Documentation in times of crisis
“If documents are destroyed, what options does a student have? What happens when the infrastructure is unstable? If records are held online, but there’s no internet available, how is that information obtained?”
In the event of war, economic hardship or natural disasters, students are not always able to provide the standard educational documents, writes research & knowledge management evaluator at Educational Credential Evaluators Melissa Ganiere. So what can be done in times of turmoil to ensure that student qualifications are accessible?
At ECE, we recommend that institutions try to be flexible when dealing with exceptional cases. However, we understand that schools need to adhere to standards while simultaneously keeping the needs and best interests of the student in mind.
The final decision regarding what documents are acceptable is up to your institution. Some best practices have been adopted for documentation issues you might encounter during a crisis. These may help you gain flexibility without damaging your credibility.
Our top five guidelines for dealing with unusual situations are:
- Know your university/institution
What are the standardized requirements, and when are you allowed to make exceptions? Start by reviewing the current policy. Does an exception already exist for cases where documents are missing or not accessible? If not, consider creating an appeal process.
This may differ between undergraduate and graduate admission policies and may require support from the provost, chief academic officer, or faculty members.
- Trust, but verify
When applying an alternative process, the reason for the exception to standard processes should be verified.
- If the student claims to be a refugee, require proof of status
- If the school is closed, confirm it no longer exists
Keep in mind that just because there is a crisis situation occurring, it does not automatically mean that every school is shut down. Students may attempt to use lack of knowledge as a way to circumvent standard policies or try to take advantage of a highly publicized event such as political turmoil.
For example in Nigeria, there are often strikes at HEIs. However, these tend to be on the academic side and rarely on the support staff end.
Some students will claim their school is on strike so they are unable to send official documents. Upon further investigation, it tends to be isolated within the university and generally doesn’t affect documentation access. That’s why it’s vital to have reliable contacts on the ground.
“Keep in mind that just because there is a crisis situation occurring, it does not automatically mean that every school is shut down”
- Be willing to work with alternative documents
The standard documents may no longer be accessible or exist. Digital documentation can be a solution. If students have access to online databases, they may not need hard copies of their documents.
Some options for alternate documents would be:
- Online verification sites
- Alumni or graduation databases
- Verification letter from institution – if not accessible, research whether a designated custodian of records exists
- Using photocopies when original documents delivered in sealed envelopes stamped by the issuing institution are the standard requirement
Resources that can assist you in determining if alternate documents are acceptable may include:
“The most important aspect of dealing with document dilemmas is to be consistent in the application of your policies”
- Maintain records
Thoroughly document the case and any exceptions to your policy. Include justification statements and cite evidence and communication. Make the records accessible to your co-workers.
This will help when you have a similar situation in the future. We also recommend sharing with your colleagues how you handle situations.
- Other possible solutions
- Granting students provisional admission based on their performance in an ESL course
- Placement testing to determine the scope and breadth of previous knowledge
The most important aspect of dealing with document dilemmas is to be consistent in the application of your policies. Research current situations and circumstances to gain insight on each case, and always remember there is a person and a story behind every student.