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The moment fake degrees turned recognized and appraised

Raymond Cheng

Those who know me well enough would know that I have a passion in studying the international practice of evaluation and recognition of non-local degree programmes. This is because I frequently advise students on their academic paths, especially when they are going to study abroad, going to enrol in some non-local degree programmes, or even decide to study online at home. However, sometimes there are a lot of other difficult-to-explain factors that are totally beyond our control. The following is just one example.

Generally speaking, good evaluators should bear the responsibility of not only being professional in terms of evaluation but also try not to ignore the changing perspectives of the general public. But in many cases, this can be far more difficult than what we could possibly imagine.

On May 6, 2010, one very popular movie star and singer, Andy Lau, who has been in the pan-Asian show business for over 30 years, was conferred an honorary doctorate degree by Lansbridge University in Canada (see video below). Almost every local TV channels or press carrying the news was celebrating and putting this as an eye-catching headline in their entertainment sections, yet none of them (if I remember correctly) mangaged to point out the fact that this Lansbridge University wasn't actually a legitimate body that could confer degrees, let alone an honorary doctorate.



Lau receiving his Lansbridge doctorate, dated May 6, 2010. Source: CTI TV, Taiwan

Lansbridge University first received its national accreditation (from DETC) in 2005 [1]. Owing to various administrative reasons, the university was ordered by the Canadian Ministry of Advanced Education to shut down in 2007 [2]. It's U.S. (national) accreditation status with DETC, consequently, was also revoked in 2010 and the university ceased to exist as of May 1, 2010.

But Lau received his degree five days after Lansbridge closed it doors.

So, the natural question here is, why was no one asking the right question at that time? Was it simply too embarrassing for Lau? Or, was it that they believed Lau, who has been doing quite a lot of philanthropy work over the last decade, wouldn't be able to take the blow as a result of the negative side of the report? In any case, I personally believe that it would be a great opportunity to make use of the big movie star's reach to teach people (especially youngsters) what is right and what is wrong – and more importantly, what it means by properly accredited and what is not. I see it as a social and ethical responsibility that many, especially those who know, should come forward and say it in loud words.

While I do personally feel that Lau does deserve a perfectly legitimate honorary doctorate (especially if it is in performing arts and that I'm also one of his big fans), why wouldn't anyone come forward and bring up the issue?

The answer to this may be far more than that and could very much be beyond the length of discussion of this very limited article. But in order to briefly understand the problem(s) behind, let us try to look at it from another perspective.

The following is the screenshot of the LinkedIn members in Hong Kong listing academic credentials from the unaccredited, less-than-wonderful [3a] [3b] University of Northern Virginia (see Figure 1) and the bogus degree mill, West Coast University (of Management and Technology) in Australia (see Figure 2).

University of Northern Virginia graduates on LinkedIn.com
Figure 1. University of Northern Virginia graduates on LinkedIn.com. Source: LinkedIn.com (note that all photos and personal details have been removed or blurred to protect the privacy of the persons – our intention here is to demonstrate, not condemn)

West Coast University graduates on LinkedIn.com
Figure 2. West Coast University graduates on LinkedIn.com. Source: LinkedIn.com (as above, all photos removed and details blurred)

While I have already blurred some of the names in the list (and the list is much longer than this very brief screen capture), anyone can still see the widespread nature of unaccredited degrees and bogus qualifications in almost every major industry in Hong Kong – from architecture firms, telecommunication companies, five-star hotels and caterers, to even major government-funded public universities. Thanks to the Internet, LinkedIn in particular, and to the braveness of these people who dare list the degrees they've bought (or acquired through whatever means) in their online resumes, we can now easily understand the psychochology why it would not be "an issue" to hold questionable qualifications and how the recruitment people (particularly those working at the universities) are finding themselves too busy to background check the authenticity of the diplomas these job seekers submit – in short, they just do not care.

In fact, the above does not mean that people in Hong Kong will simply accept just any degree, accredited or not, but it does bring about the issue of how people here would probably tolerate questionable academic qualifications. Let us read and compare the following news headlines (sorry, but two of them are no longer accessible).

Here in Hong Kong:

  1. "Lawmaker holds suspect academic credentials", The Star Online. October 17, 2004. previously accessible at http://www.thestar.com.my/story.aspx?file=%2f2004%2f10%2f15%2flatest%2f19332HongKong&sec=latest (dead link)
  2. "Legislator escapes probe", The Hong Kong Standard. July 17, 2004, previously accessible at http://www.thestandard.com.hk/stdn/std/Metro/GD20Ak01.html (dead link)
and meanwhile in the United States:
  1. "State IT chief's degree from unaccredited college," CJ Online. November 7, 2011. Accessible online at http://cjonline.com/news/2011-11-07/state-it-chiefs-degree-unaccredited-college
  2. "Even cops burned by Web's fake college degrees," Orlando Sentinel. February, 18, 2010. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2010-02-18/news/os-cops-diploma-degree-mill-20100218_1_law-enforcement-officers-unaccredited-institutions-police-officers
  3. "N.J. District Leader with degree from unaccredited school resigns," Education Week. September 23, 2009. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/09/23/04brief-7.h29.html
  4. "MIT dean of admissions resigns for falsifying resume", news release dated April 26, 2007. Accessible online at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/admissions-hastings.html
We can see that mainstream media and newspapers in Hong Kong do occasionally bring up qualifications issues like these but is it the people here who are unwilling to know more or is it that they are simply not well-informed or properly educated enough in this regard? If professional evaluators should ever take into account of the changing perspectives of the public, should it not be the extent of knowledge on academic evaluation which should somehow be taught, possibly as a liberal arts topic, in schools?

Lau receiving HKAPA honorary doctorate 2012
Figure 3. Lau receiving his doctorate from HKAPA, 2012. Source: Takungpo Daily News

And in the meantime, Lau's years of hard work finally gained him a genuine and respectable honorary doctorate in 2012 – an undeniably legitimate one this time – from the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (see Figure 3 above). So hard work does pay off. Congratulations, Dr. Lau!

September 9, 2013



ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Raymond Cheng, PhD DPA FRSA, is the founder and chief editor of Commentary.com. He is an adjunct professor in international business and in marketing, an independent policy analyst as well as a language and cultural briefing consultant.

Email Raymond at raymond {dot} cheng {at} kellogg {dot} oxon {dot} org



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Note 1: DETC, Distance Education and Training Council, USA, see http://www.detc.org/

Note 2: For details, please refer to the Canadian Ministry of Advanced Education news release dated February 8, 2007, accessible at http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2005-2009/2007AE0004-000110.htm

Note 3a: See the Washington Post article, "University of Northern Virginia is told to close by state auditors" dated July 23, 2012. Retrieved September 8, 2013 from http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-07-23/local/40859609_1_northern-virginia-accrediting-council-higher-education

Note 3b: See the Hindu article, "Indian students trapped as U.S. varsity is shut down." - 1,500 or so Indian students on its rolls facing the prospect of deportation - Retrieved September 8, 2013 from http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world/indian-students-trapped-as-us-varsity-is-shut-down/article4954005.ece




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Online and distance-learning degrees from the evaluator's perspective – September 25
The moment fake degrees turned recognized and appraised – September 9

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