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2017-07-11 11:55:52

A Beijing business has been caught selling bogus academic degrees from foreign universities that looked so authentic they were signed off on by the Chinese government, according to an investigation by China’s state broadcaster.

The company, Qianhe Jiaye, sold counterfeit international credentials to people who had not studied abroad but still wanted the better career opportunities enjoyed by returnee students, China Central Television reported Saturday. They charged 100,000 yuan ($14,700) per degree, which included authentication from the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE), a department under the Ministry of Education.

Qianhe Jiaye forged the exit and entry stamps needed to prove that applicants had actually studied abroad. The CCTV report said that the company bribed employees of the CSCSE to verify the degrees they submitted without contacting the universities they were supposedly from. CSCSE could not be reached for comment.

“This is illegal and a very serious matter,” Xiong Bingqi, vice president of Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, told Sixth Tone. CSCSE should be investigated for their lapses, he said: “This is their responsibility.”

China’s education system is notoriously cutthroat, with many parents giving their children extracurricular classes from a young age with the hope that they will one day enroll at an elite university — preferably abroad. Returnee graduates, known as haigui, enjoy higher starting salaries and better benefits. According to a recent report, 66 out of 80 employers in Beijing said they would give preferential treatment to graduates from international universities.

Every year, millions of fresh graduates dive into the job market, and the pressure to perform has created a market for illicit diploma mills, many of which claim to be affiliated with top schools. In 2014, a man was arrested in Beijing for swindling money from 2,000 students in return for fake Chinese university degrees, and in a similar scam, nine men were charged with selling fake degrees in 2012.

Forging academic certificates is a profitable industry. Last year, Qianhe Jiaye earned some 100 million yuan, according to CCTV.

While most students successfully climb the employment ladder on their own, a small minority feel compelled to cheat and purchase fake certificates, said Greg Nance, founder of Dyad, an online mentorship platform that helps Chinese students get into international universities.

“Fraudulent businesses have identified an opportunity and will continue exploiting students and their families,” Nance told Sixth Tone. “Ultimately, they undermine the students who have worked honorably for these credentials.”

Additional reporting: Savannah Billman; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A woman stands in front of a counter at a study abroad fair in Beijing, May 8, 2008. Zhang Bin/VCG)