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June 25 2010

Another dubious degree popped up in the background checks of another of Verifile 's City financial clients recently

Another dubious degree popped up in the background checks of another of Verifile 's City financial clients recently. The candidate in this case, applying for a job in the IT department of a London based mortgage company, claimed to have a BSc in Computer Science - this time from University of Northwest. The candidate claimed he studied for his ""degree"" through a local agent in the UK, Stratford College London. Verifile 's researchers routinely ran both University of Northwest and Stratford College London through Accredibase and alarm bells started ringing when a match was returned.

University of Northwest was based at a New York address which appeared on a transcript provided by this candidate. The ""university"" is not and has never been accredited by a US recognised accrediting agency.  The
University of Northwest is also not listed as a recognised New York University or College by New York State Education Department (NYSED). According to NYSED 's website, to establish a college or university in New York State and to confer degrees, an entity must be authorised by the Board of Regents or its charter. In addition, use of the terms ""college"" and ""university"" is generally restricted to institutions chartered by the Regents or the State Legislature.  What 's more, University of Northwest has also been blacklisted in four US States - Texas, Oregon, Michigan and Maine.

According to Oregon 's Office of Degree Authorization, University of Northwest has been actively selling invalid degrees in Afghanistan this summer.  Neither the University of Northwest nor Stratford College London is a UK recognised institution with the legal power to award their own UK recognised degrees. Stratford College London is, however, currently licensed under Tier 4 by the UK Border Agency to sponsor overseas students.  When Verifile 's researcher contacted Stratford College London, they were able verify that the University of Northwest degree was attained through their college, however, they also stated that they no longer offer University of Northwest courses.  

University of Northwest also claims to be accredited by several agencies that have been blacklisted as unrecognised in the United States. Degree mills will often use - or even invent their own - bogus accrediting agencies, known as an Accreditation mill, in an attempt to make their qualifications look genuine. Accreditation mills tend to choose names similar to those of recognised accrediting agencies and will even falsely add well respected universities to the list of institutions they ""accredit"".

This particular candidate had also lied about his A Level grades on his CV which made Verifile 's report regarding his bogus education even harder to ignore.  It is hard to believe that either of these candidates was not aware of what they were doing when they originally purchased these ""degrees"". Those of us who have been to university know just how tough it is to get a degree and the amount of work that is required. We would expect that anyone claiming to have a degree has gone through the same demanding process and that their degree is recognised in the country in which it was awarded. Regardless of whether or not having a degree is essential for the job itself, it is an issue of honesty, integrity and trust. If someone has knowingly set out to deceive in this way, they may not stop there and the potential risk to unsuspecting employers is huge.

Employers should also consider the bad publicity involved if these cases come into the public light, or the consequences of failing an audit from a regulator. Take the recent court case involving BSkyB and EDS. The Times reported that Joe Galloway, a senior EDS manager and key witness in the case, lied in court about the origins of an MBA degree. He was exposed when BSkyB 's barrister purchased the same degree on the internet from Concordia College and University for his dog, Lulu. As a result, the judge ruled that EDS should pay over £700 million to BSkyB.

Often it is the case that when conducting a background check, high importance is given to protecting against applicants who present fake certificates. Checking if a certificate has been faked is fairly simple and is done by contacting the institution who has supposedly issued it. Therefore, if a job applicant is claiming to have a degree from a well known university (eg. Harvard), it is good practice to contact the Registry department and ask if they have issued the qualification to the candidate.  However, this approach does not help when trying to spot and protect against degree mill qualifications. The examples discussed in this report highlight the importance of understanding how education systems around the world work when conducting a thorough CV verification. Armed with this knowledge, the background screening agency would be able to check the recognition status of the university and confirm if they are genuine or fake - and whether a degree from the university should be taken seriously.