Degree Mills or Diploma Mills, dodgy organisations pretending to be universities, which sell fake degrees to anyone who wants them, were very much in the news a couple of years ago as I noted in this piece.
A story from back in April 2016 in the New York Times followed an earlier more detailed investigation by the paper and reported on one big degree mill business which then led to prosecutions and a set of fake schools, colleges and university websites being shut down.
But as a File on Four investigation by the BBC demonstrated in 2018, the Diploma Mill business was still booming with lots of interesting universities with very similar websites still around. Whilst these have the features of many real university websites, including lists of courses, alumni information, careers and advice lines to call, descriptions of various other services, they are really very light on actual specifics, details and real names. And they are stuffed with stock photos of happy students. None of them appears to have a meaningful address either.
There are still plenty of them around.
What a racket
Then I noticed this story about the government in Dominica which has expressed concerns about a university distributing fake honorary doctorate degrees in India claiming an affiliation to the Dominican Government.
The origin of these fake degrees is the improbably named Ballsbridge University:
Taking a strict action, Indian Ministry of External Affairs set-up a special team to probe the matter as the university reportedly has its roots in Kollam district of Kerala, India, where various persons were given honorary doctorates in ceremonies mainly conducted in New Delhi.
Dominica’s letter to India has claimed that there is no such institution by the name of “Ballsbridge University” in the capital city Roseau.
The letter further states, “This institution (Ballsbridge University) is not registered in Dominica and it does not have a licence to operate as a Higher Education Institute in Dominica. Further, the government has no affiliation with Ballsbridge University.”
The sources in Indian Ministry of External Affairs and Kerala State Police revealed that in preliminary investigations, some connections have been traced between alleged fraudster Dr Pappachan Baby and Dominican Leader of Opposition, Lennox Linton. The official confirmation of this information is still awaited.
New balls please
Ballsbridge university on its websites (www.acedu.org and www.ballsbridgeedu.org) claims a connection to the government of Dominica and refers to itself as an “open university.” Here’s a picture of the administrative block.
In addition to its fake “Doctrol” [sic] programme it also has an “Honorary Doctoral Programme”. Imagine that, an actual programme to award honorary degrees.
And according to the WIC news story the “university” has awarded honorary degrees to quite a few prominent individuals in India:
Ballsbridge Society for Education and Research (BSER) which is being operated by Ebenezer Mission International (EMI) Institute, calls itself a non-profit public charitable organization in Kerala and is led by Professor Dr Pappachan Baby.
The group allegedly offers fake accredited higher education awards and courses, stated in association with the Institute of Chartered Professional (ICP), Commonwealth of Dominica and Ballsbridge University.
Dr Pappachan Baby, who also has a strong social media presence where he highlights a number of honorary doctorate degrees that were distributed to people in different convocation ceremonies – mostly in 5-star hotels.
Furthermore, as per the website of the Ballsbridge University, it has come to light that at all the executive members of the University board mostly comprise from one family, the Idahosa family.
It seems incredible that anyone would be taken in by the Ballsbridge website. It has some shockingly edited photos and assembled set of logos of either dodgy or irrelevant agencies which look only vaguely credible.
But the most extraordinary thing – they are awarding fake honorary degrees. If you are going to get an unearned fake degree, then you might as well get one which isn’t already an unearned honorary.
In the UK we do have HEDD, Higher Education Degree Datacheck which offers a centralised system for degree verification that serves employers, agencies, universities, embassies and councils:
It provides enquirers with the ability to verify a candidate’s academic credentials or authenticate a university or college in the UK. The remit of the service is to protect UK universities, employers and graduates from degree fraud.
It’s a key service for testing the validity of awards. HEDD’s services are in great demand though and I’m not sure that the agency’s remit would extend to authenticating honorary degrees…
Cheats will not prosper
But none of this would work unless individuals believed they could cheat the system by acquiring qualifications they hadn’t actually studied for in order to gain advantage. It remains a mystery to me why people think getting a degree without working for it is legitimate or that cheating the education system is somehow acceptable. But credentials do matter. They are the real currency of higher education and we do need to protect their value and employers do need to check the qualifications of applicants. Especially if they claim to have an honorary degree or any other qualification from anywhere with a name anything like Ballsbridge.