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Freddy Krueger revisited: Politically correct education?

Raymond Cheng

I always pride myself on my first-hand experience with and the unique understanding of the differences among the various education systems in Asia – especially for Singapore, Malaysia, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and countries in the Greater China region [1] – as well as how these places differ from mainstream American and British systems. However, when it comes to seeing my students or friends being unneccessarily haunted by how uninformed people put labels on these education systems, I always find myself at a loss as I just cannot possibly help drive every Freddy away from their nightmares.

And Freddy Krueger [2] has once again visited, just very recently.

Just a few months ago, a PhD student studying at one of the unversities I teach decided to go and have his degrees evaluated in Hong Kong for comparability. He holds a bachelor's degree from a national university in Taiwan, a postgraduate diploma from a local university, plus an MBA degree from a state university in the Philippines. The reason he decided to do this was because he had been provisionally offered a teaching post at his alma mater in Taiwan and so having some experience with how the evaluation of academic degrees work might prove to become handy in the very near future. I was kind of confident that he would be able to get both his degrees evaluated as equivalent to their counterparts in Hong Kong because (i) Hong Kong is now recognizing just any legitimate degrees from Taiwan and mainland China after the Handover in 1997 – to be exact, this began in around 2005 for Taiwan qualifications and 2008 for mainland China qualifications (HKLC, 2009) – and that (ii) in addition to the two degrees, the student also holds a postgraduate diploma from a local university (i.e. a diploma that is granted after the bachelor's degree and before the completion of the master's thesis) which should help beef up his MBA as well.

The evaluation process took a few weeks and when it was done we were all left with disappointment and astonishment. The evaluation result for his MBA came back as "equivalent to a postgraduate diploma". What happened?! It was only then I realized that his "postgraduate diploma from the local university wasn't really a postgraduate diploma"... it was merely a diploma programme that requires a bachelor's degree for admission. So naturally, his foreign MBA would be "demoted" one level, to the level of the postgraduate diploma, unless his MBA is earned from a university (or from a country) where previous arrangment of reciprocal recognition exists for academic qualifications.

Okay, that was hard-earned experience. So, what is the lesson here?

Well, if you have gone around Asia, looked at degree programmes from different universities (be it ranked or unranked), studied their curricula, and made friends with their students and graduates, any reasonable and knowledgeable man would gradually and eventually come to the conclusion that there are only two types of university graduates – those who have learned stuff by heart (and hence have grown up to be a responsible person as a result of the learning process) and those who simply graduated with a piece of paper called the degree. What is interesting, though, is that those who learned stuff by heart did not neccessarily graduate with flying colors (and some might not even have completed their programmes of study) and those who simply graduated (even with high honors) are not guaranteed future success. And in time, one can hardly distinguish between the two merely by looking at their subsequent achievements. But what is likely true (at least in my opinion) is that the moment they turn (if they do turn) from one type to another often involves a direct blow in the form of a simple statement of rejection from a supposingly trustworthy, impartial third-party – a statement in the form of an evaluation that denies years of real and actual hard work of the student. Such a denial can do anthing from completely destroying the long-time faith of the student who strived to be an honourable and righteous person, fortifying some others in believing that all you need is a "duly paid, branded degree" which acts like a universal key that opens just any door anywhere, brainwashing another handful to study only at politically correct institutions only to show they are obedient citizens, to opening the minds of a few others to finally see the bitter truth of how the political stance or precepts of the evaluator has affected the lives of many in their evaluation process. The question here is that if every single credential evaluator emphasizes (if not boasts about) their fairness and the many stringent standards they follow in the process of evaluation, why are we still questioning their credibility?

Academic falsification and plagiarism in China. Source: NTD & China Forbidden News.

Just as Yarbrough et al. (2011) suggest, an evaluator without credibility jeopardizes an entire study and so a good evaluator must have the "expertise in research methodologies" and be "trustworthy in his or her performance in order to secure valid, reliable, and accepted findings from a study." But ironically, while the evaluator in our case above is undeniably an expert in the field, shows integrity in securing valid, reliable information, etc., they are also less than independent – they are dependent in the sense that they have to give in to the socio-political and economic reality – but who doesn't then? In fact, academic credentials from the mainland China, which were once totally unrecognized [3] in Hong Kong prior to the Handover in 1997, are now fully acknowledged as equivalent to and as legitimate as any local degrees. Such phenomenon is not unique to Hong Kong (for political reasons) but can be seen in places elsewhere as well (for business reasons) – which helps explain why some 66 percent of the universities in the UK have admitted foreign students with a poor grasp of English (Paton, 2012), an issue over the billions-dollar-worth UK education industry [4] that sparked fears over a decline in degree standards [5].

Frankly speaking, there is bascially very little one can do when it comes to political correctness. But if there really is, the first thing that could be done is probably to reference a second opinion obtained under a different evaluation system (for instance, another evaluation from a totally unrelated party in a different country). However, the consequence of such is often called "embarrassment" and the politically correct phrase (taken from the foreign ministry of China) to describe the action of obtaining such an unneccessary opinion would be "to wantonly interfere with the internal affairs of other countries". Likewise, opening up the market to allow for competition could be another viable, yet also politically incorrect, suggestion.

Fake degrees from fake colleges? Source: New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television.

To round up, my advice is, no matter how absurd this might sound, that it would be best to forget about what the evaluation says about your qualifications. Start now to believe in yourself and ask yourself what you have done to achieve your academic degree. And if you have truly done real work, have already given your best shot at the time and that university at which you've studied is a perfectly legitimate one recognized by the local government and that the programme is properly accredited by the appropriate bodies, then just stay calm and be cool for God always has His own mysterious way of planning our roads ahead – the evaluation, however disappointing it might be, could just be another message He sent to let you know that you don't belong to that place. So, go somewhere else for there's always a place that will suit and welcome you – remember, there is simply no way of getting rid of Freddy if you choose to stay in that politically correct dream. So, wake up and he's gone for good.

October 23, 2013

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Note 1: Greater China region: This is a collective and politically neutral geographical term people used to conveniently refer to the several Chinese speaking countries and cities in Asia, including Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan (Nationalist controlled, Republic of China), and the mainland China (Communist controlled, People's Republic of China).

Note 2: Frederick Charles "Freddy" Krueger is a fictional character and the primary antagonist played by Robert Englund in the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" film series from 1984 to 2003. For details, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freddy_Krueger

Note 3: There have been serious issues with falsification and plagiarism with the academic credentials awarded by institutions in China. For details, please see the video clips "Academic falsification and plagiarism in China" and "Fake degrees from fake colleges?" embedded above from NTD and China Forbidden News.

Note 4: See the Times Higher Education article, "UK market worth €10 billion" dated April 23, 2004 at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/188199.article

Note 5: The University of West London, Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and Glyndwr University in Wrexham admitted having a minimum entry requirement of 5.5, which IELTS warned was acceptable for "less linguistically demanding training courses". For details please refer to the Telegraph report, "Universities admitting foreign students with poor English" at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/9497191/Universities-admitting-foreign-students-with-poor-English.html