Would you be fooled into thinking that the University of Devonshire existed? How do you wish to own a qualification from the University of Wexford? Or does graduating from the University of Palmers Green appeal?
They were all trading names of the fake university diploma, put in place with websites giving the impression of these folks were licensed universities. Thankfully, these fake institutions supply long since been shut down, even though qualifications they issued might still maintain use.
Which is simply the tip of iceberg, because new fake universities appear at all times. The procedure to setup an imitation university might be easy – a convincing website address having an educational website installed from a template should do it. And also the addition of relevant text, sometimes plagiarised from a true university website, the deception is complete.
Recently, more than 40 websites awarding fraudulent and worthless degrees to UK students were closed down as part of a higher education crackdown. The websites allowed those desperate enough, to fork out money for the fake certificate, which may state they had achieved anything around doctorate level qualifications.
Most of the websites shut down through the Higher Education Degree Datacheck used names close to the ones from real universities – like the supposed “Stafford University”. This seemingly operated in the laurels of the legitimate Staffordshire University.
During my 20 years employed in academic integrity research, I’ve find many methods students use to claim qualifications they don’t deserve. My work towards contract cheating, where students pay others to perform their assessments, revealed a network of students looking to build up their degree one fake assignment at one time. Buying a whole qualification outright goes beyond this, circumventing any chance that students have of learning.
Fake universities and diploma mills operate with different quantities of subtlety and sophistication. Some fake universities claim so as to issue awards based on “life experience”. For any fee, they enable people to demonstrate that they’ve already gained the skills required for a qualification – and they also issue a certificate to prove this.
Other fake universities set their site up to resemble a real university. Some issue assignments to students. The assignments may do not be marked, but tend to fool people into thinking they were going for a legitimate course. Many fake universities dispense with pretence and simply demand payment for the award.
But a much more elaborate business structure used by a tiny number of fake universities has also emerged. These offer subscriptions where they keep up to date the pretence their fake qualifications are legitimate. They also have been found to provide services to confirm that qualifications they awarded exist, together with fake job references.
It’s also possible to get a fake degree certificate for the real university. This certificate often looks identical to the genuine article. Fraudsters with entry to good quality 12dexppky equipment can produce these to order. They can even are the elaborate seals and holograms found on the real documents.
Some sites report that these certificates are just “novelty items”, but there is however no text about the purchased certificates to suggest this. Which is feasible for people with desktop publishing skills and entry to templates or photographs of real degree certificates to knock up their particular convincing fake versions.
With employability the main thing on many universities, this is the link with the commercial world where the possibility of fake degrees should be keenly considered. Once a company has gotten on the graduate worker who cannot deliver, they may not desire to engage using that university down the road. Fake degrees bring along with them a clear chance of damage to university reputation.
Like a sector, we must do more to combat fake universities and fake degrees. The key work undertaken by the Advanced Schooling Degree Datacheck is a good start, but awareness needs to go further. Every university needs to understand the imposters trading on its name, plus the sites offering fake qualifications claiming being from that university.
Employers too need to shoulder some responsibility when recruiting staff. They need to not only take every candidate and every document at face value. UK universities offer a service where qualifications can be verified. Some offer this verification directly. Other universities refer employers towards the Higher Education Degree Datacheck or similar services which were setup for this function.