By: M Najmuz Zafar

MUSCAT: Mohammed is a mechanical engineer from Rochville University, Christo a civil engineer from Ashford University and Joe a business management graduate from Mount Lincoln University.

Only, none of these universities exist, but the degrees they bought have landed the three men plush jobs in Oman. These bogus online varsities or degree mills are just a few of the hundreds on the Web that are targeting people in the sultanate by offering a degree of choice. The only criteria for these degrees happens to be, without a doubt, valid credit cards. The applicant does not need to attend online classes or make study submissions, and the degrees are sent in a little over a fortnight.

What the proud ‘mechanical engineer’ Mohammed doesn’t realise is that among his fellow alumni is Chester Ludlow, a dog.

The Vermont pug became the first dog to be awarded an online master’s degree based on his ‘work and life experience credentials’ in 2009 for US$400.

The pet dog was registered by as part of its experiment to name and shame degree mills like Rochville while creating awareness about genuine online learning programmes.

Meanwhile, Rochville’s degrees, awarded based on work experience, continue to be listed by hundreds of professionals on their LinkedIn resumes, many of them working in Oman.

“A lot of people get attracted to these online degrees, which are backed by aggressive marketing and wide presence on the Internet. Many people have informed us about the practice,” said Asha Thomas, chief education advisor, GlobalEdu. She added that there are many who think they can get away with these degrees, since they have been awarded by US or UK-based institutions.

The modus operandi

When Muscat Daily registered with Mount Lincoln University, a live chat window popped up on its website during which the ‘student advisor’ enquired about the ‘applicant’s’ work experience and agreed to offer a master’s in management for US$599. The fees was quickly brought down to US$400.

Also on offer was a PhD for US$799 in a topic chosen by the applicant; both degrees to be delivered in 15-20 days. The university would organise the thesis too – an external process that would cost US$900-US$1,500 for a 150-page document.

A professor arranged by the university could suggest topics for the thesis, the advisor said. The degrees are based on Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) that covers experience, academic background and achievements. “Taking past experiences into consideration we will convert your working hours into college credits and that’s how we will award you with the degree, without you attending any courses or classes online,” he said.

The advisor said thousands from Oman approach the varsity and that it also arranges for apostille and embassy legalisation service. He said it was possible to get the degree attested at the Omani Embassy in the US, a claim which the embassy has categorically denied.

An official from the Cultural Division of the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman in the US, told Muscat Daily said that it has ‘received complaints from some Omani citizens regarding the fake degrees and non-US accredited institutions’.


Beware, says Oman’s embassy in US

“Our office responds to any enquiry about accreditation of institutions in the US. Those who contacted our office either directly or through the Ministry of Higher Education were provided with the accreditation of institutions they enquire about. “Our office does not authenticate or legalise any credentials from unaccredited institutions. If they claim that they can legalise unaccredited documents from our office that will be a false claim,” said Hassan Ahmed Abdelnabi, senior academic advisor at the embassy’s cultural division.

Mohammad Sami, a professional working in Oman, too was targeted by Mount Lincoln University. Sami said that his wife was attracted to an advertisement on Facebook about an online degree programme for people in Oman.

“Clicking on the link she was asked to fill a few details, after which I was bombarded with calls every day. Initially, I felt I could use their services for a valid online degree, but I found that they were willing to give me any degree I wanted within 15 days for US$499. Taking up their offer quickly could also get me a US$100 scholarship.”

Luckily, Sami was aware of degree mills and ignored the calls till they stopped.