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Unaccredited institutions of higher education are colleges, seminaries, and universities lacking educational accreditation.

Degree or other qualifications from unaccredited institutions may not be accepted by civil service or other employers.

An institution may lack accreditation for one of several reasons. A new institution may not yet have attained accreditation, while a long-established institution may have lost accreditation due to financial difficulties or other factors. Some unaccredited institutions are fraudulent diploma mills. Some institutions (for example, some Bible colleges and seminaries) choose not to participate in the accreditation process because they view it as an infringement of their religious, academic, or political freedom.

Legal issues and considerations


In Australia, it is a criminal offence use the term "university" or to purport to offer university degrees (Bachelors, Masters, Doctors) without government authorization. This authorization is generally given in the form of an Act of a State or Federal Parliament, specifically referring to that institution. (Each state will recognize the institutions authorized under the law of the other states.)

Separate to this, there is also the authorization under the Higher Education Funding Act to receive federal government funds for students; this is a separate process from authorization to grant degrees, so some institutions are entitled to grant degrees but not to receive government funds to do so.

There is also registration under CRICOS (the ESOS Act) - a student visa can only be issued to a student if they are studying at an institution with a valid CRICOS registration


All universities and colleges are currently state or municipal organs, funded directly from public funds. There is no process for accrediting private universities, and public universities are not allowed to collect tuition fees from full-time students. The last private university to be nationalized was Åbo Akademimarker (1981).


According to the India Department of Education, regarding institutions without accreditation or an Act of Parliament, "It is emphasized that these fake institutions have no legal entity to call themselves as University/Vishwvidyalaya and to award ‘degrees’ which are not treated as valid for academic/employment purposes."


Legitimate higher education qualifications in Ireland are placed on, or formally aligned, with the National Framework of Qualifications. This framework was established by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland in accordance with the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act (1999). It is illegal under the Universities Act (1997) for any body offering higher education services to use the term "university" without the permission of the Minister for Education and Science. It is likewise illegal under the Institutes of Technologies Acts (1992-2006) to use the term "institute of technology" or "regional technical college" without permission.

New Zealand

The New Zealandmarker Education Act prohibits use of the terms "degree" and "university" by institutions other than the country's eight accredited universities. In 2004 authorities announced their intention to take action against unaccredited schools using the words "degree" and "university," including the University of Newlands, an unaccredited distance-learning provider based in the Wellingtonmarker suburb of Newlands. Other unaccredited New Zealand institutions reported to be using the word "university" included the New Zealand University of Golf in Auckland, the online Tawa-Linden and Tauranga Universities of the Third Age, and the Southern University of New Zealand. Newlands owner Rochelle M. Forrester said she would consider removing the word "university" from the name of her institution in order to comply with the law.

After the University of Newlands was listed as a "wannabe" or "degree mill" by The Australian newspaper, the institution was given permission by the New Zealandmarker High Court to proceed to trial in its suit against the paper's publisher for defamation. The presiding judge noted that such degrees may be illegal and that purporting to offer such degrees could be deemed dishonest or unethical conduct. He also ruled that defamation occurs in the country where the material is downloaded from the Internet. In December 2005 the Court of Appeal said the defamation case could not go ahead. Newlands and Ms. Forrester had not shown it had a good arguable case that an act had been done in New Zealand for which damages could be claimed from a party outside New Zealand. Without their showing a good arguable case, New Zealand courts would not assume jurisdiction.

South Korea

In March 2006 prosecutors in Seoul had "broken up a crime ring selling bogus music diplomas from Russia, which helped many land university jobs and seats in orchestras." People who used these degrees were criminally charged.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdommarker the institution offering degrees must be accredited and a list maintained by the Department for Education and Skills.Prosecutions under the Education Reform Act are rare, as many of the bodies on the internet are based outside UK jurisdiction.

Prosecutions under other legislation do occur. In 2004 Thames Valley College in London was prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act for offering degrees from the 'University of North America', a limited liability company set up by themselves in the US with no academic staff and no premises other than a mail forwarding service.

United States of America

Unlike in some countries, the term "university" is not protected in the United Statesmarker. Most of the individual state require higher education institutions within the state to be licensed or have other formal legal authorization in order to enroll students or issue degrees, but these legal authorizations are not the same as educational accreditation. The most reliable source for verifying information about a school, including its accreditation status, is the US Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and its College Opportunities Online (COOL) link. Lists of accredited institutions may be obtained from the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

In the United States, unaccredited degrees may not be acceptable for academic positions, state or federal civil service or other employment; in certain cases and circumstances criminal penalties may even apply should such a degree be presented in lieu of a degree from an accredited institution. Unaccredited degree use is illegal or restricted in Oregonmarker, New Jerseymarker, Indianamarker, Illinoismarker, North Dakotamarker, Nevadamarker and Texasmarker, where the use of a fraudulent degree is typically considered a misdemeanor. Many other states are also considering restrictions on the use of degrees from unaccredited institutions. Institutions offering purely religious degrees or training are exempt from licensing requirements in some states, subject to specific rules in each state.

See also


  1. David Cohen, New Zealand Vows a Crackdown on Diploma Mills in Wake of Unusual Defamation Lawsuit, The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 26, 2004
  3. South Korea - Bogus diploma ring busted, Taipei Times, March 21, 2006
  6. Diploma mills provide phony credentials, By Helena Andrews, The Capital Times/Medill News Service, February 14, 2005
  7. Is Oregon the only state that disallows use of unaccredited degrees? Oregon Office of Degree Authorization
  8. Connecticut State Website Report Exemptions from the Higher Education Licensing Process for Religious Colleges

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