Data science is coming to the rescue of refugees, international students and would-be workers who have lost crucial school records.

A Canadian non-profit tested whether its researchers could accurately re-create transcripts, diplomas and degrees destroyed by war, earthquakes, fire and chaos.

It turns out they can.

A two-year pilot program of 337 Syrian refugees found the Alternative Credential Assessment Report was accepted by every institution, employer and level of government to which it was submitted. Results of the pilot program were recently presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

“We were quite pleased with what we saw the reports used for,” said Beth Clarke, director of strategic partnerships for World Education Services (WES) Canada.

“We even had someone admitted to law school using this document.”

Now the company is expanding the service to help potential students and immigrants from six more countries: Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Ukraine, Venezuela and Turkey.

“This is a fantastic idea”

WES Canada is one of several companies that evaluate the overseas credentials of international students and others who want to come to Canada. The private companies verify that documents are valid and give schools, employers, professional regulators and government agencies information about how a degree or transcript compares to a similar education in Canada. The credential evaluations are crucial to school admission, professional qualification, job placement and some immigration programs.

WES realized in 2015 that most of the 46,000 Syrian refugees headed to Canada would arrive without the documents required to land a job or be admitted to school. The pilot was designed to test how much could be reconstructed and validated about a client’s education using only partial or unverified documents.

Clients had to be referred by a community partner, and only Syrian refugees were eligible. WES accepted 337 clients; of those, 57 per cent had a bachelor’s degree and 19 per cent had a graduate degree. The company was able to create an Alternative Credential Assessment Report for every single client, said Clarke, and not one school or employer demanded to see an original transcript or degree instead.

Daniel Zeldin, international enrolment manager for Camosun College in British Columbia, said the new verification system could make a big difference to some of his students.

“This is a fantastic idea,” he said.

“We should give students every opportunity to demonstrate their eligibility for an academic program.”

Zeldin said Camosun frequently deals with students who can’t prove they have the right qualifications because their records no longer exist. For example, he said, an earthquake in Mexico destroyed thousands of student transcripts. Even if a Mexican student has a diploma or degree, they may not be able to prove that they took the science or math courses required to enter a specific Canadian program.

“We knew they had graduated, but we had no objective way to evaluate their skills in these areas,” Zeldin said of those Mexican students.

“They had to take an extra one to two semesters of academic upgrading (to qualify). We see this quite a bit in the case of natural disasters, fire, earthquakes, flooding and schools that have closed down.”

“For every year that a school operated, we know what courses it offered.”

Clarke said WES is able to recreate the credentials using its vast database of information about schools, colleges and universities around the world.

“We’ve been operating since 1974,” she said.

“For every year that a school operated, we know what courses it offered.”

Clarke said that WES also has extensive records about the prerequisites for various programs, so it may be able to reconstruct someone’s previous education based on a ministerial letter or admission to a specific program.

Clarke said they have not yet tested whether the Alternative Credential Assessment Report will be accepted by Canadian immigration authorities as part of an application for a visa or permit. WES did have a client that asked for the report for immigration purposes, but the company was able to retrieve the client’s original documents instead.

The program expanded in October. It is now available to clients from six more countries and is no longer restricted to refugees. Clarke said WES is also about to start offering the service to the United States.

The cost of the research-intense Alternative Credential Assessment Report is similar to the price of WES’s regular credential assessments, usually less than $250. Clarke said the pilot program was free and WES has provided vouchers to its community partners for clients who can’t afford to pay for the credential themselves.


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