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October 20, 2010
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The Netherlands re-examines higher education laws

Many European countries, such as the UK, Austria and Germany, have laws in place which protect the designation of the term 'University '. However, the Netherlands is one of the few countries who do not currently regulate use of the term. Professor Paul Zoontjens explains, ""Until now, the Netherlands does not know a prohibition of the unlawful granting of academic degrees or titles. Furthermore, there is no legal rule that can prevent organisations calling themselves a university and acting as such."" The rising emergence of private higher education institutions, and the threat of diploma mills means there is an increasing need to legally protect the title 'university ' and Paul admits, ""Our legislation is not up to the level of that
of a lot of other European countries, like Germany or the UK, while the problems with (pretend) HE-institutions in the Netherlands are at least the like

According to current statistics from Verifile's Accredibase the Netherlands is the third most popular destination in Europe for rogue degree providers, with 33 unrecognised institutions and accrediting agencies claiming to be based there. Italy is just ahead with 40 entries, whilst the UK is by far the most popular destination, with 332.
Paul 's report comes as a result of a resolution by the Dutch Parliament in June of last year, which stated that institutions bearing designations such as 'university ', but who were not at liberty to grant legally recognised degrees, were misleading and confusing. In response to this resolution, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science commissioned Zoontjens to investigate the legal possibilities of protecting the designation ""university"" and to examine how this is done in other nations with comparable higher education systems..

The report identifies a striking inconsistency in the severity of the punishment for breaching higher education law across the countries reviewed. Surprisingly, the maximum fine in the UK is only £5000 in comparison to the 100000 EUR fine in Baden-Wrttemberg, Germany. Moreover, Belgium (Flanders region) is the only jurisdiction where there is a possibility of imprisonment for unlawful use of the title 'university '. It also emerges that foreign private higher education institutions are eligible to apply for the designation of 'university ' in all of the examined countries, except the Flanders region.

We must wait to see if and when The Netherlands brings these changes into force, but Zoontjens ' research suggests that legally protecting the title 'university ' may help in the fight against diploma mills in the country. Paul explains, ""It is a small step then, to use accreditation (and criminal law) as a means to differentiate between institutions. It could mean that an organisation cannot have and apply degree awarding power without prior testing and without being in breach of prohibitive rules. Secondly, when an institution can be designated as a university it is ""automatically"" susceptible to state supervision and to rules concerning the quality of facilities and personnel. To conclude, the legal protection of the term ""university"" will complicate the possibilities of organisations to act as diploma mills.""

The fake diploma industry appears to have grown rapidly with the advent of the internet and the lack of higher education regulation provides a haven for diploma mill organisations. Paul stresses, ""We need effective legal instruments to prevent these ""bad"" suppliers from doing their harmful work."" He emphasizes that the issue of diploma mill operations in the European Union needs to be addressed, whether this is by the member states within the framework of the Bologna process or the responsibility of the EU-institutions.

The report concludes by highlighting the importance of higher education law enforcement and the need for international co-operation and exchange of information between countries and jurisdictions in order to help eradicate diploma mills. Accredibase provides an international platform for sharing information regarding diploma mills and assessing the validity of issued accreditations and qualifications. Therefore, as Zoontjens suggests, tools such as Accredibase may aid enforcement of higher education regulations in the future.

Professor Zoontjens report Protecting 'university ' as a designation - analysis and comparison of the legal position in several countries is published in English in Education Law Journal (Issue 2, Volume 11, 2010, p. 117-131)."

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October 6, 2010
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New Verifile Accredibase Case Study Highlights UK Fake Degree Problem

In two recent investigations, Verifile background screening team successfully used Accredibase to identify two applicants for executive positions who listed fake degrees on their CVs. An applicant to a financial institution, for example, listed a degree from Rochelle University. At least three US states do not recognize the legitimacy of Rochelle University degrees. In another case, an IT opening at a mortgage finance firm drew an application from a candidate claiming to hold a degree from the University of Northwest. That school has been blacklisted in four US states, including Texas.

Employers need to carefully check that unfamiliar credentials are not  fom a Diploma Mill. That is the clear conclusion of a new case study released by Verifile. Verifile, a UK-based background screening company, maintains Accredibase, a unique, comprehensive global database of diploma mills. The case study shows fake degrees are a real problem for employers including those in the highly regulated financial services industry.

In two recent investigations, Verifile background screening team successfully used Accredibase to identify two applicants for executive positions who listed fake degrees on their CVs. An applicant to a financial institution, for example, listed a degree from Rochelle University. At least three US states do not recognize the legitimacy of RochelleUniversity degrees. In another case, an IT opening at a mortgage finance firm drew an application from a candidate claiming to hold a degree from the University of Northwest. That school has been blacklisted in four US states, including Texas.

"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 by listing a fake degree, they may not stop there and the potential risk to unsuspecting employers is huge," said Eyal Ben Cohen, Managing Director of Verifile.

Background screening is essential, not only because fake degrees can indicate an applicant is not trustworthy, but because companies can pay a heavy reputational and financial cost if they fail to spot an employee with a phony diploma. Verifile points to a recent case where EDS was forced to pay their partner BSkyB 700 million pounds Sterlingwhen it was proved in court that an EDS employee lied about his MBA. At trial, an opposing lawyer purchased the very same fake degree online for his very smart dog, Lulu.

About Verifile Limited

Verifile is Europe's leading background screening company. Its comprehensive range of services allows employers to verify employment, qualifications, identity, criminal records and credit histories globally. This is offered through quick, easy to use, affordable and innovative solutions. Verifile services are used by clients around the world, in a wide variety of sectors, with over 30% of checks conducted outside the UK. 

About Accredibase

Accredibase, the first resource of its kind, is designed to help professionals involved in education verification weed out fake degrees from bogus universities, colleges and high schools. It offers constantly updated information, built using data gathered from law enforcement agencies and independent research. Currently Accredibase has information on 5,070 diploma and accreditation mills operating in 123 countries. 

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October 2, 2010
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A bulldog gets a degree from Belford University diploma mill!

The Arkanas blog reports how a doctor called Dr. Rhoda's doctorate, a Ph.D., comes from Belford University (a Diploma mill), an Internet operation which Dr. Rhoda acknowledged in a phone interview with the Arkanas blog Dr.Rhonda told them 'Belford University has it's critics'. He countered that some people don't think much of the University of Arkansas, either. (He was just making a point, he said, with the remark about UA, that many schools have both supporters and critics.) He said he holds an Arkansas Tech undergrad degree.

An Arkanas Times associate who is was a member of the state's education establishment, decided to investigate Belford University by having his English bulldog, Max Sniffingwell, apply for a degree in "theriogenology/animal reproduction." On payment of $549 by money order, a diploma, transcript and letter of recommendation shortly arrived from the United Arab Emirates. 

Please see below for a copy of the letter of application to Belford University from Max Sniffingwell the English Bulldog:

March 1, 2009

Belford University

RE: Online Application for Doctorate Degree in Theriogenology/Animal Reproduction
Description of Experience in the Requested Degree Program

Dear Applicant Reviewer:

My very first job was working in an AKC breeding kennel. Later I went to work for my current employer, a veterinarian whose special interest is reproductive veterinary medicine. Although I have never benefitted from formal education in the breeding sciences, I have learned much in life from my successes and failures both clinical and in the field.
My job as a breeding specialist has primarily centered around predictions of ovulation timing based on observations and sensory detections of hormone/pheromone cycles, vaginal changes, and courtship clues—all very important indicators for successful insemination either by natural or artificial means. I have come to believe that I have a natural ability in theriogenology, especially in the field of canine reproduction where my successes are well documented with the American Kennel Club.
I have done some experimental field work with felines. However these studies, while highly insightful, have served primarily to underscore the scientific value of postulations gone bad, and led to my somewhat reluctant realization that my talents and natural inclinations are best suited for canine reproduction. Also since my employer is a pet doctor, I have experienced only limited exposure to the ins and outs of farm animal breeding services. So in my chosen field of theriogenology, which of course includes all animals, as much as I would like to just “do them all”, I’ve come to understand the prudence of specialization.
However, I do not know if the doctoral degree program at Belford University recognizes species specialties. If not, and, of course, only if I qualify, I respectfully request that you grant my doctoral degree in either “canine” or “general” theriogenology/animal reproduction. 

Thank you for considering my application. Your payment of $549 will be mailed as soon as I hear good news from your board of examiners.


Max Sniffingwell

PS — Max's owner is Dr. Ben Mays, a Clinton veterinarian and member of the state Board of Education. He explains that his investment was to make a point (though he declined the opportunity to make Max an honors grad for an extra $75!)

Fourteen states have laws that make it illegal to use this kind of false credentials in one's line of work. But in Arkansas, stud dogs like Max, and unscrupulous individuals in other fields can use fake diplomas to dupe their clientele.



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