Best Practice Makes Perfect

This month we’ve published the findings from our first Degree Fraud – Best Practice Round Table held at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce earlier this summer.

Colleagues and experts from 7 universities came together to discuss the issues facing universities – from fraudulent applications to fake certificates threatening the reputation of UK higher education and the career prospects of our students and graduates.

Tom Pinder from our Hedd team shares the outcomes on our digital HE intelligence platform, Luminate.

We’re planning more events later in the Autumn. If you would like to be involved please get in touch with us at heddteam@prospects.ac.uk

In the meantime you can download a copy of our toolkit of advice and guidance for HE Providers here.

Advertisements

Stop! in the name of the Law #2

Hot on the heels of South Africa and Belgium Ireland’s is the next Government to propose legislation to combat higher education fraud.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that cheating your way to a degree is as bad as lying about one.

So we are delighted that the use of contract cheating services aka essay mills looks set to become illegal in Ireland in the Autumn.

A Bill has just been published with amendments to Qualifications and Quality Assurance legislation in Ireland making it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services.

Whilst students are already subject to the rules of their institutions about cheating, it has been impossible to deal with the thousands of essay mills putting pressure on students on campus, by email and even on posters in the London Underground to buy their writing services.

Lord Storey proposed an amendment to the Higher Education Research Act last year to tackle contract cheating in the UK, but it didn’t make it to legislation.

Hedd is part of the new QAA working group on academic integrity which has identified the legislative route as one of the priorities for the group. Last year the QAA published excellent guidance for HE Providers on this subject.

We have had some success using existing legislation to shut down bogus universities and  diploma mills, but it’s inadequate for essay mills in its current form.

Specific laws governing higher education fraud might not lead to many more prosecutions, but should be a more powerful deterrent. We urge the UK Government to follow the Irish example and stop these companies.

Stop! In the name of the law.

In the UK it’s possible to prosecute individuals with fake qualifications under existing fraud and forgery legislation and we can also target bogus universities and fake certificate websites under trademark, copyright and forgery legislation.

We encourage employers and education providers to take legal action when fraud is uncovered, but criminal prosecutions are few and far between.

South Africa is going one step further to stamp out degree fraud with a specific bill before Parliament, proposed by the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa), Hedd’s equivalent verification hub and international partner.

The bill contains provisions that compel education institutions and employers to report fraudulent or misrepresented qualifications to Saqa, which works closely with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to pursue cases of alleged fraud.

This follows news from Belgium * that the Higher Education Commission of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation approved a proposal for a decree aimed at fighting the spread of fake universities across the country, which was subsequently adopted by the Government. Institutions will have to state clearly that they do not offer legally-recognised awards. It also imposes fines on institutions for misuse of protected terms such as ‘university’, ‘higher education institution’ and ‘faculty’.

We would welcome such legislation here in the UK and have shared details with colleagues at the Department for Education and the Office for Students to show what can be done.

*Links to a report in English rather than the original report from ‘7 sur 7’ in French.

Be(hold) the front page

Yes. I’m excited to pick up my free world cup giant wall chart….

but more excited that working with the Times over the past week got an important message about degree fraud on today’s front page.

‘Don’t take selfies with your certificates showing’ is the key message, writ large.

The story is here if you can get past the Times paywall.

And here in the Guardian or here in the Daily Mail if you can’t.

The Weakest Link

If you didn’t catch this week’s Panorama exposé on application fraud click here to see how faked qualifications are enabling bogus students to enrol on degree courses, paid for by taxpayer-funded student loans.

The undercover BBC investigation showed fake references and certificates being used to gain places on degree level courses at a number of universities and colleges. Having gained the places, the students then had access to student loans worth thousands of pounds. The rogue intermediaries and agents took their cut of the loans. But this is just the start of it.

The undercover students were then offered additional services to provide their assignments by using essay mills and cover their attendance requirements while they were at work. Now we’re talking about academic fraud.

With their bought-in assignments and fake certificates the students were able to get a genuine degree or diploma, albeit fraudulently obtained*.

Fraudulently obtained degrees could then be used to enter postgraduate study or the workplace putting the reputations of businesses and universities at risk from unqualified candidates. This also jeopardises the prospects for genuine students and graduates seeking jobs or further study if they lose out to fraudsters.

We must cut this off at the pass and stop bogus students enrolling in the first place and exploiting the system.

Unscrupulous agents will look for weak points in the system and colleges without clearly defined policies will be ripe for exploitation. Colleges and universities need to have robust and clearly visible fraud guidelines as part of their admissions policies and they must be prepared to take action against what is criminal activity.

Hedd HE Toolkit image Aug 2017

Download our free Toolkit with advice and guidance on preventing fraud. In the meantime here are our top tips.

  • Have a published policy on application fraud for your college or university
  • Tell applicants you always check qualifications. This can be a deterrent.
  • Don’t take certificates at face value. Verify the claims directly with the awarding body and trust the data, not the paper.
  • Take action against fraud – zero tolerance.

 

*Known as FOG documents. Fraudulently Obtained Genuine documents

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.