Fifty Shades of Fake University Degrees

On Sunday, Declan Walsh delivered a blockbuster report on the vast network of fake univeristies, diplomas for purchase and high-pressure upsales of “validation” credentials for fraudulently purchased diplomas. Remarkably, the company in which these activities were housed, Axact, with headquarters in Karachi and offices throughout Pakistan, had enjoyed a role as a prominent software company billing itself as Pakistan’s biggest software success story. Despite the massive amount of evidence compiled by Walsh and the Times, Axact initially pushed back hard, trying to threaten the Times with legal action and even going after a local Pakistani blog that merely accumulated amusing Tweets relating to the story.

Today, authorities in Pakistan took decisive action, with as many as 45 Axact employees arrested and the seizure of computer equipment and files:

According to Express News, employees were evacuated from the software company’s head office in Islamabad. Further, around 45 employees were rounded up, including HR and PR managers, to be taken to FIA headquarters.

The arrested Axact employees were shifted to FIA’s cyber-crime wing office.

The seven-member FIA team also seized hard disks, computers, other electronic equipment and documents belonging to the IT firm. The bags and mobile phones of department heads in Islamabad have also been seized.


The FIA also raided Axact’s call center in Rawalpindi and seized voice call and other devices. Axact’s regional director Colonel (retd) Jamil has been taken into custody.

With “university” names like Columbiana and Barkley, the cynicism of Axact’s scam is breathtaking. But once I started thinking about it, I realized that the new world of online degrees is a very cutthroat place with questionable marketing practices everywhere. Just right here in Gainesville, the University of Florida has raised many eyebrows with its decision this year to admit an extra 3000 students who would not otherwise be admitted and then inform them that they have to complete the first year of studies toward their degree online. But don’t worry, poor little online second class students, because at UF, even if you complete your entire degree online, your diploma won’t reflect that fact. Here’s the very first entry on the FAQ’s for UF online:


It’s a highly competitive world for those online degrees, whether they come from fake diploma mills, for-profit “universities” or traditional universities being forced by backwards legislators to come up with online competition.

Call me old-fashioned, but my concept of a university education involves an actual university with libraries housing real books, laboratories where real experiments can take place, lecture halls where students and professors actually interact face to face and a shared site where a community moves about freely. Sure, fake diplomas from legitimate universities do get penned now and then, but the market for fakery has been enabled greatly by the rapid expansion of online “learning”.

13 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    I respectfully dissent. Those “books” you like so much are, of course, the original “distance learning” tools. So, education made the leap from in-person to distance learning a long time ago. Online takes that one aspect (books) of education from paper to digital – not an issue at all these days. As to the physical presence and interactions involved in a university education, I agree it’s a great and desirable thing, but I would also would imagine there is many a college student who goes through four years never (or hardly ever) talking to a professor or asking questions or studying with other students. “Loners”, we call them. (And in most lecture halls, students do not interact with professors, I will also guess.) So, yes, I’ll call you old-fashioned. The real answer, I think, is that we need to teach our children the benefits of making friends and connections by “being there” in person.
    (By the way, I have never met or spoken with you, and never will, but we seem to interact quite well, you as the professor and me as the student who reads and learns and occasionally even “raises his hand” to comment.)

    • Jim White says:

      Perhaps, if the only degrees being considered are in the languages or some of the social sciences, it might work. But my bias is toward my history in the hard sciences, and there simply is no way to carry out legitimate laboratory instruction or experimentation with only a computer. The sciences just don’t work that way.

      • Jonf says:

        Does UF charge the same for an online degree and do they use the same texts and curriculum?

        • Jim White says:

          UF says the courses are the same and taught with the same rigor, so they must use the same books, too. I don’t think the tuition differs, either.

      • Evangelista says:

        I took all my undergrad ‘hard science’ above high-school physics and chem and all my maths above algebra one and geometry one by correspondence, the predecessor of online, because I could do a course a weekend and not waste time in boredom suffering for credits. I did two hours in a ‘college physics’ class, both spent going up and down the scales of scientific notation, and the third hour, the lab hour, I got kicked out of the lab for ‘unauthorized experimentation’. I was glad to go. My real learning I did through libraries and advanced tech journal reading, home experimenting and after-hours ‘lab-assistance’, some where I did not go to school, or work. For this I would say that all that is necessary to get a science education is interest in the subject, ability to use a library and a way to get hold of the materials and equipment you need to practice putting into practice. Today getting materials, for advanced physics and chemistry work especially is the next thing to impossible, since just about everything has ‘potential for abuse’ and some bunch of bureaucrtic idiots perched to pounce protectively, to question, call authorities and bring in experts to determine for authorizations, most of whom show the kind of knowledge that suggests their credentials are from SCAM-U. People also interested in your subjects, who you can bounce ideas around with, are a valuable plus, but you do not find those at UF size institutions. In addition, at UF and the like your ‘instructors’ nowadays are as likely as not ‘assistants whose attainment is having taken the same course but the year before you. Online, offline, all you get anywhere for anything nowadays appears to be a page to memorize and an abc or d test to regurgitate to, so education today is everywhere a ‘you pays your money , you gets your ignorance’ scam.

        • Jim White says:

          I’m glad that worked out for you, but I would posit that only a very select few people can pull off such a thing.
          And yes, higher education has been brutally put through demands to run it “like a business” by tight-fisted legislatures, but there are still a number of highly dedicated educators out there who place the priority on interaction with students to create a learning environment.
          Part of my irritation with the online craze is that I strongly believe higher education should be a right for everyone who wishes to attend. No student should have to take on debt to get an education, and they should be allowed to dedicate essentially full time to education if that is what they desire. We are far from that now, and the convoluted approaches many students have to take to getting an education opens the door for scams, whether run by hucksters or legislators.

          • Evangelista says:

            I agree re education. My point re math and science is that being sequentially and numerically and hierarchically logical, with memorization of process and terminology, they are the educational components compatible with text-practice-test methods. Philosophy, ethics, logic (verbal and situational), literary interpretation and evaluating histories (detecting truths from fictions) flatly require intellectual interaction, at least to get started doing the thinking and rethinking, for which I would put those off-limits for distance-learning. In fact, scheduling those kinds of classes in social settings would probably improve the learning.
            As for present day U.S. education, at larger institutions, the motto/purpose seems to be “indebt, indoctrinate, homologate (sports franchises)”.
            If I recall aright, Senator Fullbright, back about the middle of the last century had it figured out that education was essential to the defense of a nation. I think it was the educated opposing the Viet Nam war that led ‘leadership’ to their kitchens to cook up the ‘make students pay interest and graduate debt-slaves, dependent on income and afraid to oppose’ doctrine of today.

    • Bitter Angry Drunk says:

      Yeah, it’s like everything with the Internet: It’s a helluva enabler for good or evil. Just because it’s easy to give out fake degrees via the Internet doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a valuable educational tool.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    I do agree. And I would also emphasize my one comment, that there are tremendous benefits in being there”in person, regardless of the course of study. So much of learning is actually unstructured and informal.

  3. TarheelDem says:

    It seems that the credential model of the university has first been subverted by Clark Kerr’s multiversity in the 1960s, in which students discovered that credentials did not create jobs. And now those questionable credentials have been subverted by counterfeit credentials. And yet another scheme for monetizing the appearance of knowledge becomes commodified and corrupt.

    Maybe it’s the commodification and not the medium that is the contradiction in education.

    It’s a shame that neoliberalism won the 1970s economic war. R. Buckminster Fuller’s scheme of giving everyone cash grants for “research” with limited accountability was presaged on the idea that some people would get so bored doing nothing that they would work out ways of doing more with less that would support all of those who researched shooting pool until they too sought something different to explore. After all the major hassle with research isn’t really the insight, it’s the tedium of reporting it while suspending intervening insights.

  4. decader says:

    Try virtual worlds and artificial intelligence and just a well-built testing &instructional system. Like a Turing machine box it’ll get harder to tell the real thing for the clone. Not excusing the lame unchallenging remit learning paper mill

  5. lefty665 says:

    Several years ago my wife took a pair of on-line courses to renew her teaching certificate. She was surprised at the rigor of the classes, pleasantly after she got over the shock of thinking they were going to be easy. They were, if anything, harder than they would have been in person. They also included group projects that required students to interact.

    Seems that most anything but lab work can be as functional on line as in person. Perhaps even more so since you can work to your own schedule instead of a prof’s convenience.

    EE, math and physics lectures seem to be as suited for on-line as anything else. It would be a little harder to do an on-line lab in a semi-conductor fab, but a snap for a nukie, since that’s all remote already.

    Think Bloopie2 had it right in comment 1, on-line is mostly a variation on distance learning that was invented long, long ago.

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