Fake universities

We have all had to get accustomed to ‘fake news’, but we should also pay attention to the rise of fake universities. For those who think this is a minor issue, the global statistics do not support them. It is a feature both of developing and developed countries, and it is surprisingly difficult to police.

Recently India’s University Grants Commission listed 23 fake universities operating in the country.  Neighbouring Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission found 153 illegal or fake institutions. In the United States the Michigan Civil Service Commission has published a list of American institutions whose credentials it does not accept, and it is a long list. A Swedish university has estimated that, worldwide, there are some 2,500 fake universities, some of them with no fixed location at all and ‘hiding in cyberspace’.

The UK also encounters this problem: the Guardian newspaper reported last year that 220 bogus British ‘universities’ have been identified since 2011.  The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has set up an service called ‘Higher Education Degree Datacheck’, which allows employers and various bodies and agencies to check the credentials of an institution (and, for a fee, of the qualifications of a particular graduate). The website tells me, for example, that my own university (Robert Gordon University) is a ‘UK government-recognised university or college which currently gives degree awards’; but that something calling itself ‘International University Robert Gordon’ is not a valid degree-awarding body.

What all this tells us is that the credentials of a university matter. It is all too easy to adopt or make up a university name and then trade with it, exploiting the desire of people to acquire a status with which to better themselves. Some such ‘institutions’ may offer an element of instruction, some may just sell diplomas and degree certificates. But all of them undermine the purpose of education and the validity of higher education qualifications.

It is therefore all the more important that government authorities in all countries operate an effective method of accrediting universities, or institutions permitted to call themselves universities. This is in the vital interests of all legitimate institutions (including private universities). Equally of course it is important to ensure that the conditions attaching to such accreditation do not compromise institutional autonomy; and getting that balance right is not always easy.

But all of this pre-supposes that our understanding of higher education and of the awards of HE institutions remains more or less as we have it now. Technology, globalisation and mobility may yet create an international education and training sector whose aims are not the same as those of traditional universities and whose customers have different expectations of their educational experience and outputs. Some of this activity may be totally legitimate; and maintaining a recognisable international higher education sector that follows traditional patterns may not be altogether easy.

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5 Comments on “Fake universities”

  1. Ernie Ball Says:

    Virtually all universities are becoming ‘fake universities’ thanks to the rise of the parasitical managerial class and the importation of private-sector management techniques and structures from the 1950s. What you are referring to as ‘fake universities’ are only taking these trends to their logical conclusion: all-administrative universities that dole out the parchments while, in the name of ‘efficiency’ and ‘innovation’, eviscerating all that pesky insistence on protocol and ethics.

  2. Anna Notaro Says:

    “Some of this activity may be totally legitimate; and maintaining a recognisable international higher education sector that follows traditional patterns may not be altogether easy.”

    What could complement this post on ‘fake universities’, and its allusion to changes that the UK government is introducing to matters of university accreditation is a discussion about *values.*
    What is required is the capacity to inject a value structure into any kind of university activity, even when ‘traditional patterns’ are likely to be disrupted. The current challenges are multiple, and yet there is nothing entirely new in universities being caught up in that shifting ground between conservation of values (ethics of research enquiry, public good etc.) and acceptance of innovation, in the various forms that communication technology has taken over the centuries.

    At times of rampant nationalism and xenophobia universities need to rise up the globalization’s ethical challenges, they need to contribute to the creation of a global conscience that transcends national interests and actively resists the vulgar populist rhetoric of ‘my people first’.

    The incitement of rational critical dialogue is, now more than ever, our true and timeless mission.

  3. paulmartin42 Says:

    The difficult part is ensuring tax payer/student value. FE colleges having had their funding (and numbers) reduced are having to fight for customers especially in south Aberdeen. Commendably recent news programs have featured adverts from HE institutions, particularly those in the central belt. One of the benefits of encouraging students to cast a critical eye over fakery has been the compression of the University gap (who knows/cares who the Russell Group are); my relations make decisions not on tradition but rather on what concrete information has been provided to address metrics relevant to them and the post-Brexit world.

  4. Vince Says:

    Where does a Google certificate fit in all this. I’m seeing it pushed in my FB timeline, so assume it’s being spread pretty wide. And what about all the FAS courses that were nothing more than dicking with people so utterly useless were they. Of course you had the very same in the UK where you had the jobcenters pushing people into courses that were little more than a means of drawing down State cash.
    So it’s far from the fake uni’s that are the issue. You’d at least hope those honest people wouldn’t be gulled with a fake.

  5. Jeremy Says:

    There are a lot of scammers out there that are looking to take advantage of gullible people just trying to get ahead (**coughcough** Trump University **coughcough**)


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