Chinese students fall prey to rising number of fake colleges

Students in a classroom of the Ganzi Vocational and Technical College in Sichuan Province, China on May 17.
Students in a classroom of the Ganzi Vocational and Technical College in Sichuan Province, China on May 17.PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (Xinhua) - Half a month before millions of high schoolers take China's national college entrance exam, or gao kao, a new batch of fake colleges has been exposed.

A list released last week on sdaxue.com, a site that helps students choose higher educational institutions, exposed 73 Chinese universities or colleges as unaccredited diploma mills. The website has published its annual list of fake schools since 2013. This list pushes the total number of phony colleges exposed to over 400.

On the list are 23 schools in Beijing where many of the country's top universities are located. Shandong was second, with eight fake colleges, while Shanghai has seven.

Names of institutions are usually slightly altered versions of the names of real universities and colleges to confuse prospective students. Accreditation is usually fabricated or out of date.

According to the website, 66 of the 73 bogus colleges were not on the college list published by the Ministry of Education (MOE), while six use erstwhile names of legitimate colleges. One used an alternative name of a Party school in Beijing.

WHERE'S MY SCHOOL?

These colleges usually woo and swindle high school graduates through slick recruitment sites.

Xinhua reporters contacted a dozen of them, all supposedly located in Beijing, but none of their phone numbers were available. Most of their addresses are in the suburbs, making them hard to find.

Some, such as the address of "Beijing Normal University of Science and Technology", simply do not exist.

"Approved by the Beijing Municipal Education Commission, our college trains talent for education and global labour services," reads the website of Beijing Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture, purportedly located in Beijing's Chaoyang District.

The college claims more than 16,500 graduates and excellent teaching facilities. Xinhua reporters could not locate the college at its address, although a vocational school was found.

One of the school's staff confirmed that no other college is located there, and that the vocational school is the only education institution in the vicinity.

The college apparently borrowed its name from Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture. Newsletters and campus pictures were likewise copied from the latter university's site.

Beijing Tongji University of Medical Science, which claims to have been established in 1983 in Chaoyang District, is also non-existent. An employee of a nearby hotel said he has never heard of the college in 40 years.

LESSONS LEARNED

Many of these fictitious colleges have their own websites where their fake certification can be found and verified.

Chen Jiangping, formerly a content supervisor of sdaxue.com, said many scammers use names of students they have "recruited" which are very similar to names on approved MOE documentation for verification.

"Over the years we have received many reports from students who were cheated by fake websites," Chen said. One student claimed to have spent more than 10,000 yuan (S$2,103) on online courses from a college in Shanghai, but later could not find his diploma on the official MOE site.

Chen said that even though fake colleges are exposed each year, it is very difficult to eradicate them because a fake college website is cheap and simple to create.

"Many have foreign IP addresses, so it is hard to supervise them," he said.

Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow with the National Institute of Educational Sciences, said that fake colleges which claim to be in first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai prey on students from smaller, distant cities, making on-site verification difficult.

He suggested the government identify fake colleges and stop the spread of their recruitment materials, and high schools should do more to advise graduates properly. Students with low gao kao scores are easy targets, he added.

Wang Jinhai of Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics believes that only when police, education authorities and industry work together would the problem be solved.

"China should also work with other countries to close down fake websites," he said.

Education authorities in Beijing are coordinating with police to investigate and close the fake colleges.