“Adopt a strategic approach and long-term commitment to partnership building”
The UK regulatory and quality assurance landscape for transnational education has undergone significant change since 2018, when the contract that the then-Higher Education Funding Council for England had with QAA for conducting in-country TNE reviews ended.
In England, the statutory responsibility for safeguarding the quality and standards of English TNE rests with the Office for Students, which is currently looking into developing better data on TNE to inform its metrics-based approach to quality assessment.
A challenge so far has been a lack of data comparable to UK-based students about graduate outcomes for TNE students that is comparable to data collected for UK-based students. Fabrizio Trifirò of Ecctis (the operators of UK ENIC, formerly UK NARIC) explains.
“UK NARIC has been working to develop an enhanced service aimed at improving international understanding and confidence in TNE qualifications”
The TNE Quality Benchmark scheme will be an important tool to inform UK NARIC international engagement aimed at improving the recognition climate for TNE qualifications of demonstrated standards, quality and relevance, writes Dr. Fabrizio Trifiro. Fabrizio Trifiro is head of Quality Benchmark Services at UK NARIC.
As education systems and institutions worldwide are trying to adjust and respond to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, transnational education (TNE), and in particular online modes of delivery, can become an increasingly important way to sustain international activity and growth going forward.
Students might not be allowed to return to their university’s campus, and many international students might not be able to travel or might not want to take the risk to travel until the likelihood of further peaks of Covid-19 and further lockdown measures have receded.
“At times, regulations developed to safeguard students and societies… can hinder the achievement of the very benefits associated with TNE”
Cross-border cooperation and coordination are needed to reap the full benefits of transnational education, writes Fabrizio Trifiro. Fabrizio is the recently-appointed Head of Quality Benchmark Services at UK NARIC and was formerly at the UK QAA where he led on the quality assurance of TNE.
From my experience in the external quality assurance of UK TNE over a number of years, I appreciate the key challenges and opportunities facing TNE providers, students, and sending and receiving countries’ authorities; and also some of the priorities to focus on, to fully achieve the benefits that can come from TNE.
The challenges of TNE are several, but it is with a firm sight to its potential benefits that they need to be looked at. TNE is a way to make available education programmes to people who would not otherwise be able to access them because they are unwilling or unable to move internationally, be it for financial, family, work, or visa-related reasons.
TNE has, therefore, the inherently progressive potential to widen international access to quality and relevant education, in particular in locations where there is unmet demand, contributing to the development of skills needed to support social and economic development.
“UK universities and colleges are in an uncomfortable position at the immigration front line. Due diligence has to be completed to demonstrate to the Home Office auditors that robust systems are in place”
As institutions work to tackle the problem fraud in student applications, Steve Miller ofUK NARIC, the designated national agency responsible for providing information, advice and expert opinion on qualifications worldwide, shares some pointers on how to spot fake documents.
‘I didn’t know fraud was so common, so widespread’ – that’s the comment UK NARIC hears again and again from the university and college staff who attend its fraud workshops and seminars.
UK NARIC has been running its fraud training for over eight years – so we have trained a lot of staff from HE institutions. And in that time, we have had to develop the training year-on-year, because fraud has definitely become more common, and the fraudulent techniques adopted have become more elaborate.
The rise in numbers of international applications has increased the challenge for admissions staff – there are more applications to be sifted and checked, and from a greater variety of places, so staff have to learn and become familiar with an ever-wider array of qualification certificates and ID documents.
“Staff have to learn and become familiar with an ever-wider array of qualification certificates and ID documents”
UK universities and colleges are in an uncomfortable position at the immigration front line. Due diligence on applications has to be completed, and the evidence and audit trails all have to be there, to justify decisions taken and to demonstrate to the Home Office auditors that robust systems are in place.
Establishing with certainty the identity of an applicant is first base. Fake ID documents are a growing problem, but so too are genuine documents obtained illegally. Check across all documents supplied looking for discrepancies in the name and in age/date of birth. Any changes in name, eg due to marriage, should of course be supported by the necessary further documents – marriage certificates etc.
Be aware that there is a growing trade in fake EU passports – a popular choice as these give entry to any EU country without a visa. You will need to learn passport security features and check that documents have all of these. Some inexpensive equipment will help – most security features can be checked with a magnifying glass and a black light (UV-A lamp).
“Be aware that there is a growing trade in fake EU passports – a popular choice as these give entry to any EU country without a visa”
Social media can be a useful help to you. Check on a person’s ‘web imprint’. Do their Facebook posts match their claimed age and educational history? Do locations match – during their claimed years of study, have they been posting online from the university town you would expect? Facebook and other social media image uploads can also help with checking passport photos.
When it comes to qualifications, the first challenge is to check that the issuing institution is fully recognised. With such high numbers of applications coming from India and China, you may well encounter certificates from an unrecognised institution – there are many of them in these huge countries. Those of you who are subscriber members of UK NARIC will know that you can access full listings of recognised institutions in each country using our online data banks.
The next stage is to check if the certificate is genuine. If you are receiving a good number of international applications, you can and should build a library of certificates over time, to act as a live reference base against which incoming certificates can be compared.
Check certificates for all the obvious things first – all spelling should be correct; check all alignment – are type and graphics all properly centred and is everything straight? Check that dates are rendered correctly and that they make sense in terms of the qualification.
A more advanced level of checking would be to examine the signatures on the degree certificate – not only that the signature matches the genuine signature for the person named, but also that the Vice Chancellor or Principal named is correct in terms of the date of issue of the document.
“Print quality is not always a good guide to genuineness”
Print quality is not always a good guide to genuineness. Some recognised and well-established institutions in developing countries issue degree certificates that are not especially ‘well printed’. But type and graphical alignment will still be accurate.
UK NARIC would always advise that you do not rely on the degree certificate alone, but that you also obtain a transcript. This gives you further information to check against – module marks can be checked against the final degree classification; award titles should tally; course duration can be checked against the standards and norms for the country. If you cannot obtain a transcript from the applicant then you can request one direct from the institution.
A good general knowledge of countries’ education systems is a useful asset for anyone doing these sorts of checks.
UK NARIC offers advice and support to universities and colleges in all these areas – visit www.naric.org.uk to find out more.
“You can’t be expected to know every university in Brazil, but make sure you know the main ones”
The PIE News reporter Beckie Smith writes about some of the key takeaways from UK NARIC‘s recent seminar on education fraud.
On 29 April I attended a fascinating seminar hosted by UK NARIC at Birmingham Metropolitan College’s Sutton Coldfield campus, offering insight into fraud in the international education sector. As well as playing detective with a wad of bogus certificates from a handful of different education markets (I now feel like I could confidently spot a fake Pakistani school certificate at 50 paces), delegates received a number of useful tips to help them safeguard against fraud in their institutions. Here are some of the lessons learned from the event.