Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Organised Chaos: CAMFORD & OXBRIDGE

But today I had some serious procrastinating to do, so I thought, let's see how this thing works, and more importantly, how it differs to your run-of-the-mill diploma err.. mill. Referring to our good Shaikh al-Wikipedia, a diploma mill is essentially:

an organization which awards academic degrees and diplomas with very little or no academic study and without recognition by official accrediting bodies. Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines a diploma mill as "An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless."[1] Such organizations are unaccredited, but they often claim accreditation by non-recognized/unapproved organizations set up for the purposes of providing a veneer of authenticity.

For a brilliant expose on US Diploma Mills, check out this presentation (.pdf, Adobe Reader required).

So, the Irish International University, which recently held its convocation in Malaysia recently and was attended by dignitaries and key officials, isn't really a university in the traditional sense. But we already know that, for they profess of it in a Borneo Post article. It doesn't have a campus.. and from what I see, all it is at the moment, is a website, incorporated in Ireland, hence the name. The actual administration is done from Oxbridge College in London, which gives an funny looking address - 3rd Floor, Ilford, 1G1 4TG. Ilford is a rather big place, bigger than one building, plus typo in the postcode too: it should read, IG1 4TG. Google Maps has this image of the location:


Now the Oxbridge College itself doesn't seem to offer any courses, but its associate colleges and institutions do. I tried to suss out what it took for me to get a PhD. One associate institution offered a Professional DBA - the EBS. Yes, European Business School, but not to be confused with the European Business School based in Regents' Park, London; this one is based in Cambridge. As it turns out, two different creatures altogether: one a posh private university and the other.. well.. the other is this one.

It took me a while to suss out how it worked, and chances are my reasoning is still flawed. So feel free to jump in at anytime. Anyhow, in theory, if you wanted a doctorate:

You could sign up for a course at the European Business School - Cambridge. The Professional DBA looks to be a bit of hard work. You need to provide a 50k word thesis and two published articles in order to be awarded a doctorate; but you can write the thesis in any language you want, in any area you want. Fromt this I take it, there is nothing stopping you from writing a thesis on the Observed Effects of Post-World Cup Syndrome among Malaysian PhD Students, in Swahili.

The Euro DBA offers a shorter route: stage one accredits you for 'life experience'; stage two requires you to take a course called the Cambridge Residential Euro DBA Programme. This you do at the European Business School-Cambridge, taught by the Cambridge Academy of Management faculty - again, NOT to be confused with the Judge Business School at Cambridge University.

So, what does the Cambridge Academy of Management offer? In its own words, it offers an endorsement program to validate professional and in-house training schemes. So hypothetically.. yes, hypothetically, I could have my firm hold an in-house training scheme that consists of two weeks of pure dossing and watching the World Cup, and I could get it endorsed by the Cambridge Academy of Management. Assuming that it meets their standards, because I don't know how rigorous those standards are - the website doesn't tell me.

Having done that, stage three requires you to prepare a Business Portfolio. This isn't as hard as it seems - all you need to do, based on this document, is provide a brief self-description and that of your organisation. Then you are to write an analysis on what you think leadership is, and wax lyrical about a management idol of yours. The next section has you writing about examples of leadership dilemmas, followed by a section on how newly acquired knowledge affects leadership. Then you conclude. Tadaaa.. you meet the requirements to be awarded a Euro DBA. After you part with 12,500 euro, that is.

But who gives you the accreditation? Well, you get your DBA cert from the European Business School - Cambridge, and the Oxford Institute of Management (not to be confused with Oxford Investment Management, which is actually affiliated with the University of Oxford itself) will endorse your certificate for you. For £600, you get a certificate that says you are a Certified DBA.

Or you could go to the Cambridge Association of Managers, and which offers you the possibility get a doctorate in anything you want, based on life experience. All this, of course, overseen by the Quality Assurance Commission-UK, which is actually a registered company more than a governmental body. Academic progams in the UK are actually seen to by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).

So who are the QAC? I don't know. I have my suspicions, in as much as I believe that all the above bodies belong to the same intricate network. More sleuthing needs to be done in order to find the links, but even with Google this is not easy. For instance, the QAC Commissioner-General is conveniently named Peter Kay - yes, Google that name and chances are you'll meet Max and Paddy instead: there is a British comic with the same name.

Still, the QAC is listed in the British Qualifications guidebook, which means its legit. As are all the other companies. I don't see direct fraud committed here by the companies involved. If there is fraud at all, it is more clearly being perpetrated by people passing off as being more qualified than they are. But even then, qualifications are subjective, very much a human construct. So what's wrong with these qualifications? They are non-traditional, yes. But whoever said non-traditional was bad? I leave you to judge this.

So, is it fraud? I don't know. Strictly speaking I don't think so. I mean, you get what you paid for, right? A degree. You didn't pay for an education. Besides, I haven't got all the answers yet. Like I said, this is one intricate network, and what you see here is the results of just an hour's work. (Okay, the writing up made the whole process stretch into two hours).

But to summarise: here are my key observations:

1) All the aforementioned institutions are legit. They are not doing anything illegal, as far as my Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney eyes can see. They are all registered companies, and for all intents and purposes, are proper businesses. That's just it, though. They are a business - not a university institution. Hence the lack of the domain on their website. .ac websites are not the same as; and in the US, American educational institutions use .edu, not .ac. See here.

2) There is a propensity to use the names Oxford and Cambridge a lot; the branding power is maximised here, as you associate Oxford and Cambridge with excellence in education. There is also a propensity to name institutions similar to other leading institutions, especially when it comes to acronyms - see above examples : European Business School and European Business School-Cambridge, OXIM, etc.

3) There is nothing wrong with rewarding life experience, per se. What is disturbing, to me at least, is the need to equate life experience qualifications with that of academic qualifications. As argued above, qualifications are a human construct; and therefore, you can make it whatever you want it to be. But if your qualifications are based on experience, it is unfair to call it the same qualification as what was attained via academic study. They are not the same - someone with a life experience Masters would not be able to secure positions that an academic Masters could: for example, teaching positions at university. So it is unfair to equate them.

4) The Irish International University have always been transparent about who they are, and what they do. You can see this in the various newspaper article write-ups that are available.

5) I am not assured about the indepedence of the affiliate institutions, While they declare themselves to be independent, it is not made clear of whom they are independent from. Is it the UK government, or the institutions which they accredit? I have insufficient information at this point to ascertain any interlocking elements in the governance of any of the associated institutions, and therefore, will reserve my judgment for until more information is available.



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