.
The solution cannot be school by school, she said. It
has to be among the schools and even internationally and perhaps collaboratively
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is interested in working with universities
on the problem, and sent a deputy director to give a presentation at the
Canadian Association for Graduate Studies conference that both Saccá
and Jans attended. After all, successful admission to a university in
Canada is the key criterion for obtaining a student visa and entry into
The federal government wants to make Canada the destination of choice
for international students. Its plan is to double the number of international
students within five years, Jans said. It thus seems right that
the government should play a role in ensuring that these students are