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October 24, 2002 Fraudulent admissions documents are prevalent



by Carol McQueen

Governments have long faced the problem of fraudulent documents. False birth certificates, false passports and false driver’s 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.

“We’ve 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 haven’t 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 seems questionable.

“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 transcript.”

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. “It’s surprising how often we do not hear anything back,” said Jans, adding that referees in particular often fail to respond to queries about letters of recommendation.

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 with governments.”

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 country.

“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 legitimate.