Universities in the United Kingdom have a high reputation of academic excellence. It is no wonder then that ne’er do wells would want to utilise that reputation for their own ends. The UK is home to hundreds of awarding institutions. How do you tell what’s a real UK university and what is not?
In the United Kingdom, the Education Reform Act  makes it an offence to claim to offer UK degrees (the title of Bachelor, Master, or Doctor) without the authority to do so.
When considering UK study or verification a UK qualification, the first port of call is to determine whether that institution is a legitimate degree awarding body. For an institution to award UK degrees, it must either be a recognised body (which has degree awarding powers in its own right) or a listed body (who issues degrees through a recognised body).
Are they on the list?
The first port of call would be to search in the HEDD University Lookup Service for the institution at our home page. Our institution list contains all the recognised bodies in the UK, antecedent institutions, some listed bodies, and some bogus institutions.
The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills also provides lists of recognised and listed bodies within the UK which could be your second port of call. These lists are complete but do not contain antecedent institutions or bogus institutions .
What if the institution you are looking to study at or verify from does not appear on these lists? Does that mean it is not a legitimate institution?
Not necessarily and this is because institutions come and go – it could be an old institution or a relatively new one. Recently for example, the University of South Wales is a newly created university which resulted from a merger between Glamorgan University and Newport University . As a result, Newport and Glamorgan will disappear from the BIS list, but they were still legitimate degree awarding bodies in the UK and degrees awarded by them will always be legitimate.
There are some tell-tale signs that should ring alarm bells. One of them is that they do not appear on official recognised or listed body lists. Here are some of the others:
Using the .ac domain name
The top-level domain for the Ascension Islands is “.ac” and what this means is that when you type the address into your web-browser, the suffix will be .ac (example http://www.fakeuniversity.ac).
Many bogus institutions are registered with a .ac address because the Ascension Islands does not put any restrictions on using the .ac domain name.
The reason this is a problem is that the top-level domain used by legitimate educational institutions in the uk is .ac.uk. The .ac.uk domain is tightly regulated and registration is only open to those who have a legitimate reason to use this. Naturally, being an illegitimate degree awarding body is not a legitimate reason to use the .ac.uk domain.
As such, a good indicator that an institution is legitimate is that they have a .ac.uk domain. Any other domain, especially .ac, but also .com, .net, .org, etc, might indicate that something isn’t quite right.
Using fake names and addresses
Many bogus institutions will use fake names or addresses. This plays on the idea that nobody is actually going to check these details.
Our recommendation is to check their bricks and mortar address on Google Maps and ask yourself “Does this look like a university?”. Our experience with looking at the physical address of these institutions is they are either not real addresses or for private residences more suited to housing a small family rather than an institution with UK university status.
One bogus institution listed their address as Galway, Dublin. Galway and Dublin are two cities which are hundreds of miles apart. It does not make sense.
Where there is a suspicion the certificate is fake, it is worth checking the names on the certificate. This includes the registrar who, we find, either does not exist or was not the registrar at the time when the award was purported to be granted.
Aesthetically, many of the sites look like they could be legitimate institutions. However, if you look closely at the spelling and grammar you will notice that it is unlikely the author passed their GCSE English. Spelling and grammar are not high on the priorities for illegitimate institutions.
This may be that the sites are designed to target those whose first language is not English. These kinds of mistakes might be missed by a non-native speaker, but they are a dead giveaway for us.
One particular website spelled “Registry” as “Regestry”. Fake certificates often contain spelling mistakes, such as “postgraduate sutdent” or “certified ture copy”.
Promises of Education without Study
The biggest giveaway is a promise of education without study. In the UK, the scope to receive any honour – Bachelor, Master, or Doctor – without study or supervised research is very limited.
As such, any institution which, as a matter of course, claims to offer awards without study is undoubtedly illegitimate.
1. Education Reform Act 1988: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/40/section/214
2. BIS Recognised Bodies: https://www.gov.uk/recognised-uk-degrees-recognised-bodies
BIS Listed Bodies: https://www.gov.uk/recognised-uk-degrees-listed-bodies.