The government tasked Prospects Hedd to identify and target bogus institutions and perpetrators of degree fraud in 2015. It has since identified and investigated 310 potential cases of universities offering fake UK degrees - a rise of 67 since 2019.
Those shut down include Newcastle Business College, which was offering fake MBA and DBA degree qualifications. While claiming to enrol thousands of British students every year, it had no geographical basis in the UK and the telephone number went only to voicemail. Investigation showed it was run out of the Middle East.
In another case, the European University of Business offered a range of undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications through an ineligible 'ac.uk' website.
The Prospects Hedd fraud service team works with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and other law enforcement agencies internationally to apply trademark, copyright or forgery legislation to force the closure of operators.
Chris Rea runs the Prospects Hedd degree fraud service at Jisc. He said, 'Given the nature of these websites, which can close as quickly as they appear, there are many more fraudulent operators than our official figures tell us. In fact, it is very likely there are as many, if not more, than the UK institutions that are genuine.
'Our higher education system is deemed by many to be among the best in the world, but when the market is swamped with fake providers it puts that reputation at risk. The only way to stop these operators is to remove the demand. This means verifying the degrees of anyone who comes into your organisation. Be absolutely sure that they are who they say they are and that they have the qualifications to do the job or study they applied for.'
Last week, Prospects Hedd provided evidence to support former universities minister Chris Skidmore's Ten Minute Rule Bill to Parliament to make essay mills illegal.
Prospects Hedd is involved in the QAA-led Academic Integrity Charter for UK Higher Education. It is inviting universities and colleges to sign up to the charter, committing to promoting academic integrity and taking action against academic misconduct.
Prospects Hedd's free online tool enables users to check whether a UK university or college is a recognised degree-awarding body.
Organisations can verify degree qualifications or report degree fraud at Prospects Hedd.
Clare Tregaskis, Prospects and Jisc Student Services, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07792 429227
Prospects has worked at the heart of higher education for nearly 50 years. Part of Jisc Student Services, the directorate collaborates with government, universities and employers to improve student and graduate career outcomes through information, guidance and opportunities. It includes Prospects.ac.uk, which is visited by 2.1 million students and graduates each month, Prospects Luminate and the UK's official postgraduate course database. Jisc Student Services also manages Prospects Hedd degree verification and fraud services.
Jisc's vision is for the UK to be a world leader in technology for education and research. It owns and operates the super-fast national research and education network, Janet, with built-in cyber security protection. Jisc also provides technology solutions for members (colleges, universities and research centres) and customers (public sector bodies), helps members save time and money by negotiating sector-wide deals and provides advice and practical assistance on digital technology. Jisc is funded by the UK higher and further education and research funding bodies and member institutions.