We’ve looked here at fake degrees from non-existent universities before. It does seem to be a continuing problem and I was struck by this recent example reported in the Manchester Evening News.
According to the paper the Manchester Open University claims to have a campus on Oxford Road with 2,000 students but was being investigated by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau:
The Manchester Open University claims to have a campus based on Oxford Road with 2,000 students from 90 different countries – and offers degrees in history, English, and medicine.
But education officials say they can’t find a single trace of the institution and that the IP address used by organisation’s website is hosted hundreds of miles away in France.
Fraud watchdogs have now launched a probe after concerns were raised by prospective students. Investigators say much of the information on the institution’s website is almost exactly the same as another UK university’s website.
On its site, the MOU is described as a not-for-profit charity which was founded in 1976 and is ‘one of the only independent university’s [sic] in the UK’.
This one has now disappeared and is listed on the HEDD (Higher Education Degree Datacheck) website as fake along with others of a similar nature.
This is of course an international issue, as Universities World News highlighted recently with a few notable cases:
Headlines in the past few months alone hint at the scope of the problem, as well as the potential implications:In April, an elaborate sting operation involving a fake university led to the arrests of 21 brokers, recruiters and employers from across the United States who conspired with more than 1,000 foreign nationals to fraudulently obtain student visas.
That same month, The New York Times reported that its investigation of a Pakistan-based company that ran hundreds of degree and accreditation mill websites is “bigger than initially imagined” when it exposed the scandal last year.
In January, the College Board, a US organisation that owns the SAT, a college entrance exam accepted by many US colleges and universities, cancelled plans to administer the test at centres in China and Macau amid suspicion that some students had cheated.
While bogus degrees have traditionally been a tool of choice for federal employees seeking a short cut to a promotion or pay raise, a confluence of trends, including growing student international mobility and an increasingly competitive global job market, are intensifying the pressure.
From fake universities to fake certificates
The other side of the fake university coin is the fraudulent degree from a real institution. This way, you don’t even have to enrol as a student, just order the degree certificate. It’s the ideal way to avoid all that time-consuming, costly, intellectual taxing and inconvenient study. As the promotion for this website puts it, this is the way to break through that glass ceiling:
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Are you struggling to get a good paying job… because you don’t have a college degree… and other job candidates (who are less qualified than you) seem to YANK the good jobs right out of your hands? Have you hit the “glass ceiling” at your job… because you don’t have a Bachelor, Masters or Doctorate Degree to MOVE UP HIGHER IN THE RANKS at your job… (and you’re stuck with low-paying income for the next 5, 10 or 15 years of your life)? Are you too busy to get your college degree… because you’re busy paying bills, working a 9 to 5, providing for your precious family? Do you feel isolated, stuck, inadequate with your life’s progress… because people your friends and family have degrees… but you don’t… and there’s nothing you can do about it – because you’re too old to learn all the “new stuff”? Have you reached a point in life where you know in the bottom of your heart you could live a better life, earn more money, be more successful if people would just “give you a chance” – WITHOUT a degree?
How do we tackle this?
In an attempt to deal with this kind of problem the in the UK there is Higher Education Degree Datacheck:
HEDD is for employers, agencies, universities, embassies and councils who wish to verify whether a candidate is a current or past student of a university or college, the award and grade they received, and their dates of attendance.
Internationally, University World News reported on the development of the Groningen Declaration Network:
A separate NAFSA session offered a potential long-term solution that is being hatched by a global enterprise known as the Groningen Declaration Network, or GDN.
Since it was established in 2012, some 50 stakeholders from more than 20 countries, including China, Canada, Mexico, South Africa and Australia, have signed onto the GDN, which aspires not to expose fraud but to develop a digital data system that would make it easier for universities around the world to ensure that academic records it receives are secure, authentic and delivered in a timely manner.
The concept is still in development, but UNESCO officials attended a Groningen gathering last month, and an early signatory was the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers or AACRAO, a non-profit group whose members are entrusted with protecting the integrity of academic degrees from more than 2,600 education institutions.
Hopefully these new efforts will grow and converge and we will reach a point where there is no place for fake institutions and fake degrees. However, that does seem like something of a remote prospect at the moment.
8 responses to “Faking it: made up universities and degrees”
With thanks to @MarkHaselgrove for reminding me of this highly pertinent Mitchell & Webb sketch
‘Hons, Dons and Two Smoking MA Oxons’
A presentation on this very topic ‘FAKING IT ALL THE WAY – The modern counterfeit industry and higher education’ by André Hesselbäck, Uppsala University at the last ENQA general Assembly http://www.enqa.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Hesselback_The-modern-counterfeit-industry-and-higher-education.pdf
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