Going cheap – anyone want to buy an honorary degree?

Paul Greatrix assesses the state of a peculiar global market for fake honorary degrees

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

Degree Mills or Diploma Mills, dodgy organisations with flimsy websites pretending to be universities, which sell fake degrees to anyone who wants them, were very much in the news a couple of years ago as I noted in a piece here a while back.

Over the years we’ve covered plenty of this kind of thing here before, including fake degrees, made up universities and the involvement of prominent politicians in Pakistan. And as a File on Four investigation by the BBC demonstrated in 2018, the Diploma Mill business was still booming with lots of interesting universities with very similar websites still around. If anything the problem is even bigger now than back then.

But, as I noted here recently, there also seems to be something of a market in fake Honorary Degrees. Yes, fabricated degrees which weren’t even real in the first place.

 

The bizarrely named Ballsbridge University was reported to be offering fake honorary doctorate degrees (the above looks pretty convincing, you have to admit) in India and claiming an affiliation to the Dominican Government.

Ballsbridge university on its websites (www.acedu.org and www.ballsbridgeedu.org) offers a range of qualifications but Honorary Doctorates are right up there with pretty basic requirements. It does still seem surprising that anyone would be taken in by the Ballsbridge website but the fact that they are awarding fake honorary degrees just seems extraordinary. As I’ve noted here before, if you are going to get an unearned fake degree, then you might as well get one which isn’t already an unearned honorary.

“Don’t move, it’s the Fake Honorary Degree Police – you’re nicked”


In what must be the biggest fake honorary degree bust ever, the police in India recently broke up a ceremony at which 150 people (150!) were being awarded honoraries:

The ceremony was organized by Gangamma Devi Shakti Preetham Trust, National Human Rights Peace Council, and International Global Peace University at “Ruchi The Prince” hotel located on Hunsur road. The chief guest of the ceremony was an MLA from Harihara, Ramappa.

In a statement, the police informed that the MLA left the premises without attending the function as Covid-19 guidelines were not being followed. Also, the organizers did not take permission for the ceremony. “The MLA was also a candidate for the degree. A total of 142 candidates from across the state and from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh had gathered to obtain the degrees,” added the police officer.

The candidates had paid anywhere between Rs.20,000 to Rs.100,000 for the degrees. Some of the candidates requested police officers to give them their degrees, but the police denied such a request. The investigation is underway by Vijaynagar Police.

You can imagine the scenario down the station later:  “but officer, I paid 200 quid for that honorary degree in yoga and hired this gown for the occasion, please let me have the certificate”.

Peace be with you

 

The International Global Peace University looks a bit ropey to say the least. Not only do they have a rather flimsy website but they also have a less than reassuring message from their (anonymous) Registrar. There are though plenty of details about how they go about awarding those honorary degrees.

Also competing in the honorary degree space with IGPU is the very similarly named Global Human Peace University – the whole operation appears to be rather similar with again honorary degrees seemingly the primary award. Then there is the International Peace University which also provides a handy application form too:

 

It’s not just India and Dominica though there are similar goings on in Nigeria too as this report notes. Brian Whitaker, in this article on the phenomenon, comments on these nefarious practices and also refers to IGPU and Ballsbridge as well as noting some funny business in Kuwait.

Road to hell

In the UK we do have HEDD, Higher Education Degree Datacheck which offers a centralised system for degree verification and, as recently reported, HEDD  was successful in shutting down 85 fake university websites. As Head of HEDD Chris Rea (not that one) observed:

Given the nature of these websites, which can close as quickly as they appear, there are many more fraudulent operators than our official figures tell us. In fact, it is very likely there are as many, if not more, than the UK institutions that are genuine.

There is clearly still a market for fake degrees, even honorary ones, especially in an economic downturn. I remain mystified though why people think getting a degree without working for it is legitimate or that cheating the education system is somehow acceptable. But credentials remain the real currency of higher education and we do need to protect their value and employers do need to check the qualifications of applicants. Especially if they claim to have an honorary degree from a university you’ve never heard of.

2 responses to “Going cheap – anyone want to buy an honorary degree?

  1. I totally agree, Paul. We have come across a number of honorary degree sites over the years at Hedd. The only reason we could fathom as to why someone would buy a fake honorary degree rather than a fake awarded degree was an acknowledgement that no academic work had been done to gain it and therefore there’s no fraud in legal terms. Honour amongst thieves?

  2. The website of The International Global Peace University is a goldmine of howlers and weirdness. Apart from the tautological name (what would non-international global peace be?), the Registrar’s message includes a promise that “we will be happy to answer all your inquiries!” (sic) On any other website, I might have thought they mean ‘enquiries’, but perhaps they are sensibly anticipating the attention of public inquiries.
    Meanwhile, the conditions for an honorary doctorate include this as one of three criteria: “b. Recognition will be given to those whose exceptional accomplishments have contributed to enhancing culture and society in Canada or elsewhere in the world.”
    Scroll down to the format of nominations and, among the details you are asked to submit is “(v) Edinburgh connection or link (please provide evidence of what benefit has been received within the University or the City), or if none any tangible association”.
    Given that you’re asked to pay in Indian rupees, the focus on Canada seems a little odd and on Scotland’s first city as proof of the candidate’s contribution to Canada or elsewhere seems odder still.
    I can imagine two possible explanations: either someone has taken Nova Scotia’s name rather too literally; or someone has done some very lazy cutting and pasting.

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