Tweet chat: Impact of academic fraud on Higher Education

Our Chairman, Maurice Dimmock, took control of the @ASIC_LTD Twitter Account on May 9th 18:00 BST (13:00 EDT).

Follow the conversation as-it-happened about academic fraud and its impact on higher education organised by @WESPicks by following #IntlEdNow.

Below Maurice answers the posed questions in more detail:


WESPicks (World Education Services) Academic Fraud Tweet Chat Questions:

Q1 Experts believe that there are more than 2,600 diploma mills in operation globally. How do these mills damage society and higher education?


  • Students will hold credentials for which they are not qualified and their certificates may not be acknowledged by other institutions when students seek to go onto further study, and if they are accepted onto a higher level course they may well fail, not being adequately qualified to deal with course expectations and workload.
  • Diploma mills cause two distinct problems for employers:
    1. They run the risk of employing genuine people (students who have been duped into believing their qualification is worthwhile) who are not equipped or able to do the job they have been hired to do, despite being ‘qualified’ to do so.
    2. They allow unscrupulous people to present certificates that they know to be dubious in order to attain jobs and career advancement that they are not qualified for.
  • Diploma mills are also the cause of a great deal of mistrust in the private education sector affecting genuine for-profit institutions, particularly in the case of new education providers and online/distance learning providers.
  • This mistrust causes further problems for the education sector in terms of the devaluation and suspicion about genuine qualifications (particularly as many countries seek to develop their TEVT programmes and alternative vocational offerings in a rapidly changing employment market).

Q2 How do diploma mills affect or damage students, especially international students?


  • Genuine students are often misled into applying for a fraudulent institution and their diploma will be useless in the market. Students often spend a great deal of money and do not receive a valuable education or usable credentials. Employers may not acknowledge qualifications from mills when providing tuition assistance for continuing education.
  • Whilst it is, unfortunately, the case some people are ‘beneficiaries’ of fraudulent qualifications for dubious purposes the vast majority of people targeted by diploma mills are often vulnerable and arguably naive students desperate for qualifications to help them either advance to further study or compete in an exceptionally competitive global labour market.
  • Diploma mills often target students from low-income families who are lured by glitzy websites and low fees or extreme discounts.
  • International students are especially vulnerable due to language barriers, a desire to study in a particular country or gain qualifications to access further education, and the use of dishonest agents. Our sister company QISAN was set up to vet educational agents.

Q3 What are some tell-tale signs that an applicant may be claiming a qualification from a diploma mill?


  • Length of study: if the period of study was an unreasonably short period of time for the qualification claimed.
  • Look at previous qualifications listed on CV – assess whether timelines and previous education/employment history matches up.
  • Does the name of the institution ring any alarm bells – does it sound very similar to a large established institution just spelt differently/misspelled.
  • Look at the quality of print of qualification or transcript, whilst this isn’t always the case often fake documents have quality issues not apparent with genuine qualifications.
  • Misspelling on certificate especially names of universities which look like genuine institutions i.e. University of Leads, University of New Castle etc.

Q4 How can administrators ensure that they are reviewing official documents?


  • Check telltale signs as mentioned above.
  • Check out references from the education provider.
  • Have them formally evaluated by an official accredited evaluator, such as UKNARIC within the UK.
  • Use reputable, ethical, agents for international recruitment who will have ensured they are only putting forward appropriately and legitimately qualified students.

Q5 What resources can help recruiters and higher education administrators identify international diploma mills?


  • Check with the Ministry of Education or Cultural Attaché in the country they are registered.
  • Official lists of Colleges and Universities from MoE and Government sources.
  • Use Wikipedia for background checks. Despite it’s known downfalls it does provide some quick indicators.
  • Accrediting bodies can assist – website or a phone call can confirm accreditation status and what that accreditation means. Reports can be requested.
  • Talk to their local agents who have local knowledge and expertise.

Q6 Diploma mills also affect employers and the employment market. How so?


  • Employers can’t be sure that students are actually qualified to the level they claim; this can be especially dangerous when it comes to skill based certification.
  • It makes recruitment even more difficult and time-consuming.
  • If unqualified students are employed they, at best, can be ineffective and unproductive within their roles, at worst, a serious danger.

Q7 In the case of China: What is the role of CDGDC and CHESICC in ensuring delivery of verifiable documents? Is this a foolproof method?


Both of these organisations are able to undertake background checks on institutions and individual students. Whilst both have a very good reputation there are rumours circulating the sector that they are about to be abolished, my sources inform me that this is not correct. The rumours seem orchestrated to discredit them.

Unfortunately, there are no foolproof methods and those looking to cheat the system are always evolving their techniques, this is why it is incredibly important to use a variety of sources. It is imperative that global education community of education providers, government departments, agencies etc work together to combat academic fraud in all it’s guises.

I also strongly advocate contacting the institution in question to verify their status and the certification being presented, however, this can be difficult for many reasons due to the volume of applicants – hence need for evaluators.

Q8 Fraudulent documents tend to be a particular problem in major sending countries such as China and India, where the sheer proliferation of higher education institutions makes verification problematic. What other hotspots are there?


Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Eastern European countries (especially with regard to medical certification), Nigeria, Niger, Ghana and Malawi. There is also a highly active fraudulent market for people taking advantage of parents wishing to help their children leave countries in the midst of war and political violence by pursuing their education abroad.

Q9 Personal essay writing services are a thriving business in some countries. How can institutions recognize and combat such practices?


  • Look for discrepancies in writing styles, teachers should be trained to recognize when a student’s work it presented in a ‘voice’ and style that is not theirs.
  • By using software provided by orgaisations such as turnitin.
  • Use methods of submission such as having essays which are to be used for credits etc. completed under scrutiny or invigilation through the institution or a trusted agency.

Q10 How can administrators determine whether an institution or program is accredited by a recognized accrediting organization?


This differs from country to country. For example, in the US, one can check to see if they are CHEA, Department of Education or BPPE approved, or exempt. It is important to check with Government websites to see if the institution is offering fully approved degrees and that they have degree awarding powers.

Carry out due diligence when looking at claims made on an institution’s website, check that the people they claim to be accredited by have the institution listed on their organisation’s website. Equally, check that the accreditation body is what they claim to be – check their affiliations and credentials.

A particular problem with large-scale organised networks of bogus institutions operating across many different countries is often the people behind them have set up fake accreditation mills in order to increase their carefully crafted look of legitimacy. Never take something at face value, and often many of the tell-tale signs of a diploma mill can be used to identify accreditation mills.

Q11 How can administrators assess whether an accrediting organization is recognized?


They should scrutinize the accrediting bodies’ website, to see what they claim and check external links to their recognition. Also, be aware of terminology used and check that the accreditation for the institution and by the accrediting body is for what they claim it is: the definition of accreditation has different meanings and uses worldwide.

For example:

  • We are a non-governmental external accrediting body in the UK for the purposes of Short-Term Study Visa with UK Home Office approval.
  • Internationally we are a quality assurance agency using UK standards to benchmark against, and provide quality assurance, for institutional accreditation. We are members of CHEA International Quality Group and affiliates of ENQA in Europe.

Our accreditation recognizes these international differences and before ASIC will accredit an institution anywhere around the world we ensure that they have local government accreditation where appropriate, and in the case of degrees, that they have degree awarding powers, as our institutional accreditation is not the same as course validation: For example in the USA we are not an approved body to accredit formally for purposes of Federal Loan. However, we would carry out and award our institutional accreditation if the institution had CHEA approved accreditation and we would accredit against a set of KPI showing their suitability to receive international students.

Q12 What other types of academic fraud are most problematic from an admissions perspective?


Fraudulent Bank statements to show they have the necessary resources to study.

Q13 What steps can institutions take to combat them?


Ensure they take up references and that they use reputable agents such as QISAN approved agents, who give a service of financial checks, certificate evaluation, background checks and invigilation of any written assessment examinations. We find that often institutions do not vet the agents they work with and leave themselves open to the problems of poorly sourced and dubious international student recruitment.

Q14 How can we educate international students or families who are often unaware of the repercussions of academic fraud?


Legitimate institutions should highlight this on their website and social media. Governments can run awareness campaigns. Accrediting bodies should issue warnings and be careful when accrediting organisations. Also, higher education media and the journalistic output of organisations such as WESPicks have a role to play in highlighting these problems in their publications.