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Lessons learned as bogus colleges exposed

(Xinhua)    08:28, May 21, 2015

CHANGSHA, May 20 -- Bearing names similar to top universities, China's fake colleges woo and swindle high school graduates through slick recruitment websites.

A list released earlier this week by sdaxue.com, a site that helps students choose higher educational institutions, has exposed 60 Chinese universities or colleges as unaccredited diploma mills.

The website published two similar lists in 2013 featuring different fake schools. The most recent list pushes the total number of exposed bogus colleges to 210.

Of all the listed colleges, 83, or 44 percent, are located in Beijing, where many of the country's top universities are concentrated, according to sdaxue.com. Shanghai comes in second, with 15 fake colleges.

The institutions' names, though slightly altered, are extremely similar to key Chinese universities and colleges, leading to confusion among students and their parents. Though their accreditation is usually fabricated or out of date, the institutions are still recruiting students, according to sdaxue.com.

The case has led to accusations of lax supervision, which has been blamed for other high-profile scandals, including food safety and environmental violations, and eroding public trust.

"Since these are fake universities, why are they still in operation? Where are the supervisors?" said a comment by user "Bingrongxingshi" on microblog Sina Weibo.

The list comes at a particularly sensitive time as millions of students are preparing to sit the make-or-break gaokao, China's college entrance examination. High school graduates typically choose the universities they will attend after the gaokao.


Xinhua reporters investigated one of the fly-by-night universities in central China's Hunan Province this week.

"Established in 1985, our university helps develop talent in the nonferrous metal sector," reads the description on the website of Hunan Quyuan University, reportedly located in Hunan's Yueyang City. Pictures show modern buildings in a beautiful environment. The university claims to cover an area of 320,500 square meters.

The university's introduction on its website, however, was found to be plagiarized from North China University of Technology. In addition, its notification board, newsletters and pictures of its school emblem were all copied from other colleges.

Xinhua reporters in Yueyang could not locate the university. A school called "The High School Affiliated to Quyuan University" was found, though its staff denied any connection with the university.

An official with Yueyang's education bureau told Xinhua that an institution called "Hunan Quyuan University" was planned a few years ago, but was never established for "various reasons."

The non-existent university has published recruiting notices for years. On its website, it claims to employ around 1,000 staff, with about 85 percent holding master's degrees.

Non-existent colleges are only part of the scam. Some colleges on the list do exist, but they have long been outlawed by education authorities.

Another Hunan college on the list, the Zhuzhou Aviation Tourism College, for instance, is in fact a private training agency. Though local officials removed its qualifications in 2011, the college continues to recruit, with its official website still accessible.


One of the common tricks used by the scammers is creating confusion between fake colleges and genuine ones, according to Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow with the National Institute of Education Sciences.

"These bogus colleges usually rip names off of famous universities and do a little alteration, which can be very hard to differentiate," Chu said.

Chu added that the fake colleges, which have proliferated mainly in first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, tend to recruit students in other cities, making on-site verification difficult.

Students with low scores on the gaokao are easy targets for the fake colleges.

"The 'recruiters,' usually complete with enrollment brochures and even admission notices, often tell the students and their parents that enrollment time is tight in order to swindle 'enrollment fees' from them as soon as possible," said Chu.

"Once they obtain the money, they either just disappear or set up temporary school facilities before asking students to go home for a variety of reasons," Chu added. "The victims not only lose money, they miss the opportunity to go to genuine universities."

Chu suggested a government crackdown is needed to weed out the fake colleges and stop the spread of their recruiting materials. He said high schools should guide graduates properly in choosing their universities to avoid fraudulent ones.

Social media users agreed.

"I truly need some guidance in singling out government-approved colleges," said a Weibo user with the screen name "Shy-stereo." "The fake ones all sound too genuine to me!"

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Huang Jin,Liang Jun)

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