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Education

Fake degree websites closed

Prospects Hedd, the higher education counter-fraud service run by the body that offers digital services to UK universities, Jisc, has closed 85 websites selling degrees from fake UK universities.

The UK Government tasked Prospects Hedd to seek bogus institutions, and those carrying out degree fraud, in 2015. It has since identified and investigated 310 potential cases of universities offering fake UK degrees. Those shut include Newcastle Business College, which was offering fake MBA and DBA degree qualifications. While claiming to enrol thousands of British students every year, it had no geographical basis in the UK and the telephone number went only to voicemail. Investigation showed it was run out of the Middle East. In another case, European University of Business offered a range of undergraduate and post-graduate qualifications through an ineligible ‘ac.uk’ website.

About Prospects Hedd

The Prospects Hedd fraud service works with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) and others in law enforcement internationally to apply trademark, copyright or forgery legislation. Briefly, it also offers a way for employers, recruitment agencies, embassies and university postgraduate admissions staff to check a candidate’s degree qualifications and grades. Also, you can confirm attendance dates and whether a UK university or college is a recognised degree-awarding body. The service warns that fake certificates are part of a booming industry. The cheapest can be bought for a few pounds; the most expensive sell for hundreds. Even experienced student records professionals can struggle to distinguish a real degree from a counterfeit.

Chris Rea runs the Prospects Hedd degree fraud service at Jisc. He said: “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.

“Our higher education system is deemed by many to be among the best in the world, but when the market is swamped with fake providers it puts that reputation at risk. The only way to stop these operators is to remove the demand. This means verifying the degrees of anyone who comes into your organisation. Be absolutely sure that they are who they say they are and that they have the qualifications to do the job or study they applied for.”

Meanwhile if left unchecked, essay mills will turn the education sector into a pay-to-pass scheme, say campaigners. The former universities minister Chris Skidmore, a Conservative MP for Bristol, last month introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill in Parliament calling to make essay mills illegal in the UK. As students are off campus, there is a concern lockdown may be fuelling a rise in plagiarism. There are websites selling essays to students, and if you submit the work as your own, that is plagiarism. Some of the online companies claim to sell only study aids, but the numbers of websites selling these services has increased in the last few months, BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours consumer programme heard recently.


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