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Revealed: FAKE Degrees

Martin Croucher
Filed on April 26, 2009

DUBAI — According to a student adviser, the degree I was going to buy online was 100 per cent valid in the UAE. Just pay $515, he said, and I could have a Masters’ qualification in Social Science without the hassle of years of study.


But if I had indeed used the qualification in applying for a job, I could have faced a lifetime ban on employment in the UAE or a conviction of fraud.

However, the problem persists. In October last year 68 Emiratis were blacklisted from the US for buying qualifications from online ‘degree mills’.

Authorities in the UAE at the time said that those caught using fake degrees could be punished with up to 24 years in prison.

Dubai-based

Several alleged degree mills claim to have printing facilities in Dubai from where they send fake qualifications around the world.

The Masters’ qualification above was being offered by Ashwood University in Texas, which claims to have a printing facility in Dubai Internet City.

According to James Fitzberg, Assistant Dean of Students, the printing facility was not listed under the name of Ashwood University. He would not disclose the name of the subsidiary.

“We have an office in Dubai but only for the purpose of documents processing and printing,” he said, via email. “Hence it is obvious that it does not need to have the name of the university. Moreover, as per policy, we do not disclose any further information related to our office.”

Sandra Davie, a Singapore-based journalist bought a doctorate degree from the University for her dog. She said the parcel she received was sent from Dubai via DHL courier.

“I suspect that although the university is registered as a company in the US, the operations were in the Middle East because of the accent of the so-called student adviser who called to chase up for payment,” she said.

Another company, which also claims to print degrees in Dubai, is Belford University. In an online chat, student adviser ‘Ken Rogers’ said that it was cheaper to print degrees here.

“It’s cost effective,” he said. “Documents being mailed out in Asia and Middle East are being printed in Dubai. This is because it costs us $69 to ship the documents from here to UAE and over there it cost us only $20.”

However he declined to say whether or not the printing facility was also based in Internet City.

A spokesman for the freezone authorities said he had no records relating to Ashwood University or Belford University.

‘Fake Universities’

Several US States publish a list of unaccredited universities. Degrees gained from the listed universities are illegal to be used in those states.

According to the list, published on the website of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorisation, both Ashwood University and Belford University are listed as “fake”.

The Texas Higher Education Board also lists the universities as unaccredited, and claims that Belford University is “under investigation”.

Both Ken Rogers from Belford University and a student adviser from Ashwood University named ‘Gary Shaw’ said unequivocally that their degrees could be used in the UAE.

However, in order for the degrees to be accepted by UAE authorities, they first need to be verified from the country where they were issued.

The official regulator in the US is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. On its website, Ashwood University claims to have been verified by the ‘Higher Education Accreditation Commission’.

Despite a similar sounding name, the body is not affiliated to the government. It is claimed by critics to be an ‘accreditation mill’ specifically set up to give degree mills the ring of authenticity.

Catching Fraudsters

In 2005, the Ministry of Labour announced that all new visa applicants would have their qualifications screened through a tie-up between Emirates Post and degree verification company IntegraScreen.

According to figures provided at the time, some 567 fake degrees were discovered between 2005 and 2007, out of which 252 fake degree holders were deported.

However, in April 2008 the Ministry cancelled the contract with IntegraScreen and reverted back to the original process of verification.

According to one HR professional, the current process is a lengthy one, which requires that the degree be verified first with the Ministry of Education in the country of issue.

Then it needs to be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and finally stamped by the UAE Embassy in the country of issue.

Several typing companies offer to do the legwork of the service for private companies in the UAE.

Moreover, penalties for being caught with fake degrees are high.

“To provide fake documents is a misdemeanour which could lead to penalties, including fines ranging between Dh500 to Dh20,000 and prison terms ranging from 24 hours to three years,” a legal adviser told the Khaleej Times last October, adding that the company can also file a compensation suit against the employee.

Lives at Stake

UAE manager for IntegraScreen Paul Kane said that his company still screens professionals in positions of responsibility in the health profession.

“If someone who has a fake degree is employed as a doctor, there is the potential for hundreds of peoples’ lives to be at stake,” he said.

In April last year, an Emirati student was taken to court on accusations that she faked education certificates to practice as a health worker.

The result has not beenmade public.

Similarly, in 2007 an Indian doctor working in Al Quoz was deported after a court found that he had faked his health certificates.

Police claimed that he had carried out a number of medical malpractices.

How Widespread?

Kane, said that one in every hundred degrees processed is often foundto be false.

However, the risk of being caught has done little to dissuade residents from buying degrees online. Ken Rogers from Belford University said that he gets up to 50 applications a day from UAE residents.

While the numbers cannot be attested, many UAE students may be drawn in by the excuse that they have sufficient knowledge of the subject but simply not enough time to devote to the study.

Donald McCabe, a former Zayed University Professor carried out a comparative study of cheating behaviours in the UAE and US.

He said that there was little difference between how UAE and US students viewed cheating, withone exception.

“UAE students do seem to have a somewhat greater entitlement perspective,” he said.

“They can sometimes cheat because they think they deserve good grades.”

Attitudes toward people holding fake degrees vary. According to a poll on UAE blogsite Anadubawi, 46 per cent of respondents said they would report a fraudster to the company he/she worked for.

However, 26 per cent of respondents replied that they had “better things to do”.

martin@khaleejtimes.com





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