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2016-05-20 15:31:48

Dozens of organizations across China are selling college degrees for the price of dinner, according to a new report.

Academic information platform sdaxue.com partnered with search engine Baidu to identify 73 groups offering illegal degrees, some for as little as 150 yuan (around $23).

The report comes as millions of senior middle school students prepare for the gaokao, China’s national higher education entrance examination, and narrow down their choices of preferred schools.

The Ministry of Education recognized 2,845 higher education institutions in 2015; those it doesn’t recognize are not legally authorized to issue degrees.

The organizations go by names that sound genuine — some even strategically appropriating the names of now-defunct colleges and universities — and live behind websites that otherwise appear authentic.

“Shandong Institute of Management Technology,” named similarly to other management schools in Shandong province, offers diplomas for 200 yuan. “Tongji Medical University, Beijing,” which offers a degree for 300 yuan, was apparently inspired by Tongji Medical College, a top medical school in China.

In reality, they’re no more than just names.

“These schools have nothing,” said Xiong Bingqi, vice president of 21st Century Education Research Institute, a not-for-profit organization that conducts research on education policy. “No campuses, no courses, no curricula, no teachers.”

On the faculty introduction page for the Shanghai Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, one teacher, Professor Bo Derong, has an astonishing breadth of specialties, including law, finance management, politics, tourism, and psychology.

Professor Bo also seems to be an expert in teleportation technology. The same profile appears on the faculty page of the Beijing Modern Economics and Management Institute, over 1,200 kilometers away.

The schools aim to fool not just unsuspecting students, but also employers and HR representatives hastily poring over job applications.

Xiong told Sixth Tone that recruiters often search the Web for information about an applicant’s university, not the Ministry of Education’s official database of accredited schools. Some dishonest job seekers use this to their advantage.

“It’s fraud,” Xiong said.

Baidu now alerts net users when they’ve searched for a fake school, linking them to the government’s official database.

The revelations of artifice have been met with ire on Chinese social media platforms.

“This only damages educational equality,” one user said. “Treating education like a joke is the equivalent of treating the future of our country like a joke. Education is fundamental.”

According to an article from last year by the China Daily, the Ministry of Education issues a list of accredited institutions every year to combat the problem, but eliminating the fraudulent organizations is a game of cat and mouse. The groups are known to register their websites overseas, and their faculty and administration are imaginary.

Authorities did successfully shutter one diploma mill in 2011. Wang Zhiwei, the president of the Beijing International Finance Academy, was sentenced to life in prison in 2013 for his role in the scam.

However fraudulent, there seems to be plenty of demand. According to the China Daily report, the organization made more than 36 million yuan before being shut down.

Additional reporting by Wang Lianzhang.

(Header image: A job seeker raises his hand while making a phone call as he queues to enter a job fair for college students at a university in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, March 19, 2011. Sean Yong/Reuters)