AN increasing number of mainlanders are attending 'fake' colleges which provide them with the prestige of a degree without the hardship of having to work for it. According to the Beijing Youth Daily, many officials are among those using the fake schools. The colleges hold classes at irregular hours, often cancelling them because the professor or students are too busy, rarely test students on the content of classes and do not fail students unless they cannot pay the cost of the degree. They provide students with graduate degrees after a set period of time, usually two years. The report said degrees were sought after for the prestige they provided; 'graduates' could say on their name cards that they had an award to impress their colleagues and clients. These 'universities' are flourishing in southern China, where more than 2,000 graduate students have already been awarded degrees - some without ever having attended a single class. The schools are particularly popular with older officials, who cannot commit the time to legitimate courses. Many would not be eligible for ordinary degrees as they did not finish high school. The phenomenon is a step on from the sale of forged degrees on the black market, which has been common practice, particularly in Beijing, for many years. 'It's even possible to get a good fake Beijing University diploma,' one Beijinger said, referring to the country's most respected college. Most black market fake degrees are bought by young people applying for jobs. In the increasingly competitive job market, more employers are demanding staff with university education. Many young people who have not made it to college see the black market as their only option. A fake university degree costs about 5,000 yuan (HK$4,700). One young Beijing businessman who said several of his friends had bought forged degrees said their quality was excellent. Employers almost never checked a degree's legitimacy and tended to give workers the benefit of the doubt if they were doing a good job.