eyes on the U.S.

Study Abroad: China Is Hot New Destination For American Exchange Students

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS (USA), CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY (Taiwan)

Worldcrunch

The United States has become the primary destination for Chinese students wishing to study abroad, receiving more than 170,000 students over the past two years. That shouldn't really surprise anyone. The real news is the wave heading in the other direction: the multiplying numbers of American students arriving to study in China, the Central News Agency reports.

Overall, the total count of U.S. going to foreign colleges has tripled in the past two decades, according to a report released year by the Institute of International Education, says the San Jose Mercury News. Among the 270,604 American students studying abroad in 2009-10, China has become the fifth most popular destination with 5.1% of students studying there.

The number of American students studying in China has increased nearly ten-fold since 1995 from 1400 students to 13,910 in the 2009-10 school year according to the report.

Rajika Bhandari, the Institute of International Education's deputy vice president for research and evaluation, told the Mercury News that “U.S. students are increasingly aware of the need to obtain more practical skills, foreign language skills and cultural experiences that can help them be more competitive in their careers. China provides the perfect opportunity for that.”

Financial factors play an important role in U.S students’ choice.

While a lot of U.S. colleges charge annual fees of tens of thousands of dollars, the annual tuition at Peking University, one of China’s top universities, is a relative bargain at $3,900. "With higher education becoming more expensive in the Western world, affordability is a big factor," Bhandari told the Mercury News.

The China Scholarship Council is offering 25,000 scholarships to foreign students, to be increased to 50,000 in 2015. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is trying to increase the number of Americans in China through its "100,000 Strong" initiative.

According to Central News Agency, the UK remains the American students’ first destination for studying abroad with 32,683 students, accounting for 12.1% of the total. After that they choose Italy, Spain and France.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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