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Sunday August 23, 2009

Duped by rogue college

PETALING JAYA: “Really? I honestly didn’t know.” That was all one prominent public figure who received an honorary doctorate from notorious degree mill Irish International University could say when the Starprobe team informed him of the alleged scam.

The leading academic, who earned his Masters and PhD from an American university in the 1970s, said he was asked to submit all his academic studies and publications to the institution for their assessment before they awarded him a Doctor of Literature degree in 2001.

He added that he was informed that the honorary degree was in recognition of his scholarship and other contribution to Malaysia and the international community.

“They then invited me to attend their graduation ceremony at the University of London in the UK. They seemed very credible; that’s why I accepted the honorary degree,” said the renowned intellectual who was appointed senator a few years ago.

Going hi-tech: Website of Newport University advertising the courses it offers

He claimed that he was not aware of the controversy surrounding the institution, which led it to be blacklisted by the Government in 2005. But now that he has been alerted, he said, he would drop the honorary mention from his profile. “If it is blacklisted, I don’t want to be seen endorsing it,” he said.

It is standard practice for these dodgy universities to invite prominent people, including politicians, to their convocations and conferring them with honorary degrees, said Irish deputy ambassador to Malaysia Eoin Duggan.

“It would add credibility to the institution’s name,” he said.

Duggan added that many who got the degrees were duped, but there were those who knew from the outset about the shady arrangements.

Convocation ceremonies could sometimes be quite elaborate, he said, citing a year when one of the organisations rented a room from a top university in England to confer their “graduates”.

One year, he said, the institution rented a room in Cambridge or Oxford University. In 2004, IIU, which set up a new “branch” in Cambodia, awarded the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen with an honorary degree at its convocation ceremony.

Former vice-chancellor of Sunway University College Prof Jarlath Ronayne, however, felt that the recipients of the honorary degrees should check up the conferring institution’s reputation before accepting them.

“In the case of the IIU, it was reported on BBC last year that a top British businesswoman returned her honorary degree and severed all links with the university

when the whole set-up was exposed as a sham. That is what the recipients should do to stamp out this menace,” said Prof Ronayne, who has been monitoring the institution and the degree mill trend for some time.

Mary Chapman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, as reported by BBC London, had agreed to be guest of honour at a “graduation ceremony” for the institution held at Oxford University’s Divinity School. IIU then put her picture on its website to recruit more overseas students. After the BBC expose, Chapman cut all ties with the institution.

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong believes that the sprouting of these bogus universities is spurred by the increasing demand for paper qualification.

“People are desperate to get a degree. Many are seeking Masters and doctorate degrees for self-enhancement, to get better jobs, better prospects and to strengthen their CVs.

“Many so-called graduates did not even pass their SPM. Some did not even sit for SPM but they have MBAs,” he said, adding that no statistics have been collected on the number of fake degree holders in Malaysia.

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