Almost 7 million students are graduating from Chinese universities this summer, and there is plenty of pressure to turn newly minted qualifications into well-paid jobs. The competition is increased by the ease with which almost anyone in China can buy a fake degree.
On July 3, a former ministry of education official charged with swindling students who hoped to study in America, went on trial in Beijing. The man, and three others, are alleged to have posed as agents for a non-existent American college ‘Nation University’.
Apart from ripping off aspiring students, Chinese crooks also cater to businessmen who want to plump up their CVs. In April, nine people stood trial in Beijing charged with selling fake degree certificates from non-existent American colleges. They charged up to 190,000 yuan (Rs.16 lakh) each, selling diplomas mainly to corporate executives. The businessmen paid up, went to a few classes and received the diplomas, with no exam required.
For those who cannot afford a degree from a fake foreign university, more than 100 fake Chinese universities now offer diplomas for sale. Many of them have websites and use names similar to those of real colleges. Some even use doctored photographs to advertise their qualifications: one image online shows a group of students said to be from the non-existent Wuhan University of Industry and Commerce standing in Tiananmen Square — the original photograph shows the same group under a banner proclaiming who they really are: students of the Beijing Institute of Petrochemical Technology.
Xiong Bingqi of Shanghai’s (genuine) Jiaotong University says the problem is lack of government regulation. Slowly, though, computerised anti-fraud systems are being introduced to stop those with dubious certificates from landing government jobs. A growing number of foreign and Chinese companies now check the authenticity of diplomas as well. The Beijing case in April came to light after one victim’s certificate for a Ph D in business administration from Abraham Lincoln University failed to pass an authenticity test. She alerted police.
Such cases have not stopped fraudsters, and would-be students are still trying to buy their way to a better career. A diploma can make all the difference in the modern Chinese job hunt. In some cases, fee-paying students know they are matriculating with a fake university but see it as an easy way to obtain a diploma. You can buy everything else in China, why not academic qualifications?
“Chinese people pay more attention to having a diploma than they do to having a real education,” says Xiong. “A diploma is worth actual money, whereas an education is not.”
(Excerpted and adapted from The Economist)