(Yet) Another Variation on the “Dog & Pony Show” Theme

Courtesy of Poocheo

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.  

smoke and mirrorsThe 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! 

Cheating in the Education Industry: Let Me Count the Ways!

new design-01

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:  

  1.  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!  
  2. 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!  
  3. 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)!  

Image courtesy of THE PINK ELEPHANT ROOM

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 AlmanackIf 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! 


Financial Aid for Vietnamese Students?

financial aid

If your institution awards financial aid to Vietnamese students, I hope your approach is of the “trust but verify” variety.  Not all parents and students are honest, and Viet Nam is no exception.  Many people of means are happy to game the system and accept financial aid, if they can get it.

I remember a story about a highly selective liberal arts college in the US, which shall remain unnamed to protect the victimized, that awarded a generous financial aid package to a Vietnamese student.  Once said student showed up on campus, other Vietnamese knew that her family was rich and that the school had wasted valuable financial aid funding on an undeserving student.  The result was loss of institutional face and resources that could have helped a deserving student.  

Another more recent story is about a state university that automatically awarded a certain amount of financial aid to ALL Vietnamese students, as if all Vietnamese were poor and deserved it.  No due diligence.  Apply, get admitted and, bingo!, you’re golden.  Again, a waste of financial aid dollars that could have gone to qualified and deserving students.

What To Do?

How to screen students?  I remember working with one boarding school that offered a fabulous scholarship at their school and an undergraduate education at any university in the world.  They were looking specifically for an economically disadvantaged yet high-achieving Vietnamese high school student.  The selection process included sending staff to the finalists homes to interview them and their parents, and also to make sure they weren’t living in a million-dollar home or driving a luxury automobile.  Seeing is believing, to a certain extent, and it worked.

This due diligence is likely to incur an additional cost, given the staff time involved.  That’s something institutions should keep in mind. 

Some colleagues attempt to obtain this information from the education agents they work with.  That requires a high degree of trust, which is not always present.  

The safer and less costly alternative is to stick to merit-based scholarships that are linked to objective criteria such as standardized test scores, high school GPAs, and interviews.  The one drawback is that urban students from higher social classes disproportionately benefit from this approach.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

P.S.:  I wrote about this issue three years ago.  Given what I’ve heard recently from various colleagues, it’s worth revisiting.  

Click Farms in the Education Industry? You Betcha!

India click farm.  Source: Equedia Investment Research

This is yet another laughable yet very real practice in the education industry.  Yes, dear reader, there are people in the biz who sit around doing this because 1) they have nothing better to do; 2) they’re mean and spiteful little creatures; and 2) they don’t realize just how short life is.  More commonly, there are people who outsource this “work” to companies that hire other people who spend all day clicking and posting in the name of fraud and a meager income (supplement).  The “work” of click farms is a double-edged sword.  It can be used to enhance the social media image of a particular company or drain the digital advertising budgets of its competitors.  

First things first for the uninitiated:  What is a click farm?  A business that pays employees to click on website elements to artificially boost the status of a client’s website or a product. Click farms are usually based in developing countries (including Viet Nam), where wages are extremely low by Western standards.  Source:  WhatIs.com 

I touched on this in passing in a 2014 article entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment, published in University World News, at least at the individual (amateur) level.  

For your amusement and, possibly, shock, here’s a YouTube video from 2017 about a police raid on a click farm in Thailand.  

Cheating as a Misuse of Creativity

Here’s an article I recommend for both the perpetrators of this despicable practice and its victims:  Three reasons you need to stop clicking competitors’ AdWords campaigns

This except should whet your appetite to learn more:  

When Google AdWords emerged in October 2000, this indisputably changed the platform of online marketing forever, significantly extending potential client reach for prosperous businesses – all at the click of a button.

Eighteen years later, this remains to be an integral part of many business’ marketing activity – acting as a critical channel for easily accessible, rapid financial development.

However, whilst many organisations across the globe continue to persistently reap the rewards of utilising AdWords’ pay per click service, there remains to be a significant number of individuals and large-scale corporations alike who are willing to exploit this network for less genuine, constructive purposes.

This also applies to Facebook posts (!).  Eyes on the prize.  Success without integrity is failure!  

Peace, MAA

P.S.:  Here’s another good article about this topic:  Click Farms & Social Media

Uber Scam in Viet Nam?

uberLet me preface this by saying that I like Uber in Viet Nam.  The service is cheaper and more convenient than taking a taxi.  My only wish is that they would have some sort of indication that the driver is a smoker in which case I would cancel the order.

Unlike many taxi drivers, who can attempt to charge unsuspecting passengers, usually people right off the boat (plane), a flat (and inflated) rate, or that have a fast meter, Uber is seemingly foolproof, right?  It’s hard to cheat customers with its technical infrastructure.  You enter the destination address and know upfront what the cost will be and approximately how long the ride will take.

4 minutes away at 5:07 p.m.

But the system does have a soft underbelly that is more annoying than it is costly.  Here’s a scam that I’ve noticed recently that will damage Uber’s reputation, if nothing is done about it.  You order a car and, while waiting, notice that it remains in one location, instead of rushing to pick you up.  Maybe the driver’s having a coffee or a smoke.  Maybe he’s texting his girlfriend or taking a power nap. Whatever he’s doing, he’s not rushing to pick me (you) up.

The app says four (4) minutes away and then five (5) and then four (4).  Four (4) minutes have elapsed.  It’s a waiting game.  If you cancel the ride after five (5) minutes, your dear driver will earn 15,000 VND for doing nothing.  He – it’s usually a he – knows that.  That’s 66 cents or nearly $8 per hour – for doing nothing.  Not too shabby in a country where the annual PCI was about $2,251 last year.

5 minutes away at 5:08 p.m.

What to do?  Schedule permitting, take screenshots as the time changes from four to five to seven minutes and you’re waiting for a ride that is not likely to materialize.  Then cancel the lazy bum and order another ride.  If you’re charged the usual 15,000 VND, send Uber the screenshots, which are proof that the driver was cheating you.

4 minutes away at 5:11 p.m.

Memo to Uber:  Close the loophole ASAP or risking losing business.  There are other games in town, e.g., Grab.


Using Competitors’ Names in Google AdWords

How many ways are there to skin a cat, when it comes to cheating students, parents, clients and partners?  Here’s one example that I mentioned in a 12/14 article about (un)ethical agency-based recruitment in Vietnam:

  • Using a well-known competitor’s name in Google AdWords, an example of a dirty trick that is not illegal, but is certainly unethical.

Actually, whether or not it’s illegal depends upon the facts of the case.  I’ll leave that to the trademark lawyers.

cheatingHere’s how it works.  Choose well-known names, corporate or individual, and use them as AdWords so that when potential customers enter them as search terms in Google they will see your ad at the top of the page.  This means that you can use competitors’ trademarks when using AdWords and probably not pay the price, legally and financially speaking.

Here’s a specific, real-life example.  Until the Google Ad was removed, literally overnight, this is what happened when you entered the followed search terms, which the offending company had used as Google AdWords:

mark ashwill vietnam

capstone vietnam fairs

This happened to Capstone Vietnam, my employer, as well as to another company in Vietnam.

What a lame and laughable attempt to piggyback on the good reputation of others in the hope that some gullible people will actually click on their ad.  While it’s obvious to most what’s going on, some will think there’s some sort of connection – what I like to call honor or credibility by association – and do just that.

Here’s a suggestion – why don’t these unethical companies try to improve their own reputation?  Then they wouldn’t have to resort to these dirty tricks and attempt to bask in the glow of their reputable competitors.


Dog & Pony Show Revisited: At an Education UK Exhibition?

Say it ain’t so, Joe!  I happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to stop by the British Council Vietnam’s Education UK Exhibition in HCMC, which was held on 13 March at the Rex Hotel.  Much to my surprise and disappointment, I noticed large groups of students, school uniforms and all (on a Sunday?), being accompanied to the venue.  They were college (3-year institution) students whose chances of studying in the UK range from slim to none, in most cases.

uk exhibition dog and pony show
It’s showtime!

Why?  It’s what I like to call a dog and pony show approach to fair organizing.  Rather than rely on quality organic attendance, which becomes a reality as a result of hard work both on- and offline, and sweating bullets until the doors open and attendees begin trickling in (or flooding) in, you can guarantee attendance and at least make the event look successful, plus create great photo ops by busing students in.  This is a tried-and-true tactic of unethical fair organizers but not something I expected to see from a respected organization like the BC.  To put it bluntly, it’s a form of cheating and the victims are the representatives who travel halfway across the world to recruit from among a pool of potential students.  I wonder if their leadership is aware of this?  If not, maybe they are now.  (Another tactic is to pay for student referrals, as I described in my last post.  There are also services that enable you to hire faux students.)

Here’s a relevant excerpt from a 12/14 article I wrote about unethical business practices among education agents and other educational consulting companies:

Artificially inflating attendance at physical events, for instance fairs, by paying schools to bus in students, many of whom have little to no interest in the event and thus are not ‘quality students’, or simply paying a service to hire fake students to attend the fair or information session, making it a dog and pony show rather than a legitimate event.

Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment

cheatingMy recommendation to BC Vietnam, as to any fair organizer, is to focus more on reaching out to quality students.  Institutions pay a lot of money to travel to Vietnam and deserve the chance to meet and interact with legitimate students not waste precious time talking to young people who are essentially “props” for the fair organizer.

Memo to organizations and companies that engage in this unethical practice:  Most recruiters can see through this sham after talking to one or two of these students.

Q:  Do you plan to study abroad?

  • A1:  No, my school organized this trip for me and my classmates.
  • A2:  No my school organized this trip for me and my classmates so we could practice our English.

You can only fool some of the people some of the time.  Let’s take it to the next level and do the right thing, folks.