Project 211

Executives lose millions buying fake degrees

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am


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More than 200 senior executives have lost millions of yuan in at least seven degree scams uncovered by a district prosecutors' office in the first five months of the year.

Rao Mingdang, an official from Beijing's Haidian district procuratorate, said 33 swindlers had deceived 339 students - 80 per cent of whom were senior executives - out of 7.97 million yuan (HK$9.59 million), the China Youth Daily reported yesterday.

One victim alerted police on January 27 after she discovered that a PhD certificate she received a week earlier had failed to pass Ministry of Education authenticity verification.

She said she paid 190,000 yuan, including 50,000 yuan in certificate verification fees to a Beijing-based partner, for a PhD in business administration from 'Abraham Lincoln University'. She attended a few classes in an office building near Tsinghua University, although students were not required to go to classes or sit exams.

The operators of degree mills often set up offices near prestigious universities like Tsinghua and Peking University and pass them off as the representative offices for non-existent American universities with names similar to well-known American colleges.

One operator claimed to be recruiting on behalf of Columbia International Institute, which does not exist, using the internet domain name, similar to that of Columbia International University, a bible college based in South Carolina.

In order to deceive prospective clients, operators even invited professors from real universities to give classes and duped clients with fake verification websites, the report quoted the prosecutors as saying.

Some make up fake programmes using the names of real universities. An employee at a consultancy marketing a fake 'joint PhD programme' between the University of Houston and Peking University since November 2009, told prosecutors he began to question the programme after former Microsoft China president Tang Jun was accused of falsifying his credentials, including a doctoral degree from the California Institute of Technology that he does not hold.

The degrees Tang and many mainland officials and executives received were PhDs from California-based Pacific Western University (now called California Miramar University). They cost US$2,595 and required no classroom instruction.

Tang, now chief executive of New Huadu Industrial Group, has refused to apologise over the incident.

Professor Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute - a well-known mainland education research NGO, said it was evidence of an overall decline in social morality.

'As a role model for youth, Tang has set a bad example by showing them it's OK to do what it takes in order to succeed,' Xiong said.

He said that some of those who fell prey to the scams were not necessarily victims at all because they might knowingly buy a degree to gloss over their credentials.

The Ministry of Education is moving to tighten up scrutiny of degrees issued via joint programmes by a Chinese and overseas universities.


The cost, in US dollars, of acquiring a PhD from California Miramar University

- A bachelor's degree costs US$2,295