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Sunday August 23, 2009
Reports by TEH ENG HOCK, KAREN CHAPMAN, ROYCE CHEAH, HARIATI AZIZAN and RASHVINJEET S.BEDI
YOU do not have to study, seek
admission or attend lectures – starting
from a few hundred ringgit, you
can get a degree of your choice online in a
matter of minutes.
A quick Internet search by the Starprobe
team resulted in a long list of alleged
degree mills worldwide such as Hill
University, Rochville University and
All these institutions of higher learning
claim to be accredited, but none is recognised
by the Malaysian Qualifications
Authority (MQA) or the local accreditation
body’s respective foreign partners.
Whether to boost their career development
or to improve their social standing,
many Malaysians have taken the easy way
of buying their paper qualifications online.
And among the holders of these dubious
qualifications are some prominent
people, including lawmakers from both
sides of the political divide.
When the Washington-based newspaper
Spokesman Review exposed a bogus
degree scam in the United States in July, a
list of 10,000 buyers was made public.
More than 50 Malaysians contributed to
the US$7.3mil (RM25.6mil) generated by
the Spokane-based syndicate, which
issued phoney and counterfeit high school
and college degrees from institutions such
as Concordia University, St Regis
University, St Lourdes University, All Saints
American University and Heartland
However, several people who are suspected
to be holding these bogus degrees
declined to comment or furnish the
Starprobe team with their curriculum vitae
As the diploma mill trend shows, almost
anyone can get a degree.
prerequisites needed are experience, skills,
knowledge or expertise in a given field of
study, all which the buyer easily meets by
declaring so in the registration form without
needing to provide any documentary
The buyer can even specify a past date
or year of graduation to be stated in the
These sites offer a wide and comprehensive
range of qualifications, from high
school certifications, Bachelors and
Masters degrees to doctorates.
Buyers are promised a traditional-looking
degree, which means none of the certificates
contain words like online or life
The offers are so comprehensive that
some even provide an academic transcript,
a certificate of distinction and an award of
excellence, plus verification from the university’s
registrar to boot.
Some even offer packages, which means
you could obtain your Bachelors, Masters
and PhD at one go at a discounted special
These syndicates promise to deliver
your graduation package, which starts
from US$150 (RM525), between five and
14 days by courier.
One website even goes to the extent of
offering buyers the option to pay in instalments.
Many dubious organisations passing
themselves off as universities are legally
registered business entities.
Some even submit their annual tax
returns in the country they are registered
at, but do not conduct any shady dealings
in their “home” country, thus not breaking
any law in the nation they are registered
According to the Irish Embassy, the Irish
International University (IIU) is registered
as a private company in Ireland, while
Dublin Metropolitan University (DMU)
had a business address in Cyprus.
According to its website, the IIU, which
is now known as the Isles International
University, has its main international
office in Petaling Jaya even though it was
blacklisted by the Malaysian Government
in 2005. Its head is executive president
Hardeep Singh Sandhu, a Malaysian businessman.
In January last year, a BBC London investigation
team exposed IIU as an international
education scam that targets foreign students
who went to study in the British capital.
“The bogus Irish International University
(IIU), which offers sub-standard and worthless
degrees, has been allowed to flourish in
the UK – virtually unchecked by Government
– for the last seven years,” said BBC in the
Many of its programmes and courses
are offered via the Internet to “students”
from various nations without the need for
it to set up a base in those countries.
As Irish ambassador to Malaysia Eugene
Hutchinson shares, the embassy frequently
gets enquiries from potential employers
or students on the “dubious” institutions.
“They are not recognised as a university
or as any other form of academic institution
in Ireland. Any awards that they offer
are not recognised by any statutory
awarding bodies in Ireland and therefore
have no academic standing whatsoever in
our country,” he says.
He adds that the Irish authorities do not
view them as universities although their
names were clearly intended to convey so.
“As can be seen from their websites,
these enterprises continue to use the term
university in their business names, in contravention
of Irish law.
“The IIU and other similar business
enterprises are endeavouring to exploit
the good name of Irish education for their
own ends. Their claims of ‘validation’ and
‘accreditation’ deserve very careful critical
examination,” he points out.
These organisations are aware that they
are being monitored by the Irish authorities,
and they try to keep tabs by contacting
the embassy in return.
“Frequently, they call to see what we
know. Sometimes they pretend to be making
enquiries as a third party. We try to
keep correspondence with them to a minimum
as we do not want them to claim
that they were in correspondence with the Irish authorities (thus making it
appear as endorsed by them),” he
says, adding that Ireland had distanced
itself from the IIU and DMU.
Interestingly, Irish deputy ambassador
to Malaysia Eoin Duggan
highlights that these enterprises do
not conduct any of their operations
“They are a registered business in
Ireland. They make a tax return
annually, hence they are not illegal.
I have not heard of any Irish who
has obtained degrees from them,”
To make themselves even more
attractive, some of these “universities”
would set up or become a
member of an equally dubious
Many provide hotline numbers
and e-mail addresses of the “universities”
and “accreditation bodies”,
which are usually passed on by the
“graduates” to their potential
employers should these companies
want to verify the qualifications of
their prospective employees.
Former vice-chancellor of Sunway
University College Prof Jarlath
Ronayne concurs, also citing the
BBC report on IIU, which had
claimed that its programmes were
accredited and quality controlled by
QAC-UK Ltd – a Quality Assurance
Commission based in London.
Further investigation, however,
revealed that the people behind the
“university” were also co-directors
of the accreditation body.
“There are a few of these accreditation
agencies that are not
Government sanctioned or authorised.
They are ‘private’ accreditation
bodies and cater to institutions that
are not accredited by their respective
governments,” he says.
Echoing this, a source from the
Malaysian Qualifications Agency
(MQA) shares that the formal or
legal national accreditation or quality
assurance agency of a particular
country would be a member of
International Network for Quality
Assurance Agencies in Higher
Prof Ronayne highlights that one
of the ways for bogus universities to
gain credibility was by inviting
prominent people such as politicians
and business leaders to be the
guests of honour at their convocations.
He adds that the convocation ceremonies
can sometimes be quite
“They have their convocation ceremonies
in Oxford and Cambridge
where they rent the universities’
halls. That would give students a
false impression,” he says.
on Educational Exchange (Macee)
advises students to check with the
particular country’s educational
office to verify if the programme or
institution is authentic before signing
“If it’s an American degree or
institution, they should contact
Macee as we provide information
on all accredited universities and
colleges in the United States (US),”
says Macee Educational Advising
Center coordinator Doreen John.
Students could also check with
the Council for Higher Education
Accreditation (www.chea.org) website
as it has a database of institutions
and programmes accredited
by recognised US organisations, says
“If students want to opt for distance
learning, they have to be extra
“If the programme they want to
do is such a bargain in terms of cost,
and they don’t need to do any work
for it then it is probably fake,” she
British Council Malaysia
Education and Programmes Director
Peter Clack also advises students to
check if the British course or institution
they are interested in is
authentic and officially recognised
before signing up.
Students can take several steps,
he says, including meeting the institutions’
representatives at the
Education UK exhibitions organised
by the British Council; and logging
onto the Education UK website
(www.educationuk.org.my) for lists
of institutions and courses.
They could also check if the name
of the institution appears on the
Universities and Colleges
Admissions Services (UCAS) website
(www.ucas.com), and if the institutions’
own website address ends
To ensure that the institutions
were empowered to offer degrees,
students could check the UK’s
Department of Innovation,
Universities and Skills’ website
As for accreditation, Clack says
the official quality assurance bodies
were the Quality Assurance Agency
for Higher Education website (www.
qaa.ac.uk) or the British
Accreditation Council website
Students planning to take up Irish
courses are advised to consult the
list of higher education providers on
www.educationireland.ie or refer to
Ireland’s National Framework of
Qualifications at www.cao.ie.
National Association of Private
Educational Institutions (Napei)
president Assoc Prof Elajsolan
Mohan advises employers who were
unsure of any prospective employees’
qualifications to verify them.
“An individual once applied to my
college to become a lecturer but
when we checked his qualifications,
we discovered the university where
he claimed to have done his PhD
did not exist,” he says.
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