Thiết lập thông tin chính xác, nghiêm túc

SBTN

Đây là bài cuối cùng tôi viết trong năm 2014, một năm thành công trên nhiều mặt. Dưới đây, tôi xin kể một tình huống đã trải qua khi dùng internet để dẫn chứng thêm nhận định về Internet , công cụ vừa mang lại những tiện ích, vừa là mối hiểm họa khó lường. Và bài học rút ra ở đây là gì? Hãy đọc, tiếp thu mọi thứ bằng đầu óc phân tích khôn ngoan, kiểm tra rõ ràng các nguồn và luôn đặt câu hỏi về nội dung. Hãy dừng lại và suy nghĩ trước khi đâm đầu theo hiệu ứng đám đông.

Vào cuối tháng 10, Đài truyền hình truyền thông Sài Gòn (SBTN) ở Garden Grove, CA, USA phát hành một bài viết (Không tìm thấy trang/Page Not Found), trích dẫn bài viết của tôi, kèm theo một danh sách các tổ chức giáo dục bậc cao không được kiểm định tại Mỹ đã được đăng tải ở đây từ năm 2010. Trước khi bài báo này được gỡ xuống (tôi có thể đoán được lý do, nhưng nếu chưa rõ ràng, tôi thiết nghĩ không nên phỏng đoán ở những diễn đàn chung), nó đã có mặt trên rất nhiều các blogs khác nhau và tôi cũng nhận thấy lượng truy cập vào trang blog cá nhân An International Educator in Vietnam tăng lên. Ngoài ra, tôi còn nhận được email cảm ơn về bài viết. Thực ra, danh sách kia được lấy từ 1 bài viết từ năm 2010 của tôi và được tôi cập nhật lại vào năm 2012. Nói cách khác, đó là thông tin đã lỗi thời, được xào lại để sử dụng vào mục đích chính trị . Vậy tại sao lại có việc bài báo này dựa trên những nguồn tin đã lỗi thời nhằm phục vụ các mục đích chính trị khác nhau? Hãy đọc thêm để hiểu rõ hơn về điều này.

Động cơ của bài báo của SBTN là nhằm bắt giữ Hà Văn Thắm, cựu chủ tịch Ocean Bank. Vào năm 2012, ông Thắm đồng ý cho công ty bất động sản Trung Dung vay số tiền 500 tỉ đồng (23,5 triệu đô la) mà không cần thế chấp. Các phương tiện thông tin đại chúng cho rằng công ty Trung Dung có khả năng bị vỡ nợ. Đến cuối năm 2013, tổng giá trị tài sản của ông Thắm đạt đến con số 1500 tỉ đồng (khoảng 70.7 triệu đô la), nâng ông lên vị trí thứ 8 trong số những người giàu nhất trên thị trường chứng khoán, cũng như tỉ phú ngân hàng tính theo giá trị đồng nội tệ.

Trên tài khoản LinkedIn và Wikipedia, ông Thắm nói mình “có bằng cử nhân Đại học Thương mại và bằng thạc sỹ tại trường Đại học Columbia Commonwealth. Ông cũng là tiến sỹ chuyên ngành Quản trị Kinh doanh trường Đại học Công nghệ Paramount”. Cả 2 trường đại học này đều không được cấp chứng nhận kiểm định tại Hoa Kỳ và có tên trong danh sách tôi nói trên, tạo ra một câu chuyện ngoài lề nhanh chóng trở nên rầm rộ trên các diễn đàn, bao gồm cả diễn đàn này. Cũng như nhiều trường hợp khác, nó đơn giản chỉ là một bài viết được SBTN sao chép từ bài blog gốc của tôi, đăng lên và sau đó đã phải gỡ xuống.

diploma-mills-top

Xuất phát từ Quận Cam, Cali, không có gì quá ngạc nhiên nếu như các bài viết của SBTN luôn mang màu sắc chính trị. Ví dụ, họ đưa thông tin sai lệch rằng Bộ Giáo dục và Đào tạo (GD&ĐT – MoET) không lên tiếng gì về vấn đề này, và đổ lỗi cho Chính Phủ Việt Nam đã không có bất kỳ động thái gì. Trên thực tế, như tôi đề cập đến trong một bài viết vào tháng 8 năm 2010, bộ GD&ĐT đã không chấp nhận các chương trình liên kết bất hợp pháp và thông báo sẽ không công nhận bằng cấp của những chương trình liên kết được giảng dạy bởi các trường quốc tế không có chứng nhận kiểm định. Nhân đây, tôi cũng xin nói luôn về vấn đề này:

Dường như đây là một câu chuyện với hồi kết có hậu. Vào tuần thứ 2 của tháng 8, Giáo sư Nguyễn Xuân Vang, Giám đốc ban phát triển Giáo dục Quốc tế của bộ GD&ĐT đã trả lời trong một buổi phỏng vấn rằng những chương trình liên kết không hợp lệ sẽ bị coi là phạm pháp và bộ giáo dục sẽ không công nhận bằng cấp từ các chương trình liên kết giữa Việt Nam và các đối tác nước ngoài không được kiểm định. Theo dõi bản dịch tiếng Anh ở link này: Bộ giáo dục sẽ từ chối các chứng chỉ, bằng cấp được trao bởi những những chương trình liên kết kém chất lượng. Đây là những gì ngài Giáo sư yêu cầu, như liều thuốc giảm đau cho vấn đề xã hội nhức nhối này.

Tôi nhớ đến nhà cựu lãnh đạo cũ của Trung Quốc Deng Xiaoping, người từng nói “Hãy mở cửa sổ ra, hít thở không khí trong lành, đồng thời tiêu diệt hết ruồi muỗi và côn trùng”. Ở Việt Nam,khi mà những cánh cửa đang được mở ra, tôi cảm nhận cũng như nhìn thấy rất rõ những màn chắn được dựng lên bên cạnh những cánh cửa đó, để bảo vệ quyền lợi cho học viên.

Một điểm nữa mà bài báo của SBTN lẽ ra nên nhắc tới, nếu như những người biên tập bỏ đi nhận thức mù mờ , về việc những dịch vụ lừa đảo đang hoạt động(hoặc đã và đang hoạt động) tại Việt Nam đều có trụ sở ở Mỹ. Vậy tại sao chính phủ Mỹ không xây dựng nên một quy chế quốc gia để ngăn cấm các trường Đại học lừa gạt sinh viên, làm ô nhiễm thị trường lao động với những bằng cấp và chứng chỉ giả mạo, làm hoen ố danh tiếng của nền giáo dục bậc cao Hoa Kỳ? SBTN lờ đi thực tế rõ ràng này vì đó không dính vào mục tiêu chính trị của họ.

MAA

NOTE:  This is the Vietnamese version of this 31.12.14 post:  Journalism or Political Ax-Grinding?: Setting the Record Straight

Of US-Based Visa Mills, Diploma Mills & Other Rogue Providers

Government watchdogs say the recent visa fraud cases have exposed gaps in ICE’s oversight of schools that admit foreign students – a problem the agency says is being corrected. And experts say the scams hurt the reputation of the U.S. higher education system, which currently enrolls about 900,000 foreign students.

Fake Colleges Attract Attention From Federal Investigators
by Sudhin Thanawala (24.1.15)

The United States exports some of the world’s best and worst higher education. (MAA)

This is something I’ve been ranting and raving about since late 2006, especially in Vietnam but also in general.  While I’m pleased to see the USG address this issue (note: about 150 of the approximately 9,000 schools certified to accept foreign students are slated to be investigated as potential visa mills), I would also like to see the feds take a stand on the other rogue providers authorized to issue I-20s.  While most are not diploma or visa mills, they are unaccredited and by definition not subject to any serious quality assurance or maintenance.

One such university, International American University (IAU), based in Los Angeles (i.e., Orange County), was mentioned in a recent story here about faculty members at a university in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) with “unaccredited doctoral degrees.”  IAU appeared on a list I published on this blog in the summer of 2010, which received and, like a bad penny, continues to receive, widespread media attention.

IAU website
IAU website

By the looks of the IAU website, business appears to be booming in a number of Asian countries, including Vietnam.  (Don’t miss the “web photo gallery.”)  The bread and butter programs are two-year, four-year, MBA and doctoral (DBA) degrees in business, which can be earned online, onsite or through a combination of approaches, i.e., hybrid.  (A DBA will set you back 24k, plus fees.)  As with all degrees from unaccredited institutions of higher education, IAU degrees are not recognized in Vietnam in accordance with a Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) decision from August 2010.

This issue was addressed by the Vietnamese government nearly five years ago.  Since most rogue providers operating in Vietnam and many other countries are based in the US, it’s time for the USG to place restrictions on these institutions in order to safeguard the reputation of legitimate US higher education and cut off the “supply” of unaccredited education and training to international students in the source country.

The next step for the USG, after it addresses the “fake college” issue, as described above, is to create a national policy for unaccredited institutions that includes monitoring and regulating their activities on a national level, insisting that they take steps to become accredited within a certain time frame and making sure they are not authorized to issue I-20s until they receive accreditation.  The US should not be in the business of exporting substandard higher education to the rest of the world.

MAA

Journalism or Political Ax-Grinding?: Setting the Record Straight

SBTN

My last post of 2014, a great year, in many respects.  Below I describe one online adventure that illustrates the status of the Internet as both a blessing and a curse.  The main lesson here?  Read everything with a critical eye, check the source and question the intent.  Pause and think before jumping on the cyber bandwagon.

In late October, the Saigon Broadcasting Television Network (SBTN) in Garden Grove, CA, USA published an article (current status:  Không tìm thấy trang/Page Not Found) that quoted me and included a list of US-based unaccredited institutions of higher education that originally appeared here in 2010.  Before the article was taken down from the website (I can guess why, aside from the obvious, but would rather not speculate in a public forum), it was picked up by numerous blogs and I noticed a substantial spike in traffic to An International Educator in Vietnam.  I also received some emails thanking me for the post.  In fact, the list was taken from a 2010 blog post of mine, which I updated in 2012.  In other words, it was old news that was being recycled for political purposes.  Political ax-grinding masquerading as journalism.  Why?  Read on…

The impetus for the original SBTN article was the arrest of Ha Van Tham, the chairman of Ocean Bank.  In 2012, he approved a loan of VND 500 billion ($23.5 million) to Trung Dung real estate company without proper collateral. The media reported that Trung Dung is likely to default on the loan.  As of the end of 2013, Tham’s net worth reached VND 1.5 trillion ($70.7 million), making him the eighth richest person in the stock market, i.e., a banking billionaire in local currency.

As his LinkedIn account and Wikipedia entry note, Tham “earned a bachelors degree from the Vietnam University of Commerce, and a masters from Columbia Commonwealth University. He is a Doctor of Business Administration at Paramount University of Technology.”  It is the last two, both US-based unaccredited schools that happen to appear on my list, which spawned a side story that went viral in the blogosphere, including on this blog.  Like the others, it simply reprinted the subsequently retracted SBTN article, which did a copy and paste job from my original blog post.

diploma-mills-topOriginating in Orange County, CA, it should come as no surprise that the SBTN article had a political ax to grind.  For example, it made the incorrect point that the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) had remained silent about this issue, blaming the Vietnamese government for doing nothing.  In fact, as I pointed out in a August 2010 post MoET made unauthorized joint training programs illegal and announced that would not recognize the diplomas of programs offered in cooperation with unaccredited foreign partners.  Here’s what I had to say about this step forward:

There is a seemingly happy ending to this story.  The second week of August Dr. Nguyễn Xuân Vang, director of the International Education Development Department of the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) stated in an interview that unauthorized joint training programs are illegal and that the Ministry will not recognize the diplomas of programs offered in cooperation with unaccredited foreign partners.  Follow this link to read the English translation of the interview:  MoET will refuse degrees granted by low-quality joint training programmes.  This is just what the doctor ordered, a salve for this societal growing pain.  

I think it was the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping  who once said “Open the windows, breathe the fresh air and at the same time fight the flies and insects.”  While the windows remain open in Vietnam, I do see the slow but sure installation of screens on some windows related to learner protection. 

Another point the SBTN article could have mentioned, had the editors removed their ideological blinders for just a moment, is that most rogue providers that are operating (or have operated) in Vietnam are based in the US.  Why doesn’t the US government develop a national policy and ban these faux universities that cheat students of their money, pollute the world of work with fake educational credentials and tarnish the reputation of legitimate US higher education?  SBTN overlooked this obvious fact because it doesn’t mesh with its political agenda.

MAA

Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment

Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote about education agents in Vietnam for University World News (12 December 2014).  The original, and admittedly rather lengthy, title was Walking the Walk:  Ethical Business Practices in the Wild and Woolly World of Agency-Based Recruitment.  That’s what editors are for, right?

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.

MAA

UWN masthead

In Vietnam, where cheating runs rampant and ethical business practices are in short supply, the world of educational consulting is no exception. An unfortunate reality is that most education agents are sub-standard in terms of both quality and ethics.

Let’s face it – anyone can create a Google Sites website and a Facebook fanpage, hang out a sign and begin the frantic search for clients and partners. Unfortunately, not everyone has the requisite education, experience, standards and moral compass to do it the right way and succeed in the long-term.

As in other Asian countries, the reality is that most Vietnamese parents and students work with education agents instead of applying directly to United States and other foreign colleges and universities, EducationUSA fantasies notwithstanding.

Their challenge is to find an agent who provides quality service at a reasonable cost and whom they can trust to do what’s in the best interests of themselves and their children.

Whatever it takes?

In what has become an intensely competitive market – there are thousands of education agents in Vietnam – many companies attempt to secure some kind of competitive advantage, any kind of competitive advantage, by hook or by crook.

This runs the gamut from cheating one’s clients, facilitating fraud and involving their clients as co-conspirators – for example, encouraging the use of and even producing fraudulent documents such as fake bank statements and academic transcripts for the visa application process for less than stellar students for an extra charge, naturally – to copying other companies’ websites and services lock, stock and barrel.

In Vietnam, wholesale and shameless imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.

Why create when you can copy?

The prevailing mentality is why invest elbow grease when you can copy and paste? Of course, copying and executing are two completely different things – just like saying something doesn’t make it so.

I’m reminded of a quote by Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame: “My attitude was that competition can try to steal my plans and copy my style. But they can’t read my mind; so I’ll leave them a mile and a half behind.” (From Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s)

In this February 2014 article entitled “Why copycats are the best thing to happen to your company”, Brian Wong, CEO and co-founder of Kiip, a mobile rewards network based in San Francisco, puts a positive spin on this trend – not unique to Vietnam – by noting that “what is a copycat business other than evidence that you’ve created a solution that taps into and services a real need?”

He also reminds trailblazers about “the importance of concentrating on the road ahead, not who’s lurking in your rearview mirror. Copycats have no visibility into the inner workings of your company or what you have in store. No matter what, you’ll be ahead of the curve because they can only replicate what you show them.”

While I like to see new companies created, especially those that have something new to offer the market and-or can improve existing practices, I’d prefer to see them do it the old-fashioned way by adhering to a set of ethical standards, not by cheating.

At the end of the day, ethical business practices translate into good business. In the field of education there are many opportunities to do well and do good, but too few companies keep their eyes on the prize, preferring to set their sights on short-term profit at any cost.

 

“American University”: (Yet) Another Tale from the Shadowy World of US-Based Rogue Providers

american-uni_03
The AU “campus,” digitally altered name and all.

Strap on your seat belts!  Yes, dear readers and blog followers, here’s yet another story about “university” that supports my statement, The US exports some of the world’s best and worst higher education.  I know it’s been a long time and that some of you are probably chomping at the bit waiting for another one to get your fix.  These stories definitely fall into the category of “Intrigue.”

american-uni_02Introducing American University…  No, not THAT American University, silly – you know the regionally accredited one in Washington, D.C. that has an international reputation.  This AU, registered to someone who presumably lives at an address in a not so tony neighborhood in Herminie, PA, about a 30-minute drive from Pittsburgh, mentions the following on its website:

  • Offers online college degrees on the basis of work/life experience and online equivalency test.
  • American University Fully accredited by the Education Accreditation Council of America
  • 72,000 students have graduated from American University so far with fully accredited degrees.
  • Offers a diverse range of majors to choose from under each of its online university degree programs.

Here you have a “university” that works from the same playbook as other rogue providers.  It essentially sells diplomas, creates an accrediting agency to “accredit” itself (how convenient), claims to have tens of thousands of happy alumni and, of course, “offers a diverse range of majors…”

In addition to the prices listed below, you can get a “package deal”,  for example, if you want a high school diploma and associate degree.

High School Diploma  $499
Associate Degree   $749
Bachelor’s Degree  $949
Master’s Degree  $999
Doctorate Degree  $1199

Like any business worth its weight in salt, AU accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express.

Bonus:  AU provides “swift verification of your credentials over phone by your employer or educational institution.”  Of course it does; the inmates are running the asylum.  Like many companies, AU believes in efficiency and convenience:  buy a degree, get it “verified” by the same people who sold you said degree and reassure the customer, uhh, student that AU is accredited by its very own accreditation mill.

Below are the registrant, administrative contact, billing contact names:

Administrative Contact Name:  AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
Administrative Contact Organization:  American University
Administrative Contact Address1: 112 Sewickley Ave
Administrative Contact City:  Herminie
Administrative Contact State/Province:  PA
Administrative Contact Postal Code:  15637
Administrative Contact Country:  United States
Administrative Contact Country Code:  US
Administrative Contact Phone Number:  +1.9519684574
Administrative Contact Email:  amy@auniversity.us

The address at which AU is registered is for sale, by the way.  Here’s a real estate come-on written by an agent who’s probably just starting out (or at least I hope so):  Wow…wow…and Double wow!  5 apartments, 1st floor commercial needs to go.  5 Rentals several occupied.  Commercial is vacant.  Obviously building needs some work.  Great deal for somebody with construction talent.  I can only wonder if AU is included in the deal.  I also wonder what the rent is for the “rentals” that are occupied.  (Oh, to be poor in America.)  But I digress…

American UniversityYou can’t make this stuff up.  Such is the world of rogue providers, seamy and tawdry.  Knowing how much money some rogue providers can generate, I doubt if “Amy” lives there.

Questions

  1. Why doesn’t the real AU sue the faux AU?
  2. Why do the US federal government and the various state governments allow these diploma mills to exist?  They tarnish legitimate US higher education.
  3. Could the owner be the same person who owns another rogue provider company in California and originally hails from Pakistan?

Hint:  The smoking gun is the email contact for the accrediting agency, annie@calsuni.com.  The answer is a resounding YES.  Check out these posts about the great California South University:

where can i buy an accredited overseas phd? (24.1.11)

“CSU” Reprise (aka The Other Shoe Just Dropped) (10.2.11)

Mystery solved.  Finding and dealing with these diploma mills is a bit like playing Whac-A-Mole.  Never boring but not always gratifying.  If they are permitted to continue doing business as usual, words alone are useful but, at the end of the day, so much spitting in the wind.

MAA

Accreditation: When It Comes To Higher Education, Nothing Could Be More Relevant – Or Controversial

Good article by Jesse Nickles of CollegeTimes and not just because I’m quoted in it.

MAA

Photo courtesy of CollegeTimes
Photo courtesy of CollegeTimes

Accreditation. It’s a word that most college students have heard at some point, but that (unfortunately) very few actually comprehend on a meaningful level.

And that is NOT a good thing. With greedy investors and corrupt congressmen aggressively turning college into a for-profit industry devoid of traditional academic discourse and teeming with unqualified faculty, dishonest recruiting practices, and fly-by-night campuses, more and more students are being scammed into attending schools that are a complete waste of time and money. Sadly, in many cases these students could have avoided a huge financial and emotional crisis by simply researching the world of ‘accreditation’ more carefully – (if only they knew how!).

Follow this link to read the rest of the article.

MAA

Notarization: The Trojan Horse Approach to Gaining Credibility for a Diploma Mill Diploma

pwu diplomaNo·ta·rize (nō′tə-rīz′): To certify or attest to (the validity of a signature on a document, for example) as a notary public. It’s often what one bureaucracy requires of another to prove that a document is authentic. This is one of the many fee-based services offered by embassies and consulates general in Vietnam. What if the document being notarized is not authentic?

Here’s a hypothetical case. A man walks into Embassy X and requests that his diploma mill Ph.D. diploma be notarized. The Embassy notarizes said document because “Dr. Cuong” can prove – with proper ID – that it is indeed his (fake) diploma and sign an affidavit confirming that fact. It matters not that it was “earned” (i.e., bought) from a notorious US-based diploma mill that has reared its ugly head in the Vietnamese media in recent years.  What’s wrong with this picture?

[According to Transparency International, corruption in education is particularly damaging because it endangers a country’s social, economic and political future.  The use of fake educational credentials is a clear-cut example of corruption.]

After paying a modest fee, producing ID and signing on the dotted line, “Dr. Cuong” leaves the Embassy a happy man.  He has in his possession an educational credential that – at least on paper – has more credibility and recognition than it did when he entered. Why check on the accreditation status of “Unaccredited US University” when the diploma was notarized by a well-known foreign mission?

This, of course, is why six (6) of the search engine terms that bring netizens to my blog are where can i buy a phd.  Most of these “consumers” are what are known as willing co-conspirators.  Question:  Given the fact that Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) has clamped down on the use of “degrees” from unaccredited foreign institutions, what will “Dr. Cuong” do with his diploma mill degree?  Your thoughts? 

MAA