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Block Indian websites offering ‘contract cheating’, UK Universities told

Hindustan Times | Prasun Sonwalkar |  London Oct 09, 2017  |

“Contract cheating” happens when a third party completes work for a student who then submits it to an education provider as their own.

Representational Image

Over 100 websites and internet forums offering assignments to university students in Britain for a fee – many based in India – are to be blocked on campus computers and WiFi systems to prevent “contract cheating” — selling assignments for a fee. Academics told Hindustan Times that thousands of students at British universities have been using Indian expertise in IT as part of “contract cheating”, whereby course assignments are contracted online for a fee, endangering the quality of degrees awarded. The phenomenon – first reported in academic circles in 2008 by Thomas Lancaster and Robert Clarke at Birmingham City University – has become more sophisticated over the years, making it difficult to detect through usual plagiarism detection software. “Contract cheating” happens when a third party completes work for a student who then submits it to an education provider as their own, where such input is not permitted. A student contracts the third party to provide the assessment, usually a company or individual using a website to promote themselves and receive orders.

Such companies have become known as “essay mills”, even though they supply more than just essays. The common approach is for the work to be outsourced once again by the mills to individual writers, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), an independent body tasked with safeguarding standards and improving the quality of higher education, said. New guidance to be published on Monday by the QAA says that the “advertising activity of essay mills has increased in recent years”. It confirmed the existence of more than 100 such websites, with prices depending on the complexity of assignments and tightness of deadlines. They can range from £200 for one essay to as high as £6,750 for a PhD dissertation.  The guidance includes blocking access to “essay mills” on campuses. It says: “Attempts to access essay mill sites would be met with a message that access is prohibited…This will not prevent a student from accessing sites from their own devices. “However, if they do try to use providers’ systems, the block message will signal that the provider is aware of the sites and reinforce the importance of academic integrity. Where providers do not block sites, and students are able to access essay mills from their systems, the opposite impression may be given.”

Lancaster, now at Staffordshire University, told HT: “We’ve observed a lot of people from India bidding to complete academic work for students. They make offers that are very appealing to students from the UK, they’ll do the assignment for what is a low price for a UK student, but a good living wage for the worker in India. “As part of my contract cheating work, I’m seeing a lot of advertising for essay mills around university campuses in the UK. Companies are handing out business cards and they’re advertising to students on social media. A lot of this advertising is targeted at international students, including those from India.” Universities have plagiarism detection software, but several websites offer “plagiarism-free guarantees”, or essays and assignments tested against such detection software, making it difficult for academics to confirm the authenticity of a student’s work. Universities minister Jo Johnson said: “This form of cheating is unacceptable and pernicious. It not only undermines standards in our world-class universities, but devalues the hard-earned qualifications of those who don’t cheat and can even, when it leads to graduates practising with inadequate professional skills, endanger the lives of others.” – Courtesy


Fresh funding for educational institutes could be linked to NIRF rankings

Moneycontrol News | M Saraswathy | 10 October 2017 |

Sources said that this will not only ensure higher participation of institutions but will also play a role in improving their physical infrastucture and academic output.

From 2018, fresh funding for educational institutions by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) could be on the basis of their ranking in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF). Sources said that this will not only ensure higher participation of institutions but will also play a role in improving their physical infrastucture and academic output. In the India Rankings 2017 based on NIRF, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore topped the overall list of institutes. “Global rankings take certain parameters which are not relevant in the Indian context. Linking funding to the rankings will promote healthy competition ” an official said.

There are several leading educational institutes like Presidency University of Kolkata and St Stephen’s College, Delhi  that have not participated in these rankings. Once grants/funds are linked to NIRF rankings, it will be necessary for them to participate to ensure a healthy flow of funds to the institutions. If they don’t, MHRD may also seek the reasons for opting out. NIRF was approved by the MHRD and launched in September 29, 2015. In the second year of the ranking. In 2017, general degree colleges have also been made part of the ranking. Apart from the overall ranks, categories like engineering, management, pharmacy, universities and colleges have been classified in various buckets. In 2017, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad bagged the top slot among management institutes while Indian Institute of Technology, Madras secured the top rank among engineering institutes. Indian educational institutes have been a part of global rankings like QS World University Rankings. However, only a handful of institutes like IISc Bangalore and IIT Delhi (2017) have featured among the top 200 institutes in the world. None of them have been able to break into the top 50 among the world. Almost 70-80 percent of educational institutions are partly or fully funded by the government and require financial support to manage the physical infrastructure, salary bills as well as to subsidise student education. – Courtesy

‘Muslim’ from AMU, ‘Hindu’ from BHU should be dropped, says UGC

India Today | New Delhi, October 9, 2017 |

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has recommended to drop words such as ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ in names of universities–Banaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University.

Banaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University

In a major announcement, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has recommended to drop words such as ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ in names of universities–Banaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University. The UGC panel suggested that these words do not reflect their secular character.

Reasons behind recommendation:

As reported by PTI, the panel was formed to probe the alleged irregularities in 10 central universities and the recommendations have been made in the audit report of AMU.

Here’s what the panel said:

While speaking on the condition of anonymity, one of the panel members said centrally funded universities are secular institutions but such words related to religion in their names do not reflect that character.

Besides AMU and BHU, other universities that were audited by the panel are the following:

  • Pondicherry University
  • Allahabad University
  • Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Uttarakhand
  • Central University of Jharkhand
  • Central University of Rajasthan
  • Central University of Jammu
  • Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya in Wardha
  • University of Tripura
  • Hari Singh Gour University in Madhya Pradesh

Furthermore, panel said, the universities can be simply called Aligarh University and Banaras University or be renamed after their founders. – Courtesy

Team SHUNYA of IIT Bombay is now set for the next challenge – to participate in Solar Decathlon 2018

India Education Diary | |

Mumbai: Have you ever wondered about a house which runs on zero electricity and also generates electricity for future use? Well, this idea isn’t far-fetched at all. A team from IIT Bombay had successfully built such a fully-functional, well-furnished house with three rooms, a kitchen sufficient lighting and air conditioning. The house runs on solar energy using rooftop solar panels. It does not use any electrical energy from the grid but is capable of generating and feeding excess energy to the grid on a bright sunny day. The name of this fascinating team of passionate young engineering and architecture students is “Team SHUNYA” where SHUNYA stands for ‘Sustainable Habitat for an Urbanizing Nation by its Young Aspirants’. The team took part in Solar Decathlon Europe, 2014 and got “Honourable mention in Sustainability”. The team secured highest points in innovation in engineering and made innovations in the fields of solar-powered appliances, photovoltaic systems and house simulations. Another remarkable highlight is that the team has patented a solar air heater in which maximum temperature of 220oC can be reached. Team SHUNYA of IIT Bombay is now set for the next challenge – to participate in Solar Decathlon 2018 to be held in Dezhou, China. It is the only team from India to have selected in Solar Decathlon, 2018 which will be held in Dezhou, China.

Solar Decathlon is an international competition in which teams from various countries compete to build a fully-functional solar-powered house by applying cutting-edge technologies and innovations in a month-long competition and make a live model of the house on the competition site within just 12 days. The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon also designated as ‘The Olympics of Solar Powered Houses’ challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. For Solar Decathlon China (SDC) 2018, the ‘Project Solarise’ of Team SHUNYA will showcase a solar powered ground+1 floor villa of 2000 square feet area for a family of six people, which uses an unconventional innovative HVAC system. The villa will be completely automated and built using hybrid construction. With amazing lessons from the past, Team SHUNYA is designing a house as per the climatic conditions of Amaravati, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, to demonstrate energy-efficient solar housing. As Amravati will be a green field construction on the banks of Krishna River, Team SHUNYA looks forward to use this opportunity to demonstrate housing options for future smart cities. ‘Project Solarise’ will be an amalgamation of traditional architecture, contemporary interior designs, modern lifestyle and futuristic amenities infused in a single house. The ‘Net Positive Energy House’ has been designed with thorough research about the climatic and geographical conditions of the place. Passive solar architecture is the central design tenet with the aim of reducing the requirement for artificial thermal and lighting control as far as possible. The cost can also be brought down. This project will also introduce hybrid construction in the realms of Indian housing, diverging from the conventional building industry. The scientific principles of Vastu Shastra have also been employed for arriving at the spatial arrangement of various rooms according to the time of the day. The house would be easy to erect and transport. In future, the ‘Net Positive Energy’ house designed by Team SHUNYA will be an asset for the upcoming smart city projects in different parts of the world.

Since its selection, the team has made significant progress in the design and engineering of the house. In order to justify the decision to create a house for the Indian middle class, the team decided to ensure that the house appeals to the sensibilities of the widest range of Indian home owners. An active attempt has been made to provide as much functionality as possible at the lowest cost while meeting with the international competition standards. The members of Team SHUNYA are not mere engineers and architects, but technocrats with young innovative minds imprinted with the responsibility of fulfilling social obligations and with the inextinguishable desire to serve humanity. As Team SHUNYA represents India in Solar Decathlon China 2018, it will be yet another feather of success in the technological advancement of the country in solar housing with its rich scientific minds. Apart from the construction of the house, the team is also engaging in awareness activities to promote sustainable construction in India through its website, social media platforms and by participating in lectures, workshops and various conferences. Currently, the team is working towards raising capital to meet the expenditure of building a new house in the campus premises for testing the design which would further be dismantled and reassembled in China in 12 days as part of the competition. The team utilizes all their investments for designing technologies. If the dreams of Team SHUNYA gain wings in implementation and replication, it would surely transform the Indian building Industry by demonstrating affordability of sustainable housing. – Courtesy   /      http://teamshunya.in/

AICTE wants closed private institutes to restart operations

Deccan Herald | Prakash Kumar, DH News Service, New Delhi | Oct 9 2017 |

The AICTE has proposed the move to help speed up the Centre’s skill development programme.

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) wants owners of closed private technical institutes to restart their operations by forming smaller groups. The higher education regulator is preparing an action plan to bring such institutions on board so that infrastructure, including classrooms, laboratories and other facilities, created by them can be utilised in offering students “popular courses” in engineering and technology.

Skill development factor

The Centre’s renewed push for skill development to make the country’s youth employable and promote entrepreneurship is one of the major factors behind the AICTE’s move as availability of infrastructure for offering such courses is the key to the speedy implementation of the skill development ministry’s plans. “We are discussing the idea to see as to how such institutions can be brought on board. Many private technical institutes have been closed down because they failed to attract an adequate number of students required to run the institutes. But, they still have buildings and other infrastructure, which can be utilised if the owners come together and restart operations by forming smaller groups,” AICTE chairman Anil Sahasrabudhe told DH. He, however, clarified that the AICTE will not be a partner in such collaborations among the owners of the closed institutes. “They have to take a decision among themselves as to whether they should come together or not. We will only encourage them to forge such collaborations and bring in some provisions in our regulations to allow such collaborations,” he added. “If the owners of the closed institutes come together, they can start offering skill development programmes along with other technical courses that are in demand,” the AICTE chairman said. – Courtesy

Students voice dissent over sudden changes in competitive exams such as JEE-Mains

Hindustan Times | Shreya Bhandary | Oct 08, 2017 | Opinion |

One of the common complaints from students has been the limited time given to adapt to these sudden and radical changes.

This academic year has proven to be one of the toughest ones for class XII students, especially for those planning to appear for competitive examinations in 2018. Be it the decision by Joint Admission Board (JAB) of the Indian Institutes of Technology to conduct Joint Entrance Examination (JEE)-Mains only online from the next year or the decision of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to take the difficulty-level of Common Entrance Test (CET) for engineering admissions on par with JEE. One of the common complaints from students has been the limited time given to adapt to these sudden and radical changes. “The admission authority should know that any changes should be applicable only two years after its introduction, so that students get ample time to prepare themselves. We not only prepare for our class XII exams in these two years, but also for the various competitive exams,” said Natasha Borges, a class XII student. The decision to do away with the pen-and-paper format for JEE-Mains came in August and took many by surprise. The change was introducted despite popularity of the pen-and-paper format among students. In 2016, hardly 10% of the 13.5 lakh students opted for the online format.  “My friends and I have been trying our hands on mock tests online and every time we do that, errors creep up due to problems with the internet connection. Since the JEE has gone online, most of us are worried because there have been numerous instances wherein a student’s answer to questions has not been registered on the site due to technical glitch and nothing can be done after you submit your paper,” said Supreeth Baliga, a class XII student of RIMS International Junior College, Andheri.

One after another

Just when students got their heads around the fact that MH-CET will now be on par with JEE in terms of quality as well as difficulty-level, the state Directorate of Technical Education (DTE) last week released the final syllabus and break-up of marks applicable for MH-CET in May 2018 — which includes 20% weightage for Class XI syllabus of state board. “JEE is based on CBSE syllabus, whereas CET is based on state board syllabus. How can the two be at the same level when the syllabus itself is different? The DTE authorities have not made this clear, but are expecting us to be prepared for a difficult paper. That’s unfair,” said Sejal Shah, another class XII student. – Courtesy

APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University (KTU) plans concept paper on design and engineering

DECCAN CHRONICLE. |  Oct 7, 2017 | Thiruvananthapuram |   APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University plans concept paper  |

The students will be encouraged to think differently and formulate design solutions to meet any need.

Representational Image

Thiruvananthapuram: The APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University has brought out a concept paper on design and engineering as it has made design mandatory in the first year of the BTech programme for all branches of specialisation. This  is an introductory course  to understand the various segments of  simple design. The students will be encouraged to think differently and formulate design solutions to meet any need.   They can  take up mini-projects which  do not require in-depth knowledge in engineering.

The conceptualisation of design and reforming of design based on any criteria can now be done using many of the design tools available for engineers. These include CAD, analysis tools, simulation tools, optimisation tools and the like. All design details using CAD are to be brought out well and presented by the student during project evaluation, the note said.  Each branch can select any design project for specialisation and do it using CAD and other tools available. A group of students not exceeding four  can plan  this  so that the final year project will be arealistic one with full involvement of the group. While evaluating the project, the members of committee will consider the following points:  presentation quality, ability to speak clearly and logically with effective audience engagement, quality of images and drawings free of typographical errors, clear and coherent response to audience questions, technical content, methodology of design calculations used,  identified design requirements and thorough evaluation of design alternatives. – Courtesy

IIT Gandhinagar team develops system to monitor drought in South Asia

The Hindu | R. Prasad |  Chennai, October 05, 2017 |

Precipitation and temperature data provided at finer resolution than before

Saran Aadhar, left, and Vimal Mishra at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar.

Near real-time monitoring of drought at a 5-km scale that will help policy makers in water management at a district level is now possible, thanks to tools developed and made available online by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar. The researchers offer precipitation and temperature datasets and drought indicators available from 1980 to April 2017 covering the entire South Asian region. The data will be updated weekly. Besides drought, the datasets can also be used for monitoring heat and cold waves in South Asia. “We don’t know whether a particular region is in drought as we don’t have real-time rainfall and temperature data at appropriate scale. IMD [Indian Meteorology Department] provides daily rainfall data mainly during the monsoon season. There’s no real-time information at high-resolution about drought after the monsoon season,” says Prof. Vimal Mishra from the Civil Engineering department at IIT Gandhinagar and one of the two researchers who developed the dataset. Also, IMD’s drought information is based only on rainfall data and does not incorporate the role of air temperature. But higher temperature after the monsoon season can cause drought-like situation due to increased evaporation and transpiration losses.

At the district level

The team wanted to provide information in near real-time on whether a region of interest is under drought and what part of a district or sub-basin is under drought. The emphasis was to develop a dataset at a finer resolution (5 km) as the data provided by IMD and other agencies is coarse (resolution of 25 km). The researchers used CHIRPS global rainfall data which are available at 5 km resolution and corrected the data for bias and errors. CHIRPS stands for Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station. “The corrected data compares well with the IMD data once we aggregate our data to the IMD scale,” says Prof. Mishra. The precipitation dataset at a finer resolution of 5 km over the entire South Asian region was evaluated against a standard rainfall database (APHRODITE) that is available for South Asia and satellite-based information. Earlier studies have shown that the Aphrodite database matches the IMD rainfall data quite well. The results were published in the journal Scientific Data.

“The drought indices — standardised precipitation index and standardised precipitation evapotranspiration index — were estimated using the bias-corrected, high-resolution data and evaluated against satellite-based drought products. The validation gives us the confidence that our dataset can indicate the severity and extent of drought at a district and sub-basin level in south Asia,” says Saran Aadhar from the Civil Engineering department at IIT Gandhinagar and the first author. The researchers used the drought indices to assess severity and extent of drought in 2015 for a four-month period from June to September. “The developed dataset and drought indicators performed well over the South Asian region. Apart from IMD, this is an additional effort to provide more real-time information on drought that can be used for decision-making,” says Prof. Mishra. – Courtesy

‘Centre for making accreditation mandatory for engineering courses’

The Hindu | Tiruchi, October 06, 2017 | Tiruchirapalli |   Special Correspondent |

Engineering colleges should aim for getting autonomous status: NBA Chairman

Surendra Prasad, Chairman, National Board of Accreditation, speaking at the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchi, on Thursday. | Photo Credit: HANDOUT

The Centre is contemplating a plan to make accreditation mandatory for programmes offered by engineering colleges, said Surendra Prasad, Chairman, National Board of Accreditation (NBA). Speaking to reporters here after inaugurating a three-day national workshop on “Technical Education in National Context: Challenges and Strategies” at National Institute of Technology, Mr. Prasad said that accreditation of engineering courses was still voluntary. However, the Centre has mooted an idea of making accreditation of engineering courses mandatory and discussions were on at different levels. The National Board of Accreditation, which was one of the signatories of Washington Accord, had aired its view to the Centre on the issue.

“I personally feel that mandatory proposal is not a good idea. If the colleges possess good infrastructure and faculty, they will automatically apply for accreditation as it will help them to get students for accredited courses,” Mr. Prasad said. However, a decision on the matter rested with the Centre. Mr. Prasad, who was also Chairman of National Institute of Ranking Framework (NIRF), said engineering colleges should aim for getting autonomous status. If the majority of programmes were accredited, they could become eligible for autonomy, which would give the colleges freedom to frame curriculum as per the contemporary requirements. The engineering colleges and institutes that had tier-II accreditation of NBA for the courses would have global recognition as NBA was a dignitary to the Washington Accord, which was an international agreement between bodies responsible for accrediting engineering degree programmes.

To a question, Mr. Prasad said that colleges and institutes in South India had been doing well on getting tier-I accreditation. Colleges in Tamil Nadu had a longer history and they were facing a greater amount of survival challenges. Hence, they were keen on getting tier-I accreditation. NBA would conduct awareness programmes on the importance of NBA accreditation wherever necessary. Earlier, speaking at the workshop, Mr. Prasad said higher learning institutions such as IITs and NITs should focus on framing professional curriculum that should be dynamic in content and delivery. Faculty members should be encouraged to engage the students in discussions, which will help them to understand their own interests better. Jandhyala BG Tilak, former vice-chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, said that the higher learning institutes should focus on three E’s of development goals – expansion, equity and excellence. Mini Shaji Thomas, Director, NIT-T, presided. G. Kannabiran, Principal Co-ordinator of the workshop and others spoke. – Courtesy

When cooks get higher salaries than engineers: Bibek Debroy explains state of education

Financial Express | Bibek Debroy |  October 5, 2017 | Opinion |

We have been repeatedly warned against blindly believing everything we read or are forwarded. With that dash of sodium chloride, here is the gist of a message I was forwarded, not as a prospective job applicant, since I possess qualifications for neither.

A restaurant 89 km from Ankamaly (Angamaly) requires a full-time “porotta maker”, at a monthly salary of Rs 18,000-20,000. (Reuters)

We have been repeatedly warned against blindly believing everything we read or are forwarded. With that dash of sodium chloride, here is the gist of a message I was forwarded, not as a prospective job applicant, since I possess qualifications for neither. A restaurant 89 km from Ankamaly (Angamaly) requires a full-time “porotta maker”, at a monthly salary of Rs 18,000-20,000. A concern 60 km from Thrissur requires a full-time “civil engineering B.Tech or diploma holder”, at a monthly salary of Rs 6,000-7,000. These are two isolated advertisements from Kerala and don’t constitute a proper sample. However, some sample survey data are available on the Net, though sample sizes are small. For instance, salary for a cook (not a full-blown chef) is Rs 12,000 per month in Delhi and that for an engineering diploma (not degree) holder between Rs 10,000 and Rs 12,000 per month. That for a driver is Rs 14,000 per month. Therefore, correlation between education and salary isn’t quite what we might expect a priori. Let me throw in an anecdote from a colleague. His maid/cook is around 45 and has two sons, aged 18 and 20. These two exited school after Standard XII and sit at home, subsisting on their mother’s salary. When my colleague asked them, “Why don’t you work as a cook?” the response was, “That is work meant for girls.”

There is an anecdote that features in jokes about economists. I have seen it ascribed to many economists, in place of Kenneth Arrow. The only authentic source I know is attributed to Curt Monash, who studied in Harvard. “I was standing with Ken Arrow by a bank of elevators on the ground floor of William James Hall at Harvard. Three elevators passed us on our way to the basement. I foolishly said ‘I wonder why everybody in the basement wants to go upstairs.’ He responded, almost instantly: ‘You’re confusing supply with demand.’” The labour market is segmented, sectorally and geographically. However, regardless of sector and geography, principles of economics, supply and demand, do apply. There is a quote misattributed to Thomas Carlyle. “Teach a parrot the terms ‘supply and demand’ and you’ve got an economist.” It is misattributed in the sense there is no evidence Thomas Carlyle ever said or wrote anything like this. Parrot or not, prices of everything, labour included, are determined by intersection of supply and demand, unless institutional constraints get in the way of that clearing function. Let’s take the example of a cook’s wages being more than that of an engineering diploma holder. What we have observed is a market clearing wage. Purely on this basis, it is impossible to ascribe it to either purely supply or demand, since the outcome happens to be a combination of both. Because NSS (National Sample Survey) data on unemployment are dated, a lot of people use the BSE-CMIE data, with a fairly decent sample size. This is based on household surveys, a better indicator in a country like India than enterprise surveys. There has been discussion in media about what this shows on the unemployment rate, for all-India, as well as for states. For example, in September 2017, the urban unemployment rate is very high (more than 15%) in Goa and Haryana. The rural unemployment rate is very high (more than 10%) in Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir. On October 3, the all-India rate was 5.83% for urban and 3.75% for rural. While the unemployment rate and its trend merits discussion, as does the question of creation jobs, what’s the definition of “unemployment rate”? Before that, the survey has four categories—‘currently employed’, ‘not employed, but is willing to work and is actively looking for a job’, ‘not employed, is willing to work, but is not actively looking for a job’, and ‘not employed, is not willing to work and is not looking for a job’. “The unemployment rate is computed as the sum of number of persons not employed but willing to work and actively looking for a job as a per cent of the total labour force, where the total labour force is the sum of all those who are employed and those who are not employed but are willing and looking for a job.”

We should certainly have a discussion on the unemployment rate. However, given the example I started with, there is an aspect that is missing from the customary discussion. This is highlighted in a document known as Unemployment in India: A Statistical Profile, a separate product from the same survey. This has the standard unemployment rate, but also has something known as greater unemployment rate, that is, including those who are unemployed and willing to work, but inactive in seeking jobs. The gap between the two rates is highest in the 15-19 age-group, followed by the 20-24 age-group for males, while it is uniform across all age-groups for females. Going back to supply and demand curves for labour and their intersection, everything else remaining the same, wages drop/increase when either supply or demand curves, or both, shift. I think there is an issue of correlation between education and skills, or its lack. Some educational attainment may help acquisition of skills, but the correlation isn’t strong. For females, the gap is uniform across age. However, for younger males, the job-seeker’s perception may be of a stronger correlation than warranted. – Courtesy

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