Degree fraud is an international problem but Britain is the European capital for bogus universities with twice as many fake institutions as genuine ones, and more appearing online daily. The problem is compounded by the increasing number of degree mills who charge anything from £10 upwards for a fake certificate.
HEDD presently manages the candidate verification process for 27 UK universities and covers a quarter of graduates from UK universities. The list of institutions registered for the service continues to grow at a rapid pace – in the last twelve months alone, eight universities including the University of York and the University of Glasgow have come on board.
HEDD was launched in 2011 with funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) as part of the Universities Modernisation Fund. The remit of the original project was to develop a secure online candidate verification system that would enable universities to process verification requests more efficiently and help combat degree fraud.
How HEDD works
Participating universities pay a modest annual subscription fee based on graduating numbers. Enquirer organisations are charged £10 per enquiry. HEDD operates on a revenue-sharing model, with universities receiving 20% of the income generated from requests made to their institution. At the time of writing, HEDD has processed almost 100,000 qualification checks.
As well as providing an automated system for HEDD users the service includes a 9am-5pm help desk and the HEDD team manages the relationships between the enquirer and university. In addition to candidate verification, HEDD provides university authentication and holds contact information for all UK degree-awarding universities.
The database also lists non-valid degree-awarding bodies so that if a candidate presents an employer with a degree certificate from Chelsea University a search will confirm that the document is in fact worthless.
In June 2015, Jo Johnson, Universities and Science Minister, announced that the Government was appointing HEDD ‘to help expose unscrupulous organisations and remove misleading websites wherever they make an appearance.’ Since then we have successfully investigated and shut down 28 bogus institutions with many others under review.
Sheffield Hallam was the first university to join HEDD.
“The team at Sheffield Hallam has been able to manage with only one team member working part time on enquiries at some points during the year and no temporary staff required during the busy summer period,” says Cheryl Woods, assessment awards and Graduation Manager.
The University of Manchester saved 100 days per year managing enquiries and improved the standards of service to enquirers and graduates.
Katie Britton, verifications manager said: “Having HEDD has made a big impact on us – it’s much more convenient and easy to use than our old processes were, and it’s freed up so much time to spend on the other jobs we have to do. I’m only sorry we didn’t start using it before now.”
Advice and Guidance
HEDD has launched the ‘Advice and Guidance on Degree Fraud’ toolkit. Backed by the Government, the toolkit has been developed in collaboration with universities, professional associations and law enforcement authorities to:
- Educate universities and colleges with UK degree awarding powers about the different types of degree fraud
- Encourage and guide higher education providers in the development of processes and policies on degree fraud
- Help higher education providers develop effective strategies for tackling degree fraud
- Raise awareness of the issues of degree fraud and the bodies who can help
The toolkit will help the many institutions that don’t have a formal policy on degree fraud. Degree fraud is an issue for a number of departments but not usually the responsibility of a single area. Marketing, admissions, legal, registry and human resources all have a stake in managing degree fraud and should be involved in shaping and managing internal policy.
Degree fraud isn’t a problem that will just go away. It won’t cease to exist without collaboration. Employers must verify qualifications as a matter of course. Authorities must work collaboratively internationally. Government must continue to invest and back the systems in place. And universities must take action individually and collectively with clear policies on degree fraud to protect their brand, reputation and students.
Contact: Paul Naylor, HE Development Manager at Prospects, P.Naylor@prospects.ac.uk