Unesco Takes On International Diploma Mills

January 29, 2009

Washington — The growing demand for college degrees, the globalization of the education market, and the Internet are combining to create a more favorable climate for diploma mills around the world, says Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic, chief of the section for reform, innovation, and quality assurance in higher education at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Ms. Uvalic-Trumbic, who spoke here this morning at the annual meeting of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, explained several measures that Unesco has taken to help prevent fake colleges from succeeding.

One is an Internet listing of higher-education institutions “recognized or otherwise sanctioned by competent authorities in participating countries” — a so-called white list that students, employers, and others can use to check the credentials of a university.

So far, 23 countries are participating in the effort, including China, the United States, Britain, Australia, and Japan, as well as developing countries like Kenya and Nigeria.

The accrediting group, known as CHEA, is an association of 3,000 accredited institutions. It is also working with Unesco to develop a set of suggestions for countries to deal with fraudulent universities.

“It assumes that individual countries take care of their higher education and quality assurance, but there are ways we can work together internationally,” said Judith S. Eaton, president of the organization.

Despite the widespread attention to diploma mills in recent years, there are several difficulties over how to define diploma mills, how to prosecute the purveyors of fake degrees, and how to influence foreign governments that sometimes benefit from the fraud, said Sir John Daniel, president of the Commonwealth of Learning, an association of more than 50 countries that were originally part of the British Empire. —Eric Kelderman