Students visa fraud provokes soul-searching

2012-11-08 14:48:29 GMT2012-11-08 22:48:29(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Deportation of Chinese students using fraudulent documents in New Zealand has provoked soul-searching at home.

A total of 299 Chinese students had been confirmed to have used falsified papers to obtain their visas, and of them, 219 had begun studying in New Zealand, David Mills, head of Immigration New Zealand (INZ), a government agency, told Xinhua.

Twenty-six had already been deported by the end of October, Mills added.

An investigation into the visa scam is still on-going, according to Marc Piercey, a spokesperson for INZ.

Many Chinese called it a shame and expressed their disgust at what is widely perceived to be long-existing, murky practices behind the scandal.

"This does not come as a surprise ... given the chaotic market in which reckless agencies collaborated with overly-ambitious students," said a blogger nicknamed Hang Yin, on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter.

HARD DRIVEN

Studying abroad is now no longer exclusively reserved for elites in China, with more family can afford their children's overseas education.

Over 2.2 million Chinese have pursued study overseas from 1978, when China adopted the reform and opening-up policy, to 2011, Yuan Guiren, Minister of Education, said in a September press conference.

In 2011 alone, however, China saw nearly 340,000 citizens going out for education, according to statistics by the Ministry of Education.

Numerous consulting agencies have since prospered, mostly in urban areas, taking in service fees for aiding prospective students' applications.

While a few students decide to do on their own, many more would choose an agency to handle the troublesome application procedure.

It has long been known that a majority of Chinese high school students apply to the U.S. universities via consulting agencies, and many universities have established ties and maintained cooperations with them, said Dr. Stanley Nel, Vice President for International Relations at University of San Francisco, in an October briefing in Beijing.

But as increasingly more Chinese applicants target top destinations like the Ivy League, and consultants who go all-out for big profits in a over-crowded market, a combination of both could provide incentives to dubious practices.

LINES BLURRED

Almost all Chinese agencies took meticulous care of nearly every detail of the application process, which might have blurred the lines between professional advisory work and cheating.

The portfolio of "consulting" on study-abroad usually includes drafting required writings, which presumably should have been personally done by the applicant or the people who recommended the applicant.

Consulting agencies sometimes outsource the paperwork, which includes recommendation letters, personal statements and essays to open questions.

"I got paid up to 2000 yuan for each set of documents," said a writer who worked part-time for an agency and requested anonymity.

Heated competition among agencies has pushed their "craftwork" to a new high, with overstating applicants' resumes rampant.

"Some so-called 'soft' information particularly falls victims to resume inflation," said Li Meng, who has just graduated from Canadian University of Wollongong.

"Things like extracurricular activities, part-time work and social activities are hard for an institution half a world away to verify, " said Li.

More extreme is straight-falsifying of records, but they are rarer.

"Inflating one's activities, which every one is doing in this line of business, is different from pulling something out of thin air, which I consider to be the red line," said a founding manager of a Beijing-based consultancy who requested anonymity.

"I've encountered agencies which advertised to manufacture recommendations on behalf of well-known scholars, and then set up false email addresses to circumvent confirmation," said Xu Xiaoyun, a history-major graduate from Peking University.

And applicants had to pay a hefty fee - as high as 50,000 yuan - for the service, Xu said.

In the meantime, some industry insiders argued that foreign universities should also bear some blame for their complacency.

"They could not have been unaware of the phenomenon, but many were just pleased to take the badly-needed tuition and sit quiet. The New Zealand scandal broke out because local authorities are serious this time", said the Beijing consultant who requested anonymity.

SCRUTINY INCREASED

"Over the past couple of years, many U.S. universities have stood on guard and begun taking steps like interviews to double-check," according to Wang Lin, who runs ZhiYuanTianXiang, a Beijing-based consultancy.

"With increasing scrutiny, students need to be more careful in searching for reputable advisors that have a clean record," said Teng Zheng, a deputy manager of China International Intellectech (Shanghai) Corporation.

"Certain agencies had been blacklisted, so applications via them would not be accepted," said Dr. Nel with University of San Francisco, who refused to elaborate.

China's Ministry of Education is currently solicitating public opinions on its guidelines towards consulting on studying overseas. The education authorities in Shanghai has also taken measures to address the issue, including publishing a list of 15 certified agencies.

Many Chinese referred to the documents-faking scandal as a shame, saying it tarnished the image of China that has traditionally valued honesty as one of the most important qualities.

Currently there is no such a system of checks and balances that increases the cost of - and hence deters - cheating in China, said Prof. Shi Xiaoguang, a researcher in international higher-education at Peking University.

Basic record-keeping could be of immediate use, said consultant Wang Lin.

"Undergraduates falsifying transcripts is seldomly heard of, while high-school students are sometimes known to provide untrue grades, simply because there was a system of record-keeping in Chinese universities but not at high schools," Wang said.

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