Several top universities in Australia will now only accept Ontario diplomas from high schools that have been vetted, after a number of applicants may have used fake documents.

At least two schools in Ontario say their names have been found on fraudulent transcripts.

The University of Sydney confirmed in a statement that it, along with other universities, was informed earlier this year of “a significant rise in fraudulent Ontario Secondary School Diploma transcripts, particularly in respect of recently registered online private schools.”

In response, the university is currently only considering students from a select number of in-person Ontario schools that have gone through what it describes as a robust verification process. Chinese-language coverage of the fraud allegations included a list of 152 schools that the Australian universities had considered “unverified/ungenuine.” The university declined to provide that list, explaining that it is changing as the institution goes through it.

The University of Queensland said in a statement that the school was advised about potential use of falsified qualification documents earlier this year. The university has carried out verification checks on all recent applications where an OSSD was included. In cases where the document could not be verified, Queensland has paused processing and withdrawn offers.

Ontario’s Ministry of Education says it will review allegations of fraudulent documents if the universities bring it to their attention. The ministry will not pursue an investigation on its own.

“We are extremely disappointed to hear of forged documents and will investigate whenever credible evidence is brought forward to maintain the integrity of our world-class Ontario Secondary School Diploma,” Grace Lee, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in a statement.

Sheileen Krone, the principal of ASK Online Canada, a private virtual high school, said in an e-mail that the institution’s name has been used on fraudulent transcripts. Ms. Krone wrote that the University of Sydney contacted her earlier this year asking to confirm documents submitted by applicants.

“These documents had my school’s name but we did not issue them,” she wrote. “They were forged letters.”

There have been similar problems reported in the United Kingdom. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service identified a number of applications for the 2021 and 2022 academic years for which OSSD documentation was found to be fraudulent, or where a fraudulent reference in support of it was provided, according to Sander Kristel, UCAS chief operating officer.

Mr. Kristel said UCAS has worked closely with universities and higher education authorities in the U.K., as well as relevant schools in Ontario, to detect fraudulent applications and to implement wider checks. British universities have also increased their own checks, he noted.

The Ontario Ministry of Education is currently reviewing the identified schools to confirm their status. It did not say how many cases of fraudulent diplomas it had found in recent years.

In July, Rosedale Global High School said it had identified five fraudulent documents that illegally featured the school’s name and the names of people not enrolled as students. The documents all originated outside the academy and its partner schools, according to a statement.

Rosedale said the Ministry of Education and other appropriate entities had been notified of the fraudulent use of its name.

Marilyn Mason, Rosedale’s senior executive in higher education relations, suggested the abrupt switch to online learning during the pandemic has contributed to the problem.

“I do think that part of the chaos was that some schools did go online or were invented very quickly. … I do think it was, in part, the chaos of COVID,” she said, adding that other documents and credentials have been the target of fraud as well.

She added that the OSSD has increased in popularity outside of Canada.

Silvanus Wang, director of education at SuOn Academy in Toronto, also said fraudulent activities increased significantly after the pandemic emerged. In his understanding, some agents or agencies that provide services for international students in other countries such as China are to blame for the forged documents.

These agencies “recruit students, put them in the OSSD program and forge their transcripts,” Mr. Wang said. He added there’s a lack of supervision from the Ontario government, especially on overseas schools and agencies that illegally provide OSSD courses.

The Globe and Mail, October 31, 2022