Monday, October 29, 2007

Nova a Dying Star

by Spencer McCall

Nova Corp, Japan’s leading ESL franchise is set to close as many as 200 of its 900 branches in an effort to cope with an escalating scandal that began in June of this year, as Japan Today newspaper reported, when “METI [Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry] ordered the school . . . to suspend part of its operations for lying to consumers in advertisements about its services.” Japan Today, Wednesday, October 10th, 2007. Before the scandal broke, Nova had roughly 480,000 students enrolled in 900 schools throughout the country.

Foreign instructors have not received their wages since autumn. Nova Corp has delayed paying wages to their 4,000 foreign employees since September, “and the company has notified the instructors that payments for October will also be delayed until Friday [Oct. 19th].” Japan Today, October 16th, 2007. Decreased student enrollment and canceled contracts have added to the company’s woes. Although there are reports of unions and individuals threatening criminal charges, no charges have been laid against Nova Corp.

Some embassies, including Britain and Australia, are offering assistance in the way of cheap flights to their nationals who wish to return home.

The impact of Nova Corp’s scandal will most likely be felt regionally as well as nationally. As the company’s troubles continue, hundreds of experienced teachers, low on cash and desperate for work will influx other markets, most likely Korea and Taiwan where the highest wages for teaching outside of Japan are there to be found. But significant changes will not likely be felt until 2008.

For more details, follow the link and search Nova.

Paper No Longer Proof – By Spencer McCall

On July 11th of this year, a scandal erupted when it was reported Shin Jeong Ah, an art history professor at Dongguk University and a prominent member of the artistic community, had lied about her Ph.D. from Yale as well as degrees from the University of Kansas. It sparked a widespread investigation that has to date uncovered the lies and fake degrees of several of Korea’s leading artists, celebrities and academics. For more information on the individuals involved in the scandals and the continuing investigation, visit the International Herald Tribune at

What is gaining less press is the recent widening scope of the crackdown on fake degrees, which is not only effecting prominent Koreans, but foreign ESL teachers as well. Across the country, ESL teachers are facing intense pressure to produce further proof their degrees are genuine. At first, this verification process was relegated only to Public Schools and their foreign teachers in the area of the Seoul Board of Education. But as of October, Busan and Daegu were beginning this process.

The initiation of this verification process is understandable given that Korea has faced many problems with fake degrees in the past. And now, it seems the problem is spreading. In 2005, over a hundred foreign teachers were detained and deported after it was discovered they possessed fake degrees. That incident was later traced back to a Seoul recruiter who had for months been promising naïve and perhaps financially desperate teachers a way of skirting the system. After that incident, papers from immigration were sent to all Hagwons and Public Schools, asking for more transcripts and re-inspections of degrees.

However, the Public School teachers now face a tougher challenge because neither the government nor school boards have clearly stated what they will accept as proof of an authentic degree. Among the teachers I have talked with, stories vary as to what the authorities are willing to accept. A Canadian teacher in Seoul was told to get a list of alumni from her graduating class. Universities, of course, do not allow disclosure such lists without prior consent because of privacy laws. Another teacher, an American working at a Public School in Busan, obtained a personal letter from the Dean of her University stating she had indeed matriculated and graduated from the University. She was promptly informed the letter was not enough proof. Nor did she receive any further instruction in how to follow up the matter.