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Sunday, June 07, 2015

Watch out for fake degrees by Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Follow on Twitter as @RasheedsWorld
"The hysteria over the arrest last month of the chief executive officer of Axact, the Pakistani software company that was churning out fake online university degrees and selling them to students around the globe, has unfortunately unfairly tainted the reputation of distance learning." reports Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, Saudi-American journalist, writer and blogger. 


So much so, that a Twitter battle erupted recently between Shoura Council member Muwafiq Al-Ruwaili and the undersecretary at the Social Affairs Ministry Naif Al-Subaihi after Ruwaili accused Subaihi of irresponsibly encouraging distance learning.

Ruwaili has been on a campaign to stamp out fake degrees bought online, of which there are many in the Kingdom. In 2013 he told Arab News that there were 7,000 individuals in Saudi Arabia with fake educational certificates, including officials in both the public and private sectors, which they had obtained online. He also claimed that five percent of Saudi women working in the training and interior design fields have fake degrees. The obvious solution would be a crackdown by the Saudi government on these dubious sites, with the most notorious ones being blocked. Of course, there are probably far too many for the government to keep up with, so the Shoura Council’s recommendation made in 2013 to establish a national center for the attestation and documentation of university degrees should have been implemented already. Most countries require that foreign university degrees be attested by their local educational authorities before being accepted as valid. In our case, the Ministry of Education would be in charge of this attestation process of foreign degrees earned both online and off.

In the Kingdom the only local university licensed by the government to offer distance learning is the Arab Open University, which is based in Kuwait and has campuses and students in eight countries. Conceived in 1996 by Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz, president of the Arab Gulf Development Program (AGFUND), the university started operating in 2002 and today has 28,460 students enrolled, and has graduated more than 20,690 students, 50 percent of which are women. It has a limited number of classrooms in Jeddah, Madinah, Riyadh, Dammam, Hail and Al-Ahsa, where students go to attend certain classes that demand their presence and to take regular exams. But the bulk of its teaching and learning is done online. It is a combination of distance and in-place learning. The benefits of distance learning are obvious: It is always cheaper than attending a university full-time, and is a good solution for students who live in remote areas and thus have no access to university campuses or for people who work and can only study part-time. Even so, degrees earned online or through the mail have always been looked down upon as being of inferior quality because those who earn these types of degrees have not attended classes on a campus classroom and had the benefit of personally interacting with fellow classmates and teachers. While this may be true of distance learning that is done entirely through mail, most distance learning today is done online where students can attend classes together online, or watch videos of lectures later if they miss the class. 

Additional resources 

Inside Higher Ed summarizes, "An article in The New York Times details how Axact, a software company in Pakistan, operates a network of 370 websites that sell fake college and university degrees, earning the company millions of dollars a year."
Source: Arab News