Recently, 70 Saudis were reported to have purchased or attempted to purchase fake university diplomas in the United States spurring the Saudi education authorities to launch an immediate investigation inquiring whether there were Saudis and expatriates holding counterfeit certificates working in the Kingdom.
Unscrupulous sale of fake degrees is a thriving business in the Saudi market. The Saudi Gazette carried out a sting operation to expose one such fake degree dealer in Riyadh.
This reporter first contacted the dealer through his email address which appeared in an Internet advertisement.
“If you have long experience, but no qualification or you are a masters degree holder and want to have a Ph.D degree but cannot spare the time, you can get the desired degree from London University without study or examination within one month. For more details contact: firstname.lastname@example.org,” read the personal ad posted by the dealer, apparently aimed at gaining the attention of all those wanting to earn an easy degree.
To obtain a Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D degree in a month not only sounds strange, but it is also discouraging to those who earn their academic achievements through diligence and hard work at real universities, and end up competing with fake degree holders for a job.
“I am interested in buying a PhD degree in Women’s Studies,” said this reporter to the bogus degree dealer who gave his mobile number. He claimed to be working as a HCW speaker in an environmental protection company which specializes in waste treatment technology for industrial and municipal waste. He gave his office telephone number and extension to Saudi Gazette. However, the dealer could never be contacted on his office number, and would receive calls only when contacted on his mobile number. He spoke Urdu with a Punjabi accent. Saudi Gazette recorded his voice as well.
Proudly claiming ‘you name it and we provide it’, the dealer provided Saudi Gazette with a list of degrees ranging from programs in Science to Arts – BA, BSc, MA, MSc, Ph.D, Associate and Professor degrees.
He said that the programs are for those persons “who want to convert their experience into a qualification, to seek a job promotion, to look for a new job or simply for self-satisfaction and confidence.”
“The buyer does not need to attend classes or appear for examinations,” stressed the dealer trying to lure this reporter into buying a fake degree.
The candidate’s name, desired date of obtaining the degree and the name of the desired subject were all the prerequisites for procuring a fake degree, apart from a modest fee. The only thing that was not required was to study and appear for examinations.
The fees were SR1,000 for an Associate and Bachelor degree, SR1,200 for a Masters degree, SR1,400 for a PhD and SR1,600 for a Professor Degree. Candidates were required to pay 50 percent of the fee in advance, and the remaining upon receipt of a fax or copy of the degree. The dealer promised to get the degree delivered within four or five weeks from the date of payment.
“If you are in Riyadh, you can see me and pay personally at my address: Office No. 105, Jarir Book Store Building, above Kudu, Al Hamra, Exit 10, Ring Road”, scammer told this journalist. But when this reporter told him that she does not live in Riyadh, he said: “OK, if you are out of Riyadh, you can deposit the money in National Commercial Bank (Al-Ahli), A/C No. 23553586000108 Beneficiary Tariq Farooq Babar”.
This journalist was able to get a good deal of information about the customers to whom the dealer sold degrees.
“I have been selling degrees for many years in Saudi Arabia to expatriates and Saudis who have used them quite successfully. The expatriate buyers are usually those who are already working at the supervisory and managerial levels while the Saudi buyers are usually job seekers,” he said.
“Since nobody has complained about these degrees hitherto, it shows that they were beneficial,” he said, adding that the most sought-after degrees that he is asked for in the Kingdom are those in engineering, MBA, IT and Bachelors in any field.
The scammer said that the degrees can be utilized only in the private sector. “Actually, it depends upon how the degree holder satisfies the employer by his work experience and confidence. If you are good at your job, the employer is not much concerned about your degrees, but if you fail in the interview, he may ask certain questions like ‘where did you get your degree from and for how much’,” he said.
In an attempt to convince this journalist to strike a deal, he referred to the system of online education. “This is the age of technology. In the West, hundreds of schools and colleges give education online as students are unable to attend classes because of the high cost of living and now their certificates and degrees are considered valid,” he said.
Further assuring this journalist, the dealer said that two persons from Jeddah had ordered degrees and that their degrees were expected to reach Jeddah soon. “You can see the degrees for yourself, but you should do so as soon as I call you because the owners of the degrees are always anxious to receive them,” he said.
This journalist requested a sample of the degree to be emailed to her. She was prepared to literally go and get the degree if the dealer refused. To her surprise, the dealer duly emailed a copy of the degree which he had sold to a person named Shahid Imran. It was a ‘Bachelor of Science’ in Engineering, dated 16 August 2004, with a seal of Buxton University and the signature of its dean M. Benedict.
He then made repeated efforts to call and email this journalist asking her to transfer money so that he could order a degree for her. “I will ask my father who will give me money to purchase the degree,” replied the journalist every time he called her.
The dealer was selling phony degrees of Buxton University in the United Kingdom. The university has been allegedly offering degrees online as per the convenience of students since 1991. It claims to be fully accredited and that it is the number one educational choice of over 56,000 students and working professionals. It claims that its programs enjoy worldwide acceptability. According to its website, the university’s curriculum is based on richly rewarding programs, offering a diverse range of accredited bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.
However, Zahir Dau, educational consular at the British Council in Jeddah denied the credibility of the university. “I would not recommend this university to students in terms of its official recognition,” he told Saudi Gazette.
“Students should contact and enquire about the accreditation of institutes, colleges and universities from the British Council or the British Embassy before registering and paying fees. It will be the student’s mistake if he finds it unauthorized later on,” he said.
He said students can check the status of universities and information of accredited universities from www.hero.ac.uk. “It is the official online gateway to higher education and research in the United Kingdom,” Dau said.
Despite the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education’s adherence to high standards in its degree equivalence policy, media reports claimed that about 70 staff members at different girls’ colleges across the Kingdom were fired for possessing fake diplomas last year, while 18 branches of unauthorized universities in the Kingdom have over 5,000 enrolled students. Recently, the Ministry has approved a Masters degree program in distance education mode for Saudi universities to protect Saudi citizens from being exploited by unrecognized American and European universities.
Recently, a Washington daily posted online a list of nearly 9,612 people who had supposedly spent $7.3 million to purchase fake diplomas. Saudi higher education authorities said they would investigate the names of those who might have paid for “proof” they graduated from college or obtained a Ph.D.
The education advisor at the US Consulate suggested students to refer to official websites as the easiest way to confirm the accreditation of foreign universities.
She mentioned the websites for reference. “Log on to http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/ for US Department of Education Accredited Colleges, Universities, Career and Trade Schools. For Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)- http://www.chea.org/search/default.asp. For information about Accreditation and the Accreditation process- http://www.educationusa.state.gov/accred.htm and for information on Diploma Mills-http://www.ed.gov/students/prep/college/diplomamills/index.html”.
“Education is an important area and we strive to keep the doors of US educational institutions open for all qualified students and scholars from across the globe,” said Ixta Gonzalez, information officer at US Consulate General in Jeddah.
The Saudi Ministry of Higher Education’s website lists the affiliated and accredited foreign universities.
The website is http://www.mohe.gov.sa/english.
The Certificates Accreditation Department at the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education is setting up an investigative committee which will include members from the ministries of higher education, interior, culture and information, commerce and industry and labor and will receive assistance from King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology. Anyone who is found possessing or dealing with fake degrees will be dealt with severely.