Probe of HK centre tied to bogus degrees

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am

The Education Bureau has launched an investigation into an online learning portal run from Hong Kong after an investigation by the South China Morning Post linked it to an international web of so-called degree mills and bogus universities.

ICL Distance Learning Centre, whose enrolment address is in Central, also seems to have been offering online courses from prestigious US universities without their consent.

The centre's director is Steve Ho Kwok-cheong, of Lai Chi Kok. The ICL's website claimed he had lectured at four overseas universities, but they had no record of having employed him.

Mr Ho's name has also been connected to the scandal in the US over bogus institution St Regis University. He is listed in court documents related to the prosecution in that case as a 'dean of studies' for the St Regis School of Business and the St Regis School of Martial Arts.

This week, ICL's website - www. - listed courses from 11 universities in the US, Central America and the Philippines that the centre claimed to be linked to either through affiliation or collaboration. The names of several have since been removed.

The partner institutions included prestigious names such as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Mercy College in New York and the University of Washington in Seattle.

Contacted by a Post reporter, Mr Ho said his business was legitimate.

However, Post reporters have discovered that one of the universities, York University in Mobile, Alabama, is unlicensed, and another, West Coast University in Panama City, Panama, does not exist. The former's website lists Mr Ho as a member of its academic board.

Spokesmen for Carnegie Mellon and Mercy College said they were not aware of any connection. A spokeswoman for the University of Washington said: 'A unit of University of Washington Education Outreach entered into an agreement with [the centre's parent company] In-Com Link [Management Associates] in April 2003, but their last agreement expired April 6, 2006.'

She said the university had sent a letter demanding ICL 'remove all links or references to the University of Washington from its website'.

Mr Ho said he was only acting as a recruiting agent for the universities.

'I did not say these degrees were accepted in Hong Kong,' he said.

He said the University of Washington's name was left on the site as a result of an oversight. All references to the institution and to York and West Coast universities disappeared from the site yesterday. References to Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology in the Philippines were removed earlier within hours of a Post reporter confirming the university had no connection to ICL.

A spokeswoman for the Education Bureau said there was no need for schools providing 'purely online' courses to register, but the bureau would look into the website. 'If there is any evidence that the course information therein is misleading, we shall take action as appropriate.'