Corruption in Higher Ed: Canada in the Crosshairs
It is overwhelmingly evident that there is a remarkable and callous disregard for academic ethics and standards in a scramble by Canadian universities to sign up foreign students.
Make no mistake. It is a stunning condemnation and a “wakeup call to higher education worldwide”. The recent UNESCO report states that academic institutions are rife with corruption and turning a blind eye to malpractice right under their noses. When UNESCO, a United Nations organization created after the chaos of World War II to focus on moral and intellectual solidarity, makes such an alarming allegation, it’s sobering and not to be dismissed.
So although Canadians typically think of their society and themselves as among the more honest and transparent found anywhere, how many Canadian institutions are engaging in activities that border on dishonest and are not entirely transparent around the world?
It is overwhelmingly evident that in the last two decades we have witnessed first-hand a remarkable and callous disregard for academic ethics and standards in a scramble by Canadian universities and colleges to sign up foreign students, who represent tens of millions of dollars to their bottom lines.
We have been in a school auditorium in China and listened to the school owner tell prospective parents that the Grade 12 marks from the Canadian provincial school board program can be manipulated to secure admission for their children into Canadian universities. This, while the Canadian teachers sat oblivious to the presentation in Chinese.
In hundreds of our own interaction with students who completed the Canadian provincial school board’s curriculum in China and who achieved grades of 70% and higher in their English class have been unable to achieve even a basic level of English literacy in the written tests we have administered. But when the largest country of origin for incoming international students and revenue is China - the Canadian universities admitting these students salivate over the dollars and focus less on due diligence.
We were once asked by a university on Canada’s west coast to review 200 applications from Saudi Arabia, in order to identify the two or three Saudi students who were actually eligible for conditional admission to that university's undergraduate engineering program. But the proposal was scuttled by the university's ESL department that wanted all 200 to enroll in its language courses. It insisted on and managed conditional admissions for all 200. It’s common at Canadian universities for the ESL program “tail” to wag the campus “dog” when it comes to admissions. In fact, recent Canadian government regulations have been proposed to crack down on this practice as it is an affront to academic integrity.
Canadian professors in the burgeoning area of new professional masters programs instruct cohorts entirely of international students and complain about being asked to teach academically ill-prepared students. Some have reported failing students who later (somehow) manage to have passed. As we know, failing students is bad for business.
In Punjab there are hundreds of students and parents who have approached us to ask why they have been directed by local education agents to apply for college diploma programs instead of a degree program when the student is clearly admissible to at a university. But agents will direct students to where they receive commissions, not necessarily to the pathway where the education is most appropriate. The Canadian colleges who contract agents are pleased to get every student they can.
Nowhere are corrupt practices more evident than in contracted relationships between universities and colleges with education agents worldwide. The UNESCO report is but a distillation of hundreds of incidents too often fraught with misrepresentations, fraud and exploitation. Australians have conducted official investigations and reported extensively on these corrupt practices. You can read many these stories in British and American newspapers, but in Canada, there is rarely a mention of this epidemic of abuse. Canadian visa officers overseas must sift through a plethora of fraudulent files from agents who are licensed by Canadian colleges and universities. Yet Canadian academic institutions, desperate to put bums in seats and meet their escalating operating costs and salaries, turn a blind eye.
Too few academic institutions are serious enough about screening and vetting applications. Minimal investment is made in meaningful scrutiny. It’s not just academic integrity that is lacking, academic quality is diminishing as cohorts of international students grow in number but not in ability.
And where is Canada’s faculty in all this?
Most professors know what’s going on. Yet, unless you listen carefully to low whispers on Canadian campuses you never hear of the academic compromises made in the interest of revenue. You almost never read about it officially. Ask any reporter how hard it is to get anyone to go on record. Even with tenure protecting faculty, you’d think you were asking for a candid comment from a professor in Tehran, Pyongyang or present day Istanbul.
Canada’s Minister of Immigration has recently called for a doubling of international students in Canada. In theory it is a worthy goal. But if Minister John McCallum doesn’t take heed of the UNESCO report, he must ask at what cost to the country’s academic and moral fiber.
Mel Broitman is Director of Higher-Edge, which operates the Canadian University Application Centre. Since 1997 Higher-Edge and the CUAC have recruited more than 8,000 students to Canada.
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