“The university made itself look so genuine I never suspected a thing,” said R. Srivastava, who is employed by a Dubai hospital with a Ph.D. in quality management from Midtown University. She was responding to a local reporters’ question related to the recent New York Times investigative article, Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakistani Company Axact Reaps Millions, on the bogus degrees sold by a Pakistan corporation called Axact. The article brought to light that hundreds of online universities, including Midtown, are a sham. She, along with thousands worldwide, have received fake degrees from bogus universities.
According to a LinkedIn search I conducted, well over 3,000 people in the Gulf Council Cooperation countries say they have a degree from an Axact institution.
Here are few examples:
- Saudi Arabia: general manager at healthcare services company
- UAE: principal at an international private school in Abu Dhabi
- Qatar: head of project controls at a Qatar gas company
- Kuwait: safety site superintendent
- Bahrain: deputy general manager of an Islamic Bank
In January 2015, my company, Edu Alliance, contacted Al-Fanar Media asking to investigate bogus online universities. In February, Benjamin Plackett wrote a series of articles including “A Web of “Diploma Mills” Preys on Arab And Western Students Alike.” It brought to light a global network of fraudulent online universities that are using high-pressure sales tactics and phony scholarships to extract money from students who end up with worthless degrees. Then in May, The New York Times exposed Pakistan-based Axact, which was led to the shut down of over 200 bogus university websites and the arrest of the CEO.
Why is this important? Not only are groups such as Axact making millions selling fake high school and university diplomas and credentials, but corporations are hiring and promoting people without proper qualifications. Also students are turning to these bogus groups to write term papers and theses for a hefty price.
The reaction from people I talk to in education and government is frustration and they throw up their hands in frustration and say “What can we do?” Little is being done to shut these operators down.
The bogus degree industry has been in business for decades but the Internet and social media, such as Facebook, have given them the ability to reach gullible people who can’t distinguish between real universities and fake ones and others who don’t want to do the work associated with a degree. With the Internet, fake diploma peddlers have taken their businesses to a dangerous level.
Billions of dollars is spent in Gulf countries to improve the quality of education. Governments have built new universities and formed accrediting agencies to monitor academic institutions to ensure students obtain quality education and a legitimate degree.
I believe it is time to take these immediate actions:
- Prosecute bogus schools.
- Establish hotlines so potential students can check on an institution or report suspicious schools.
- Pressure social media companies such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn to ban advertising from fake universities. Advertising for such institutions has run in many prominent publications, including The New York Times
- Increase public awareness with additional media attention to the topic.
It is also time to recognize students need alternatives to attending a traditional classroom university. The time has come for governmental agencies to encourage and approve accredited online degree programs based in the GCC for adult learners.
This has become an acceptable practice for many years’ in North American and European universities. The accreditation bodies require online programs to meet the same standards as they do for traditional education. Studies conducted by various researchers and agencies agree the student results of online vs. face to face have been the same and at times even better for online programs.
People need alternatives to continue their higher education and online academic programs are a viable method. If students can get a combination of online programs and a classroom experience from local universities with quality degree programs that will provide a legitimate alternative to bogus universities.
The GCC education agencies have been reluctant to sanction locally based online degree programs as well as to recognize international on-line degrees. Governments are concerned about monitoring the academic standards of online programs, but there are ways to do that.
Now is the time to quickly find a way to offer GCC-based online degrees that meet proper academic standards, market needs and offer a legitimate alternative to the diploma mills.
Dean Hoke is the founder of the Abu Dhabi based Edu Alliance education consulting company.