Degree of scepticism required: China warns students over fake universities

China has named and shamed 30 “fake universities”, warning millions of students to steer clear of the bogus institutions as they prepare to enter higher education.

The fraudulent universities are spread across 12 Chinese provinces, including Beijing and Shanghai, the country’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported on Tuesday.

The institutions are part of a wider racket in which fraudsters trick prospective students into sending tuition fees to companies posing as legitimate higher education providers.

But the deception does not always stop there: there have been reports of Chinese students spending years at fake bricks and mortar colleges only to discover on the eve of graduation that they have been duped into studying for worthless degrees.

China’s fake universities often have strikingly similar names to bona fide schools. Among the 30 institutions denounced this week are the Beijing Xinghua University, the Beijing Foreign Affairs Studies College, the Sichuan Vocational University of Technology and the Beijing Great Wall Research and Studies Institute.

The problem has become so serious that a special website was set up in 2013 to track the phenomenon.

Xia Xue, who runs that website, told Xinhua: “It is easy to see through the trick when they fake the names of well-known universities, but it is more difficult to identify if lesser-known institutions are faked.”

Last year Xia’s group denounced 118 fake universities. “The exposed schools have used deceptive names and official websites that are similar to real, well-known universities,” the China Daily newspaper reported at the time.

Some of the fake institutions reportedly pillaged photographs and information about courses and departments from the websites of genuine universities.

The latest list of fraudulent faculties was released this month in a bid to protect the up to nine million college students who are currently preparing their university applications.

But those enrolled at fake universities are not always innocent victims. In some cases students who fare badly in China’s notoriously stressful answer to A-levels – the gaokao – have looked to the illegal institutions as a way of securing an easy, if phoney, diploma.

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