Phoney university busted

Anna Croall 20 January 2008

Abogus university targeting foreign students was offering fake qualifications to thousands of unknowing fee-payers, it has been revealed.

Staging its ceremonies at Oxford and Cambridge universities, the Irish International University has been offering useless qualifications since its establishment in 2000.

A BBC report last week revealed the full extent of the scam. Though officials at the ‘university’ claimed government approval, the Chief Executive of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, Sean O’Foghlu, insisted that “no such approval has been given by our department.”

Claims that all qualifications issued by the institution were accredited by the ‘Quality Assurance Commission’, which were made by university boss and Executive President, Professor Hardeep Singh Sandhu, appeared legitimate. But it was then revealed that there was no such Commission, and that the company was in fact listed under Professor Sandhu’s name.

It is not just the institution itself that has thrived under bogus claims of accreditation. The BBC investigation revealed the extent of the deception when it looked into the various academic claims of associates of the university. Professor Sandhu was found to have received his degree from another unaccredited university, and his honorary professorship from a European association set up to give them out.

The university’s Honorary Chancellor, listed under the name Baron Knowth, was found in reality to be a very successful accountant, Professor Jeffrey Wooller, who spends much of his year in Monaco to avoid tax. Indeed, Prof Wooller admitted, when being questioned by an undercover reporter, that “The whole thing’s dodgy.”

Since being outed by the investigation, the university has removed all claims of accreditation by the QAC from its website, and has been banned from using facilities at Oxford and Cambridge.

The government has assured the public that it is going to great lengths to ensure that all institutions wishing to bring in foreign students will require government accreditation by 2009.

In response to the BBC report, Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said: “Our universities are rightly regarded as world class and any attempt by bogus institutions or conmen to tarnish this hard won reputation will not be tolerated.”

Anna Croall