It’s as if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has nothing better to do than to create yet another faux university to entrap more people like so many flies to honey. Enter the University of Farmington in Michigan. (The last fake university created with the same purpose in mind was the University of Northern New Jersey.)
It’s not like there aren’t already enough “approved” and “accredited” US universities (and I use that term loosely) doing exactly the same thing, some of which have been in the media but are still in business, thanks to the current business-friendly MAGA regime. They tarnish the good reputation of legitimate US higher education. Why not investigate them first? Hell, for that matter, why not NOT allow unaccredited universities to issue I-20s? You know the an$wer. This is not likely to change during the current administration.
This is a topic I’ve written (and spoken) about for many years. It might be time for me to update a 2014 article of mine entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment about the many ways in which education companies cheat their partners, non-partners, and clients. The list just keeps getting longer and longer. Sigh.
OK, here’s how it works. Company ABC organizes an education fair. In order to ensure that all of the colleagues in attendance are “shown the love” and to guarantee better photo-ops (think quantity over quality), attendees receive a GIFT, if they speak to ALL of the representatives.
Go to the tables, ask a perfunctory question or two, get your stamp, and repeat – until you’re finished. Then go collect your GIFT. I sure hope it’s a good one for all of that effort. Jump through the hoops and get the reward. You earned it! (Don’t forget to pick up a few pens, pennants, water bottles, and whatever else you can get your greedy little hands on along the way.) Good job. That’s a wrap. Now find another fair that does the exact same, stupid thing, and let another fun begin – again.
The only problem with this approach is that fair attendees who do this really don’t care (I’m writing for a G-rated audience here…) about asking meaningful questions or picking up promotional materials of interest to them. In fact, it’s safe to say that most probably don’t intend to study abroad. They just want the stamps, the way your dog, cat or whatever wants its treats, which lead to the gold, or whatever, at the end of the rainbow. What do colleagues whose institutions pay large sums of money to travel overseas and recruit students get? Wasted time and the empty feeling of being played.
This is on par with 1) paying students who “bring a friend” a finder’s fee of sorts; 2) paying student volunteers a per head fee for every “warm body” they bring with them; 3) busing in unqualified students; and 4) hiring “faux students” through a service to boost attendance. (I described these in this 15 January 2019 post.) What do these practices have in common? Say it with me, They are part and parcel of a DOG & PONY SHOW! It’s pure deception and not very subtle, at that. Giveaways are fine at these events, but for God’s sake, and the sake of ethics, don’t link them to active participation.
It never ceases to amaze me just how many ways companies engage in unethical business practices. Imagine what the world would be like if they channeled all of this energy and creativity into doing the right thing!
And the beat goes on…
Shalom (שלום), MAA
Postscript: If you work for a company that plays one or more of these games, then the shoe definitely fits. Wear it but definitely not with pride!
Yes, it’s true. Check out the infographic below, courtesy of the Australian Department of Education and Training. As of 11-18, Viet Nam ranked 6th among sending countries with 24,094 students studying at all levels in Australia.
Incredibly, there were more Vietnamese studying in South Korea than Australia last year. As in Japan, Viet Nam ranked 2nd with 27,061. Speaking of the former, I’ll talk about Vietnamese enrollments in that country, which are off the charts, in another post.
Note: I wish the US government had the same data quality and quantity as Australia’s.
Follow this link to read my latest article, which is about a phenomenon I’ve observed over the years, namely, how some young Vietnamese who study in the USA become what I refer to as honorary US nationalists. (If you’re not sure what nationalism means, have a look at this 2016 essay. Hint: It’s quite different from patriotism.)
Here’s an excerpt:
Overseas study is a unique opportunity to learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the host country, all the colors of its social, political, and economic rainbow, as it were, a sentiment echoed by Senator J. William Fulbright, whose name is synonymous with international educational exchange in the country of his birth: There is nothing obscure about the objectives of educational exchange. Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is–not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is… [From the Forward of The Fulbright Program: A History]
My advice to these three young Vietnamese, whose stories I have shared, and others like them, regardless of nationality, is as follows: Learn more about your country’s history, the sacrifices made by previous generations, and the role of foreign powers in domestic affairs. Learn about other countries as they are, not as some people wish you to see them. Preserve your intellectual and spiritual independence and, by doing so, retain your integrity. Finally, never allow yourselves to be used by people whose primary concern is their own country, especially when those interests run contrary to those of your country, and other nations and peoples. Be true to yourselves and to historical truth.
While I will reserve judgement, the theme of this Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) conference sounds like yet another example of US Americans telling others, in the case, Asian universities, how it should really be done a la Daddy knows best. Why not just New Approaches to University Education?
Or, as one colleague put it, “It’s nice to see that (Thomas) Vallely & Co have found that Vietnam is too small for their ambitions. They want all of Asia to hear their wise words about higher ed.” I wonder if there will be any criticism of US higher education as a negative role model, in some respects?
Said colleague continues: My own humble opinion is that what’s needed is a conference organized by Asians to explain to Americans how we can improve our universities. My colleagues and I could tell many, many stories about how university education in the U.S. has deteriorated over the years. In the 19th century, American colleges were at best comparable to European high schools. We might be getting back to that in the 21st century.
I wonder what advice Asian scholars would give to Americans about how to raise the level of education in the U.S. Unfortunately, in order to avoid offending thin-skinned Americans, they’d probably keep most of their thoughts to themselves, and would not say, for example, “Drop the slogans!” “Fire the bureaucrats!” “Give lower grades!” “Ignore student evaluations!” “Abolish competitive athletics!”
If FUV really valued the liberal arts tradition to which it pays lip service, it would organize such a conference. My colleague and I won’t hold our breath.
In the grand tradition of comparative studies, the US, with which the event sponsor, the Coca-Cola Corporation, and FUV are affiliated, like all countries, is a positive and negative role model, including its higher education system.
Here’s some information about the latest TedX Hanoi event on 19 January 2019 that will attempt to provide some answers to this very timely question.
The signs of Vietnam’s amazing progress are all around us. Increased growth from Vietnamese companies, and increased investment from international firms, lead to better jobs and rising incomes. With a new high-rise on seemingly every corner, more and more families can afford high-quality housing, and cars to keep their loved ones safe. Increasing numbers of students are studying overseas, while private schools and local universities are rapidly innovating to keep up with this demand. Rising incomes and improved education have unleashed a burst of creative energy, evidenced in the cool cafés, quirky restaurants, and innovative start-ups that populate Hanoi.
At the same time, these developments are uneven. The benefits of better housing, private vehicles, and private education are not shared by everyone. Air pollution has steadily worsened, and Hanoi now regularly ranks among the most polluted cities in the world. The lust for growth threatens traditions. A city once defined by its ancient temples, Old Quarter, and 1,000 years of history, now looks in many areas like any other modern Asian metropolis.
As more and more people attain the quality of life that Vietnam has been striving for, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves: Now what? How has Vietnam made this amazing progress? What direction do we need to focus on for the future? And how do we get there?
I’m happy to see this kind of discussion and debate taking place though I do think they could have had more key fields represented among their chosen speakers. Here is the official answer to this obvious question, “How do you select the speakers for TEDxHanoi?”
The answer is not a simple one. As curators, we read everything we can find that has to do with new ideas worth sharing, and we hear recommendations from our community. There are so many great choices, women and men with ideas worth spreading and stories worth sharing.
Another question is one of follow-up and finding a way to track the short- and long-term results of this conference. Talk is cheap. as the saying goes, but it is an important first step.
A word about access in a country with a nominal 2018 per capita income $2,603 ($7,882, PPP). Either the ticket cost should be much lower or the sponsor (cash) subsidy much higher.
As of 15 January, 92.42% of the tickets had been sold. The early bird rate was 880,000 VND ($38) and the regular ticket cost 1,080,000 VND ($46.56). That is not a lot of money for people of means but it is for most Vietnamese, including students.
Here’s the budget breakdown.
100 guest tickets, presumably gratis.
101 early bird * 880,000 = 88,880,000 VND
262 standard = 1,080,000 = 282,960,000 VND
371,840,000 VND/23,193.80 VND = $16,031.87
16K is pocket change for the event sponsor, a company with a market capitalization of $14.03 billion, as of 16 January 2019. Speaking of which, a smart PR move by Vingroup via Vinschool The Harmony to host this high profile event.
Here’s another one to add to my long and ever-growing list. It’s a variation on the theme of the classic dog and pony show that so many education fairs are these days.
As a fair organizer, do you want to guarantee a certain number of students at your events? Don’t go the route of ethical marketing and promotion with the goal of organic and quality attendance. That’s unpredictable and for losers. You don’t want to be sweating bullets moments before the event doors open. If you want a sure thing, there are several tried-and-true ways of doing it, several of which I’ve written about in previous posts and articles. To recap, here they are:
Bus them in, regardless of their qualifications, interests, goals, and their parents’ ability to pay. Warm bodies make for good photo-ops and impress some of the (more inexperienced) representatives. I recently heard from a colleague who attended one such fair. He said there were a lot of 8th graders wearing the same school uniform. Bingo!
Hire a service that employs faux students and pay a certain amount of money to guarantee a certain number of attendees. (There’s something for everyone in Viet Nam’s relatively new free market economy.) Marketing dollars well spent!
Pay students who “bring a friend” essentially a finder’s fee, thereby doubling or tripling the fun. Great ROI!
#4 is a new one and a variation on #3. Are you ready? 🙂
Since most fairs have student volunteers to assist colleagues with translation and contact information collection, offer a cash reward for each additional young person, student or not, they bring to the event. It beats the expensive cost of traditional and digital marketing. Genius!
Seriously, though, I’ve been around the professional block a few times and am still amazed at how many companies have jumped on this particular cheating bandwagon, including some that pay lip service to ethical business practices and have some kind of external stamp of approval, for what that’s worth. (Not much, actually, but that’s another post or article. Start with this one, if you’re interested.)
One company, for example, offers 100,000 VND for four (4) students, which amounts to $4.30 or $1.08 per referral, rounded up. Too cheap! Give those poor volunteers a salary increase! More money equals more warm bodies! What’s not to like?!? 😉
Probably after checking out the competition, another one, wink, nod, decides to be more “generous” and pays 50,000 VND ($2.15) per student. 400 “students” will cost you a paltry $860. Given the high cost of digital and many kinds of offline marketing these days in Viet Nam, that’s a bargain! Since the name of the game is short-term profit, the more, the merrier (say it with me!), this will help you fatten the all-important bottom line!
If you’re a money-minded student, which company do you want to “volunteer” for? To paraphrase Karl Marx, you sell your labor to the highest bidder. Forget about quality – it’s all about the numbers. Inflate event attendance by essentially bribing students to attend. Look, Ma, we had 400 people at our fair!, don’t mind the obvious and distressing fact that the majority were paid attendees aka essentially actors without an audition.
Of Dogs & Fleas
Shame on people who have no qualms about cutting ethical corners. These are the kind of people that – after meeting with them – you feel the immediate need to wash your hands, maybe even take a shower and, in extreme cases, to delouse. Perhaps worst of all, they set a bad example for Viet Nam’s younger generation by reinforcing the notion that the means justify the ends. Cheating is acceptable. Go for it! Look at us and, in some cases, US(A)!
This is yet another example of corruption in the education industry. It reminds me of a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack: If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. (Latin: Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent.)
What a misuse of creativity. It also reminds me a little of the idiom Necessity is the mother of invention, except you can substitute necessity with cheating. As always, success – at all costs – in this case, as measured by the total number of participants, without integrity is failure.
The Buddha’s Fifth Remembrance applies to all of us: My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand. How solid is the moral and ethical ground upon which these scoundrels stand? (The answer in your interior monologue likely conjures up images of sand, quicksand, or something equally unstable.)
Shalom (שלום), MAA
Postscript: If you’re reading this and you work for a company that plays one or more of these games, then the shoe definitely fits. Wear it but definitely not with pride!