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Friday, July 20, 2007

Bad Here;
Worse Overseas

'In Korea, it is not rare for academics or instructors to come to fame based on false academic certificates or backgrounds. A scandal surrounding the fake degrees of prominent Dongguk University art historian Shin Jeong-ah suggests there must be many others who lie about their achievements and get away with it. Part of the reason is a culture that relies excessively on glamorous-looking degree certificates and a system incapable of sifting the grain from the chaff.

How fakes succeed

In March last year, some 120 people were indicted by prosecutors for buying fake master's or doctoral degrees from a Russian conservatory of music. Each paid a broker about W20 million (US$1=W915) for the fake degree certificate. All they did was visit Russia for a week. Many were lecturers, and some were even professors. They went so far as to organize a Russian Music Society based on their flying visit.

Until 2002, Hwang In-tae was a famous TV panelist on the strength of a bachelor's degree in economics from Seoul National University and experience as a CNN reporter and a fund manager at Magellan Fund. None of it was true. His highest academic qualification was a few subjects in a high-school graduate equivalency exam.

In 2004, a private university in Seoul hired a 37-year-old American as an assistant professor of English on the strength of a master's degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from Central Michigan University. Both were fake. Early this month, police arrested a professor at Gwangju National University of Education for having registered a doctorate from a regular U.S. university with the Korea Research Foundation, although the degree came in fact from a non-accredited American institution.

Loopholes in verification

Despite the flood of scandals, measures supposed to prevent falsification of degrees or academic background offer many loopholes. The Education Ministry vowed in spring last year to establish an ethics department within the KRF to strengthen supervision of degree holders. But no such department has opened yet. Some American degrees such as JD (juris doctor), DMA (doctor of music arts) and D.Min. (doctor of ministry) are not subject to the KRF's listing. That makes them easy targets for con artists. In addition, there has been no study of how many degree-related frauds there have been and how they succeeded.

According to the Higher Education Act, holders of foreign doctoral degrees have to report to the KRF under the Education Ministry within six months after their return home. They are supposed to make entries about their personal information and degrees on the KRF webpage first, and submit copies of their certificates and theses later. The KRF then reviews the documents and issues receipts, and publishes the theses in the archives of the Korea Education and Research Information Service.

But the KRF only checks if the necessary documentation is received but does not verify certificates' authenticity. And even if graduates fail to report their degree to the KRF, there is no disadvantage. "The system aims to check how many holders of foreign degrees are working in the country, not to verify their authenticity,” a KRF official says. “Colleges or universities should check and verify the theses of their recruits. That's their responsibility." But, as seen in the case of Shin Jeong-ah, this has proved useless.

Park Sung-hyun, a professor of computer science and statistics at Seoul National University, said, "The culture where many people are bent on succeeding by all means, is leading many people to falsify their academic background. Each school has to strengthen its degree verification system."'

---Digital Chosun Ilbo, Korea---