Our Response to the Red Tape Challenge

We recently responded to the Red Tape Challenge on the topic of relaxing the restrictions on the use of the word “University”. Our response is below.

In brief, we believe the existing protection for the word university should be retained i.e. only institutions granted degree-awarding powers can call themselves a university.

Do you think all regulations relating to names should be repealed?

No – there needs to be some restrictions to protect the public from misleading use of certain sensitive words.

Graduate Prospects runs the HEDD system – Higher Education Degree Datacheck (www.hedd.ac.uk ) – the HE sector’s official verification service, which aims to reduce degree fraud and protect the reputation of UK Higher Education. HEDD flags all legitimate UK degree-awarding bodies, including merged and antecedent universities to help employers identify that applicants to employment have attended bona fide institutions.  HEDD also keeps a database of bogus UK universities – there are currently more than 130 on the site – and well over 300 in the UK and we find new ones all the time. These are flagged on the website to expose degree mills. We are working hard to safeguard student and sector interests – reassuring domestic and international students about the authenticity of a university and protecting the substantial financial and time investment of genuine graduates.

Removal of all restrictions on the use of the word university will make it much harder for people to tell what is a genuine degree-awarding body and what is not, and could do damage to UK Higher Education.

International students are a core market for the degree fraudsters – evident in the many bogus websites that are clearly targeting overseas students; listing fake alumni with predominantly non-British names. The fact that half of HEDD’s enquiries come from outside the UK (particularly China, India, US and New Zealand) suggests global awareness of the problem.

There are already hundreds of companies that are happily breaching regulations daily by taking the ‘university’ name without being a degree-awarding body recognised by the Secretary of State. If we reduce or repeal the red tape surrounding use of the word even further, then this will only exacerbate the problem, leaving the way clear for opportunists to play fast and loose with university naming rights to the detriment of UK higher education.

The Further Education sector has been dismayed by the free abuse of the ‘college’ title, to the extent that government’s plans for the FE sector published in 2011 (New Challenges, New Chances) included the sentence: ‘We are also looking at how we can reinforce the reputation of the sector by protecting FE college titles.’

The sector needs to be confident that only bona fide institutions can legitimately call themselves universities; even more importantly, so do the hundreds of thousands of genuine, hard-working students in the UK and internationally who have invested in a UK degree programme.

Do-It-Yourself Verification?

When candidates apply for roles, they will provide you with a claim as to their academic achievement.

It is in the employer’s interest to ensure that these claims are in fact true, as it is ultimately the employer who will gain peace of mind about the legitimacy of the candidate.

The great thing about HEDD is that we provide the opportunity to verify a candidate’s award without the candidate’s involvement (excepting that you must have candidate consent). You can be sure that a positive result from HEDD means that candidate is a legitimate graduate who holds the award they claim to.

However, one thing that we see very often is employers requesting that candidates verify their own award. But this strikes us as a bit perplexing: If you, as an employer, do not trust a candidate’s claim to hold an academic award, why would you trust their claim to verify that award? Why put a candidate through this unnecessary step?

Putting Self-verification in Context

If you are willing to let a candidate verify their own award, then you might as well accept their claims to hold an award at face value.

If you wish to verify students and obtain total peace of mind, then you must conduct the verification process yourself without the candidate being involved. Anything else is less than the certainty you require and leaves you open to the risk of forged documents followed inevitably by forged verification results.

The Name of the Game

We’re in the Guardian Online today. Check out the piece here.

In brief, there are proposals from BIS to relax the red tape governing the use of certain words in company names etc. Unfortunately one of the words under consideration is ‘university’.

There are already enough fake universities around to cause concern, and currently they can be prosecuted for using the name ‘university’. Making it easier for them is not something we want to contemplate.

BIS are looking for responses to the consultation paper by next week, so if you want to have your say, go to Red Tape Challenge and make your views known.

Under Pressure

A recent report about a Chinese student jailed for attempting to bribe a professor into awarding him his final degree (which he was about to fail) highlights the notion that international students in the UK may be under more pressure than home students.

Of course this is only one case, but university staff who work with international students often tell us they think international students are under enormous pressure to succeed academically.  The weight of expectations from the entire extended family, many of whom will have invested financially or emotionally in their success, can be a burden.  This may be especially so for Chinese students, where there are fewer young people in the family due to the one-child policy.

It’s not just a problem for students who are here.  Back in China there’s a lot of pressure to have foreign qualifications and there seems to be quite an industry churning them out.  Last month the Huffington Post reported that a number of people were found guilty of producing fake certificates from American universities, real and invented, in a scam amounting to 3.4 million yuan. 

It’s easy to find a website that will offer any type of certificate, for any university.  They’ll even promise to match security features. 

At HEDD, most enquiries come from outside the UK and although fake certificates are rare, they do also tend to come from overseas. 

I’d really like to know how international students themselves feel about this so I’m going to post a poll on our sister site Prospects, which gets a lot of traffic from international students.  I’ll report back here on the results. 

Sinéad McGovern – HEDD Business Manager