Combating Degree Mills
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Council for Higher Education Accreditation, Annual Conference and International Seminar, Washington, D.C. – January 26-29, 2009, Combating Degree Mills, Stamenka Uvalić-Trumbić (UNESCO), John Daniel (Commonwealth of Learning - COL), (CHEA and UNESCO have been working together on an advisory statement on international practices to discourage and eliminate degree mills. What has been done and what are likely future actions? // The integrity of the global higher education system is threatened by the multiplication of bogus operations known as degree mills. They respond to the booming demand for advanced qualifications, particularly in the developing world, by offering spurious credentials. The internationalisation of higher education and the steady extension of the Internet both facilitate their operations and also make it easier for them to cover their tracks when authorities move against them. // The internationalisation of quality assurance has accompanied these trends and is gaining new momentum. Some manifestations of this are: the OECD’s program on Assessing Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO); the burgeoning business of international university rankings (e.g. the UK’s Times Higher; Shanghai Jiaotong University); and the Bologna process with its European Standards and Guidelines. // Intergovernmental organisations with mandates in education, such as UNESCO and COL, are working in various ways to protect the integrity of international higher education and to promote capacity-building for quality assurance. // In that respect, UNESCO has created the Global Forum for Quality Assurance and the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education in order to give all stakeholders the opportunity to discuss emerging issues. UNESCO and the OECD have developed Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Cross-Border Higher Education, which are now being used by many countries in developing their own legislation and/or policies. To guide students through new HE spaces, UNESCO has launched an Internet portal that will bring together lists, provided by national governments, of the higher education institutions that are officially recognised in their territories. This is now being expanded to include more countries. We encourage all governments to provide such ‘white lists’ so that students and others concerned about the authenticity of institutions and credentials can check their status. Developing suggestions for effective practices to discourage degree mills is a continuation of this work and so UNESCO and COL partnered with CHEA to internationalise the debate. // Combating degree mills requires a multi-pronged attack. First, countries must want to protect the integrity of their higher education systems. This requires good communication within governments so that the education authorities are aware of all companies that register in order to conduct an educational business on their territories and can make judgements about their legitimacy. Second, quality assurance agencies must tackle the difficult challenge of bringing cross-border eLearning within their ambit. Third, all bodies granting financial aid to students, or defraying tuition fees, should ensure they are not inadvertently supporting degree mills. Fourth, employers, higher education admissions officers, immigration officials, etc. must check credentials presented to them. As with other forms of crime, the certainty of discovery is the strongest deterrent. Fifth, the media, including the Internet, should be used more aggressively to make the public aware of bogus educational institutions. Finally, it would be helpful to have an international network for information and alerts about degree mill activity, since spurious operators are internationally mobile and can quickly re-appear in a new jurisdiction when another closes them down.
- 2006-2010 
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