Unaccredited institutions of higher education

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Unaccredited institutions of higher education are colleges, trade schools, seminaries, and universities which do not have formal educational accreditation.

Educational institutions may not be legally required to obtain independent accreditation, depending on local laws. Academic degrees or other qualifications from such unaccredited institutions may or may not be accepted by civil service or other employers, depending on the local laws, the institution's reputation, and the industry standards.

An institution may not obtain or maintain accreditation for one of several reasons. As accreditation processes often require several years' work, a new institution may not yet have completed the initial accreditation process. A long-established institution may have lost accreditation due to financial difficulties or other factors. Other 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.

All fraudulent diploma mills are also unaccredited schools, although they may claim accreditation from an unrecognized agency. Accreditation from such organizations, known derisively as accreditation mills, is unrecognized by any government or reputable private entity, and any courses taken or degrees received from such a school are generally considered invalid.


In Australia, it is a criminal offence to use the term "university" or to purport to offer university degrees (Bachelors, Masters, Doctors) without government authorization.[1] 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[2]


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."[3]


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.

The Netherlands[edit]

Dutch academic titles are legally protected and can only be used by graduates from accredited Dutch institutions of higher education. Illegal use is considered a misdemeanor and subject to legal prosecution.[4][5] Holders of foreign degrees need special permission before being able to use a recognised Dutch title, but they are free to use their own foreign title (untranslated).[6][7][8][9]

New Zealand[edit]

The New Zealand 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 Wellington 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.[10]

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 Zealand High Court to proceed to trial in its suit against the paper's publisher for defamation.[11] 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[edit]

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."[12] People who used these degrees were criminally charged.

Sri Lanka[edit]

According to Sri Lankan law, it is a criminal offense to use the term "university" or to purport to offer university degrees (Bachelors, Masters, Doctors) without government authorization in Sri Lanka.


In Switzerland no prior authorisation is required in order to offer higher education courses, organise examinations or issue private degrees. In certain cases, however, the federal or cantonal authorities, depending on their respective area of authority, will supervise private institutions and/or authorise them to offer courses and issue degrees. This supervision means that private institutions are required to accept a certain amount of public control. They must undergo quality inspections if they wish to issue protected titles that will be recognised as such. Non protected titles are nevertheless common. Private institutions that are not part of Switzerland's public higher education sector, are not compatible with it, or are not entirely supervised by public authorities offer a different, but not necessarily lower, level of quality. There are several prestigious private institutions that are entirely independent from Switzerland's public higher education sector. Not all private institutions are prestigious, however. Apart from particularly regulated cases, Swiss tradition has been to allow clients or the labour market itself to decide whether a private institution offers education quality rather than to leave this decision up to the State Validity of degrees issued by private institutions in Switzerland.[13] However, the institutional titles of university, university of applied science, university institute and university of applied science institute are protected by law and may only be used by publicly accredited institutions.[14]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom only institutions with degree awarding powers awarded by royal charter or by or under an act of parliament can grant degrees, and courses leading to UK degrees can only be offered by these institutions or institutions validated by an institution with degree awarding powers (with the exception of a small number of "recognised awards" that are specifically designated by the Secretary of State). However, it is not an offence for overseas bodies to offer their own qualifications in Britain as long as it is made clear that these are not UK degrees. A list of "recognised bodies" that have degree awarding powers, "listed bodies" that offer courses leading to degrees from recognised bodies, and "recognised awards" is maintained by the British government.[15][16] The government also maintains a list of educational institutions that are entitled to sponsor students for visas, although lack of inclusion on this list does not necessarily imply that an institution is 'bogus', merely that they are not licensed to sponsor students for visas.[17]

United States of America[edit]

Unlike in some countries, the term "college" or "university" is not legally protected in the United States on a national level; however, such terms are restricted by some states.[18][19] The federal government does not accredit any institutions or programs, either inside or outside of the United States. Instead, it maintains a list of valid, reliable, independent accrediting agencies, including private organizations and, for vocational schools, state accrediting agencies.[20] The agency maintains a complete list of accredited institutions and programs online.[21]

Most states require degree-issuing higher education institutions to obtain a basic business license—the same simple paperwork required of any business, such as a day care center or a grocery store—and to register with the state or to have other formal authorization in order to enroll students or issue degrees; however, these legal authorizations are not the same as educational accreditation. Some U.S. state laws allow authorities to shut down illegal operations of unaccredited schools or diploma mills.[22] In others, particularly, Idaho, Hawaii, Montana, and California, the state permits anyone to claim to operate a college and issue degrees with essentially no oversight.[23] Additionally, in 21 jurisdictions, unaccredited religious degree-granting schools are exempted from government oversight.[24]

Students studying at an unaccredited institution are never eligible for financial aid, including student loans, through any government agency. It is legal for the school itself or other private entities to offer financial assistance to students.

Some unaccredited institutions and programs provide significant, legitimate academic work.[25] In others, the "college" is little more than a mailbox to which money is sent.[25]

Any degrees issued may or may not be valid for obtaining professional licenses or employment. Generally speaking, within academic and government circles, such degrees are rejected, but within the business world, they may be acceptable for certain purposes.[26][27] Using a diploma from an unrecognized institution to obtain employment or for any other purpose is illegal in some states.[27] Criminal penalties may apply should such a degree be fraudulently presented in lieu of one from an accredited school.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Role of the Australian Government". Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Archived from the original on 2005-07-17.
  2. ^ "Fake Degrees and Unaccredited Higher Education Providers". Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Archived from the original on 2005-05-25.
  3. ^ "Brief Write - Fake Universities/institutions". Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development. Archived from the original on 2006-10-09.
  4. ^ "Art. 435 Sr" (in Dutch). Wetten.overheid.nl. 2009-10-21. Archived from the original on 18 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-08.
  5. ^ "Art. 435 Sr (translated by Google)" (in Dutch). Translate.google.nl. Retrieved 2010-07-08.
  6. ^ Article 7.23, paragraph 3 of the Dutch Higher Education and Scientific Research Act provides the Informatie Beheer Groep (now called DUO, i.e. the Service for Implementing the Education) with the possibility to grant such a permission
  7. ^ Informatie Beheer Groep (IB-Groep) is a service (now called DUO) of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science <http://www.ibgroep.nl/International_visitors/Welcome.asp>[permanent dead link].
  8. ^ More information on legislation on "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2009-01-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link).
  9. ^ Application forms via Application for a recognized Dutch title (in Dutch) Archived 2010-07-14 at the Wayback Machine and Application for a recognized Dutch title (in English) Archived 2010-11-24 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ David Cohen, New Zealand Vows a Crackdown on Diploma Mills in Wake of Unusual Defamation Lawsuit, The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 26, 2004
  11. ^ ""University" cleared to sue for defamation". AUS Tertiary Update. Vol. 32 no. 2. 2 September 2004. Archived from the original on 30 December 2004. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  12. ^ South Korea - Bogus diploma ring busted, Taipei Times, March 21, 2006
  13. ^ http://www.sbfi.admin.ch/themen/hochschulen/01641/index.html?lang=de&download=NHzLpZeg7t,lnp6I0NTU042l2Z6ln1acy4Zn4Z2qZpnO2Yuq2Z6gpJCDfYN_e2ym162epYbg2c_JjKbNoKSn6A-- Archived 2013-06-29 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-01-09. Retrieved 2017-01-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ "Recognised UK degrees". Gov.uk. 15 September 2016. Bogus degrees. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  16. ^ "Check if a university or college is officially recognised". Gov.uk. 4 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  17. ^ "Register of licensed sponsors: students". UK Visas and Immigration. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  18. ^ "New York State Education Law Section 224". Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  19. ^ "New York State Limited Liability Company Law Section 204". Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  20. ^ Accreditation in the United States: Overview of Accreditation U.S. Department of Education. (25 April 2011)
  21. ^ The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs Archived 2009-07-16 at the Wayback Machine U.S. Department of Education.
  22. ^ "Diploma Witness Won’t Talk", Los Angeles Mirror News, October 23, 1957
  23. ^ Diploma Mills Archived 2015-04-08 at the Wayback Machine. Office of Degree Authorization, Oregon. Quotation: "Some states have lax standards that allow almost anyone to operate a “college”...Idaho, Hawaii, Montana, and California have either no meaningful standards, excessive loopholes or poor enforcement owing to local policy or insufficient staff."[dead link]
  24. ^ Oregon Student Assistance Commission Office of Degree Authorization (ODA): Religious Exempt Schools Archived 2011-02-21 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ a b Diploma Mills. Office of Degree Authorization, Oregon. Quotation: "“Mail drop” degree mills are simply fraud, a way for unscrupulous hucksters to make money while providing no service. More substantive degree mills devalue college degrees by making them available without college-level work. This makes all degrees suspect and confuses employers and professional licensing boards that need to know whether a person has an appropriate educational background....Not all unaccredited colleges are necessarily degree mills in the traditional sense of the term. Some unaccredited colleges provide legitimate academic work."
  26. ^ College Accreditation FAQs: "Will an unaccredited degree be accepted as legitimate?" Archived 2011-04-23 at the Wayback Machine (20 January 2010)
  27. ^ a b U.S. Department of Education, Diploma Mills and Accreditation