On May 17th the New York Times did an investigative series on the bogus degree practices by a Pakistan corporation called Axact Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakistani Company Axact Reaps Millions which brought to light how big this business really is and how many online universities are a sham. Axact has been sued numerous times in the United States as early as 2007 and in one case in 2009 found guilty in a class action suit on behalf of 30,000 people and was ordered to pay over $22 million, which has never been paid.
I decided to conduct a search on my LinkedIn account to look at schools the New York Times reported as being bogus universities. The search found over 3,000 people with bogus degrees living in the GCC. Here are five examples of people who state on LinkedIn that they have a degree from the bogus schools and what they do for a living:
- Saudi Arabia: General Manager at Healthcare Services Company
- UAE: Principal at International Private School Abu Dhabi
- Qatar: Head of Project Controls a Qatar Gas Company
- Kuwait: Safety Site Superintendent
- Bahrain: Deputy General Manager of a Islamic Bank
Others, beside the Times, have written on Axact in the past few days including Pakistan Today in an article called Axact wasn’t just selling fake degrees! In their open paragraph they write:
Apart from the alleged sale of fake diplomas and degrees through its online universities and colleges, Karachi-based IT company Axact has also been offering its services as “proxy students”, filling in for all the academic work originally assigned to students enrolled in reputed educational institutions in US, Pakistan Today has learnt.
In January 2015 Edu Alliance began working with a number of media publications to make the public aware of bogus online universities. We were successful with stories appearing in The National Al Fanar, and the UAE Ministry of Interior 999 monthly Magazine “ A Degree of Illegitimacy”.
What Edu Alliance has been stating since it began working with the media to help expose groups like Axact, is how damaging these bogus institutions are to the education and business community. Not only are groups such as these making millions selling fake high school and university diplomas and credentials but corporations are hiring or promoting people without proper qualifications. Students are turning to these bogus groups to write their term papers and thesis for a hefty price.
The reaction from people I talk to in education and government about fake universities is outrage but very few are taking pro-active steps to shut these groups down. It is encouraging to see the Pakistan government has begun an investigation of Axact and promises a quick resolution, but it took the New York Times to get the attention and quick action of the government.
How significant of a problem is it? The New York Times determined hundreds of online universities are likely to be linked to Axact’s operation “Tracking Axact’s Websites“.
I decided to look further into the list of universities to determine how many people have a degree from one or more of these schools. I went into my LinkedIn account and began a search of each university which generated a list of individuals who self report being a graduate of one of the bogus school. I restricted my search to the GCC countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman) and below are the results of 74 universities on the New York Times list:
I took this a bit further by searching the LinkedIn profile of Nixon University. The information below shows you companies that Nixon alumni work for. The data shows where alums work, area of responsibility, and country they reside.
What additionally disturbed me was Axact offering multiple education “services” such as high school diplomas, university degrees and ghostwriting services for papers and exams.
What does this all mean? The good news is one group Axact has been caught, but the bad news there are many others doing the same thing. In the article I participated in with Al Fanar, the reporter identified one such group as Must University. I suspect MUST is just one university held by a single corporation, which controls multiple university websites and degrees.
The bogus degree industry has been in business for decades but with the ability to advertise on the Internet and social media such as Facebook they have taken the business to the next dangerous level. Many adults who want a degree because they must have one to get a job or get a promotion seem to be the easy target and will pay the money assuming employers do not check the validity of the degree.
During the last few years several media organizations have investigated these schools. In the UAE; Gulf News, The National and The Khaleej Times reporters have produced important stories. In the international media Al Fanar did a series of stories, which received wide recognition in the education community, as has The Chronicle of Higher Education. Yet little had changed until the world’s most recognized newspaper The New York Times did their series.
The New York Times by exposing Axact embarrassed the Pakistan government and they took action against a very rich and powerful man who also is in the media business. The New York Times has shown the way, now we need to focus our efforts in other regions such as the GCC. The leaders of these nations are spending billions of dollars to improve the quality of education and want their nations to be educational leaders. They have built outstanding new universities. To protect the reputation of accredited institutions and to secure jobs for students working hard to achieve a legitimate degree, I suggest it is time to do the following:
- Increase public awareness by additional media attention
- Set up a hotline (telephone and website) to check on a school or to report suspicious schools
- Prosecute bogus schools.
- Pressure social media companies such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn to ban advertising from fake universities
It will take a joint effort of government, employers, accreditation agencies and advertising venues such as Facebook and even LinkedIn to expose and eliminate these predators.
One last suggestion: Now is the time for GCC education agencies to encourage local universities to offer online degrees. For many years’ American, Canadian and European universities have offered such degrees and the courses and programs must meet the same standards as a classroom program. By making it possible to get local quality degree programs will help eliminate some of the bogus universities.