ABU DHABI // Students have been warned not to fall for scam advertisements on social-media websites offering bogus online degrees from non-existent universities.
Facebook and LinkedIn are two sites being used to promote fake courses, which often claim to be accredited to ministries or even real universities abroad.
One scam in a Facebook advert promotes a “gulf engineering degree” which, its creators claim, is accredited by the Gulf Ministry of Higher Education and affiliated with the University of Glasgow.
But the ministry does not exist and authorities at the Scottish university said it had no connection to the course.
Dean Hoke, the head and co-founder of the consultancy Edu-Alliance, said there needed to be more awareness to protect the good name of legitimate universities.
“This is damaging the reputation of the institutions out here because people will deem them all the same,” Mr Hoke said.
He said he was worried that “second chance” students, who started higher education but then put their studies on hold, would be most susceptible since they did not have active links to real universities.
“They may not have the background or support and could be easily lured in, especially if they have disposable income,” Mr Hoke said.
He contacted the website offering the degree and was asked for details about his income and credit-card details and was told he could receive a scholarship for about US$6,000, or Dh22,000.
“When people see this and realise it’s a scam, they will say ‘why isn’t the UAE doing anything about this?’” he said.
“There is accreditation here so institutions can’t be tarred with the same brush.”
Peter Aitchison, a spokesman for the university, said it had no link with the course and lawyers in Glasgow had been told to ensure that all references to it were removed from the internet. “It’s disturbing to potential students that sites such as this do exist,” said Mr Aitchison.
“We would urge anyone who has an interest in coming to Glasgow to contact us first.”
Last year, the Ministry of Higher Education launched a list of online accredited institutions. It regularly warns potential students to contact it before enrolling in online study.
“The Gulf and UAE are vulnerable due to their perceived wealth and a population wanting higher education,” said Mr Hoke.
“These companies must be making money since marketing on Facebook is not cheap, nor are the telemarketers calling from China.
“Social media is helping to push this so there should be a way of monitoring this once it’s apparent that it’s a scam.”
Dr Rahul Choudaha, chief knowledge officer at World Education Services, a non-profit research organisation in New York, said the increase in fake degrees was fuelled by the ease of selling through technology and demand from people who wanted a short-cut to credentials.
“The Gulf is a competitive, migrant labour market where earning potential increases substantially with advanced credentials,” Dr Choudaha said.
“In addition, there are a wide variety of foreign university partnerships operating in the region, which makes it difficult to keep up with the legitimacy of the credentials from the employers’ perspectives.
“The solution is not only stronger punitive measures, but also increases in provision of easily accessible information about various foreign credentials and providers in the region.”
Dr Natasha Ridge, head of research at the Al Qassimi Centre for Policy Research in RAK, said these universities posed risks to students, who would have virtually worthless degrees, and to the overall quality of the higher education sector.
The website offering the degree, which responds to interest from students in a matter of minutes, refused to comment.