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May 13 2010

Fakes one to know one: the best degree money can buy

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australians holding bogus degrees have worked for Boeing Australia, and, very worrying, practice as dentists, in medicine, engineering and law.  They include people with bogus degrees from the defunct Diploma mill Saint Regis which was operated by an American fraud ring until it was closed by the US government in 2005. Federal employees in the US, including White House staff, were reported to have held bogus Saint Regis degrees in 2006.

A spokeswoman for Boeing Australia confirmed that a man the Herald identified as having a qualification from Saint Regis was a former employee. ''For privacy reasons, however, Boeing does not disclose the circumstances around which employees leave the company,'' she said. A registered dentist now working in a practice on the outskirts of Brisbane is also listed as having a health science qualification from Saint Regis. The Herald contacted the dentist, but the calls were not returned.

A spokeswoman from the Dental Board of Queensland confirmed the man was registered as a dentist with a bachelor of dental science from the University of Queensland and qualifications in oral surgery from the University of London. She said he had not registered a PhD in science from Saint Regis with the board.

Among about 50 Australians linked to Saint Regis, with qualifications including degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering, law, IT, marketing, business management and theology, is a Melbourne man who obtained a bogus chemistry degree. 

When contacted by the Herald, he said he was shocked to discover last year that Saint Regis operators had been jailed for fraud. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said he had obtained a degree in recognition of his work experience and partial completion of a science degree.  He had paid Saint Regis $600 for a chemistry degree, four years ago.  When asked if it helped him obtain his current job, he said: ''I don't know. I obviously chose the wrong place. I thought I was getting a genuine experiential degree. I was only interested in a degree, but they said I could qualify for a masters.''

Other so-called universities that have no campuses, existing only by name in cyberspace, are continuing to offer Australians diplomas and degrees including PhDs, in recognition of no more than ''life experience''.  The Camden University website says the university ''does not boast of a campus'' and is structured ''along modern lines''.  ''Camden is for the working men and women who for various reasons have missed out in the rat race for college or tertiary education,'' it says.  When the Herald spoke to the operator of the US-based online Camden University, a man who identified himself as Dr Al Harris, from Camden University in Delaware, offered a masters or PhD degree in English literature for $US2000 ($2250) in recognition of the completion of an arts degree.

Dr George Brown, academic director of the Think: Education Group, who helped draft a UNESCO statement discouraging university degree mills, said the Saint Regis qualifications had appeared credible.  ''It is a global problem. But there has been no consolidated central approach to this problem of degree mills,'' he said.  ''It is a matter of recruiters and employers being vigilant. My research found worldwide, close to 30 per cent of senior executives have presented qualifications they didn't hold.''

Brown knew of an Australian being sued by an employer in Japan for holding a bogus Canterbury University degree. The Australian claimed to have been duped.  Mary Hicks, director of employment education and training for the Australian Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber had received reports of employees presenting bogus university qualifications and fabricated work histories, a practice which had been made easier by the internet.