What A Difference a Month Can Make: Rogue Providers & the Power of the Press

Some of you may recall that I posted a  list of unaccredited US-based/affiliated higher education providers in early July.   The purpose of the list is simple:  to educate “consumers” of US and other foreign higher education so that they can make an informed decision about the value of the education and training being offered.  (I did the same for nationally accredited schools and am planning to post a list of all known regionally accredited colleges and universities active in Vietnam, God willing.)

Of Diploma Mills and Rogue Providers 

All of the schools on my list, which now stands at 24 and counting, are diploma, or degree, mills using this dictionary definition:  “An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas that are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless.” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary)

Another term that I like because it’s so descriptive is “rogue provider,” which refers to low quality higher education providers that are not recognized by official accreditation bodies.

Rogue providers have no oversight, no formal (and rigorous) quality assurance and maintenance procedures that they are required to follow.  In short, there is no accountability. They can do whatever they please, wherever and whenever they want. Their overhead is generally very low and therefore their profit margin high. Success depends upon a steady supply of “customers” who want/need a foreign credential and who are generally not aware of the distinction between licensed, approved and accredited. 

In An Ideal World…

Unaccredited schools should be honest about their status and some of the limitations of earning an unaccredited degree but this is not likely to happen for obvious reasons.  Those that are just getting started, are serious about providing high quality education/training and are planning to apply for accreditation at a later date, once they are more established, are the most likely to be transparent and the least likely to engage in deceptive business practices.

Money Makes The World Go Round

Most of the schools on my list are mainly interested in making money and lots of it, sorry to say.  Do the math – using a real-life example from Vietnam, if a program charges $8,300 per student and enrolls 120 students, then the organizers make a cool million, rounded up. 

They find plenty of local partners willing to cooperate and people willing to hand over thousands of dollars in order to obtain a US “degree.” As an Australian colleague, who is an expert in this area, commented here: “Credentialism, greed and a touch of corruption. Put them all in the mixer and, voila!:  the perfect market for degree mills!”

This is a hot-button issue because it involves tangibles like money (i.e., it’s a multimillion dollar industry in Vietnam) and intangibles such as reputation, prestige, “face,” etc.  It’s a form of corruption in the educational system. In Vietnam there are many unaccredited schools that waste people’s time and money. A free market does not mean freedom to exploit and defraud.

Why Do I Have An Interest in This Issue?

I’ve received a number of e-mails from concerned and, in some cases, angry students (angry because “their school” didn’t inform them about its status), as well as some from individuals who appear to have ties to these schools.  Here’s one example of the latter:  “I understand that Dr. Mark is concern about the education industry of Vietnam. But, the criticized of unaccredited university is merely good comment or with hidden agenda?”  He ponders this question; one millisecond later out comes the correct answer:  “Good comment!”   

So why do I have an interest in this issue? Because it affects both Vietnam and the US in a myriad of negative ways. I have no hidden agenda, no ulterior motives and no ax to grind. In fact, it increases my “pro bono” workload.

To the extent that US-based/affiliated unaccredited schools are successful in enrolling large numbers of Vietnamese students in programs of marginal quality who then graduate with largely worthless degrees, the reputation of legitimate (officially accredited) US higher education may be tarnished. In that sense this is a battle – pardon the military metaphor – that is being fought in both countries.

The unfortunate reality is that most of the rogue providers doing business in Vietnam are “made in the USA” or attempt to wrap themselves in the American flag in order to positively influence the bottom line.

Media Coverage

My blog post attracted quite a bit of attention in the Vietnamese and English language media here and resulted in a couple of widely disseminated interviews (e.g., Busiest day: 1,315 — Friday, July 30, 2010).  Most of the coverage of this issue has been good.  It’s a learning experience for reporters who need to learn the difference between licensed and accredited, among other terms.  Below are links to some articles that have appeared in the English language media: 
Foreign diploma mills plague higher education (25.6.10)

A Matter of Degree (30.7.10)

Central Inspection Committee investigating 6 month doctorate (31.7.10)

US educationist warns against unaccredited schools (1.8.10)   (Note:  The original Vietnamese version was later removed.  Here it is on another website:  Coi chừng bằng quốc tế “dỏm)

Distance learning programs unlicensed, but undeterred (9.8.10)

A former professor and mentor, Dr. Philip G. Altbach, wrote about the importance of selecting quality academic partners in The World View: A blog from the Boston College Center for International Higher Education.  The post, entitled The Company We Keep: A Cautionary Tale, begins this way:  In international higher education, we are judged by the company we keep. Thus, it is of great importance that universities choose their partners carefully, make sure that their “brand” and reputation is protected, and that the partnership provides benefits to all sides.

All’s Well That Ends Well?

As we celebrate the 15 year anniversary of US-Vietnam diplomatic relations and reflect on the many “positives” in this flourishing bilateral relationship, it’s worthwhile to devote some attention to areas in need of improvement and issues such this one that adversely affect Vietnam and legitimate (officially accredited) U.S. higher education. 

There is a seemingly happy ending to this story.  The second week of August Dr. Nguyễn Xuân Vang, director of the International Education Development Department of the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) stated in an interview that unauthorized joint training programs are illegal and that the Ministry will not recognize the diplomas of programs offered in cooperation with unaccredited foreign partners.  Follow this link to read the English translation of the interview:  MoET will refuse degrees granted by low-quality joint training programmes.  This is just what the doctor ordered, a salve for this societal growing pain.  

I think it was the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping  who once said “Open the windows, breathe the fresh air and at the same time fight the flies and insects.”  While the windows remain open in Vietnam, I do see the slow but sure installation of screens on some windows related to learner protection.  It’s progress. 

With thanks to a fellow blogger, Nguyễn Văn Tuấn, for use of the two diploma mill images you see here.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, phải không?

Thanks for reading. 🙂

2 thoughts on “What A Difference a Month Can Make: Rogue Providers & the Power of the Press

  1. Very good article, Dr Ashwill!
    Thanks also for referring to Prof Altbach’s blog entry. It’s very useful and interesting.

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