Dubai: Last week XPRESS blew the lid off a well-knit fake degree racket run by dubious education providers in the UAE. This week we expose online degree mills based outside the country but targeting residents here.
Ahmad has an MBA from Ashford University (UK), Rogers, a degree in computer networking from Rochville University, and Sam, a doctorate from Midtown University.
None of these universities exist. Yet Ahmad, Rogers and Sam, like many other UAE residents, have secured high-paying jobs on the strength of worthless certificates issued by these bogus institutes.
Don’t believe this? Go to Google and type the name of any of these colleges + Dubai + manager/CEO/executive.
You will find numerous LinkedIn profiles boasting degrees issued by these fake colleges.
XPRESS randomly picked one such LinkedIn profile and rang up H.N., a Dubai-based manager who works for an electronics firm and lists an MBA degree from Rochville in his credentials.
“My degree is genuine and attested by all relevant agencies. What’s your problem?” demanded H.N.
The problem is that H.N’s fellow alumni is a dog. The year H.N. got his degree, Rochville also awarded an MBA to a canine. This happened when a Singapore-based journalist enrolled his pup, Chester, for the university’s online MBA programme.
The degree came in a parcel couriered from a Dubai address. Chester has since become a mascot of the website www.geteducated.com which helps people understand the importance of distance learning accreditation and warns them about degree mills and life experience colleges.
Yet degree mills continue to churn out scores of certificates to UAE residents every month.
“Most people are unaware they are being scammed, but there are instances of them knowingly taking these shortcuts in the belief that no one will find them out,” said an HR manager. “They’re flirting with danger; instead of getting them hired, these degrees could get people into serious legal problems,” he warned.
To get to the bottom of the scam, this XPRESS journalist registered with several online degree mills that offer “affordable, accredited and instant” US college degrees for little as Dh1,800.
All of them follow the same predatory trajectory.
Within seconds of registering, a live chat window pops up on the computer screen. Soon you are connected to a ‘counsellor’ or ‘professor’. He seeks your contact number, calls you instantaneously and pesters you to pay the $199 enrolment fee. For good measure, he also mails you the degree sample along with a payment link.
XPRESS has screenshots of live chats and audio recordings of several such interactions.
A chat with a man who introduced himself as professor James Marshall of Edgebrook University in California went like this:
“Can I get an MBA degree quickly,” this reporter enquired.
“You have experience?” he asked in heavily accented English.
“Yes, around six years.”
“Wonderful, we are offering degrees on the basis of a candidate’s experience. We will convert your work experience into credit hours and, on behalf of that experience, our university will award you the master’s degree. You don’t need classes. You’ll get the degree in four weeks, sir. It will cost you $500. Attestation will cost extra.”
At www.experiencebasedgraduate.com, counsellor Djvon Connor claimed the degrees are recognised internationally and at www.gcconlinedegrees.com, the caller named some UAE firms where the alumni of their partner universities are supposedly employed.
The sales pitch was always high pressured, often aggressive.
In two days, Midtown University called this journalist 27 times and Edgebrook, 24.
“Why waste this opportunity? Give me your credit card details, I will make the payment on your behalf,” suggested professor Peter Hill from Midtown University.
By a conservative estimate there are over 300 degree/diploma mills worldwide.
It’s not clear if they are independent or part of a syndicate, although reports indicate that at least two universities – Rochville and Midtown – are run by a South Asian man who was ordered by a US court to pay $22.7 milllion (Dh83 million) in damages for running another degree mill called Belford University in 2012.
“A real college will never advertise through popups and tele-marketing,” said a Dubai based academic counsellor. “The fact that these degrees are easily attested gives them some kind of legitimacy in the eyes of employers here, but at the end of the day they are bogus qualifications,” she added.
In 2009, the US Department of Justice blacklisted 10,000 people for purchasing fake qualifications from a degree mill in Washington. Among them, over 180 were from the Middle East including 69 from the UAE.
The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in the UAE has repeatedly warned residents to check with it before enrolling for an internet course.
Last February it released a worldwide list of 105 accredited foreign online universities recommended for UAE students. Of them 46 are in the UK, 34 in the US, 20 in Australia and five in New Zealand.
None of the so-called reputed colleges peddled by diploma mills figure in it. Get the complete list here.
What is a degree mill
A degree mill is an unaccredited higher education institution that offers illegitimate academic degrees for a fee. These degrees may claim to give credit for relevant life experience, but should not be confused with legitimate prior learning assessment programmes. These education scams prey on consumer ignorance about terms like “accreditation” and “licensing. Using such degrees in resumes can result in legal issues.
British Council rubbishes tie up claim
The British Council has rubbished the claims of an Ajman based institute that is has a tie-up with them. In a statement Faraz Waqar, Marketing and Communications, British Council said the claims were false.
Waqar was responding to last week’s XPRESS expose where the principal of the Ajman based institute had boasted that their MBA programmes were in collaboration with the British Council.
Police complaint against education provider
An Indian expat has lodged a police complaint against a management and technology institute after it failed to provide an MBA degree from India’s M.S. University and tried to make up for it with a degree of Atlanta University.
“I paid Dh5,250 at their Karama office to enroll myself for a MBA course from M.S. University. However no classes were held,” the woman recalled.
“We were given photocopies of books and told to study at home. A few months later they told us they had a problem getting degrees from M.S University. When we asked for a refund, they said they will get us a degree from Atlanta University in US. Again no classes were. Imagine our surprise when we got a mail from the institute asking us to collect my degree from Atlanta University,” she said. “How can a university MBA degree be received without attending classes and giving exams?? We realized we had been duped. We refused the degree and sought a refund. We have been chasing them for months but they keep on dilly dallying. What is worse, they claim their records show that I appeared for the exam. This is utter rubbish. I am convinced they are fraud and have lodged a police complaint against them.