Rise in doctoral degree fraud

August 20, 2004

COLUMBIA. As the learning market looks set to go global, Times Higher writers check out how rogues are weeded out worldwide

Lack of regulation and monitoring of universities once they have received accreditation is a problem for Colombian higher education.

Universities must be registered and certified with the Ministry of Education. A university must prove that it has sustainable financial resources, that its teaching staff are appropriately qualified and that it can fulfil the objectives of its proposed courses. But, once this year-long bureaucratic process is completed, there is minimal monitoring of teaching and research quality.

At the University of Antonio Narino in Bogot , students are waiting to learn whether they can earn credits from 22 courses that were deemed invalid because they were not initially registered with the ministry.

The state is not obligated to inspect and evaluate higher education. This is a process that universities voluntarily participate in. The National Council of Accreditation (CNA) carries out government inspections.

To obtain state approval, a university has to complete a process of self-evaluation, outlining its academic and financial strengths and weaknesses. "Such a culture of self-appraisal is a recent development in Colombia," said Isabel Jaramillo, international relations coordinator at the Association of Colombian Universities.

Faculties rather than whole universities are inspected, meaning academic standards can vary widely within an institution. Inspectors can make recommendations and approve or fail courses for a specified amount of time.

But universities can ignore the recommendations and can continue to offer courses that have not been approved by the CNA.

Only four of Colombia's 5 universities boast full state accreditation in all faculties.

But the most serious problem confronting Colombia's universities is the sale of falsified degree titles. Each one costs between 96,000 and 960,000 pesos (£20 and £200) depending on the prestige of a university.

Entering fictitious students and grades into a university's computer system costs about 5.8 million pesos.

The selling of false doctorates is lucrative because only 42 Colombian universities offer postgraduate programmes. International universities are taking advantage of this. North American and Spanish universities are luring Colombian students to continue their studies overseas.

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