Crackdown on fake universities launched in England
A crackdown on fake universities in England has been ordered by ministers.
The aim is to prosecute and take down fraudulent websites masquerading as genuine degree-awarding institutions, says the government.
The move follows evidence of 190 bogus universities offering fake degree certificates.
"It will help protect the reputation of the UK as a provider of high-quality education," said England's Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson.
Mr Johnson said the government had appointed Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) - set up four years ago to provide degree verification for job applications and postgraduate courses - to "expose unscrupulous organisations and remove misleading websites wherever they make an appearance".
"Such action is in the interests of all legitimate providers and genuine students," he said.
Last year, a BBC investigation found fake University of Kent degree certificates on sale online for £500.
BBC Radio Kent discovered a website in China selling degree certificates from dozens of UK universities.
HEDD business services director Jayne Rowley said: "Degree fraud is a serious problem.
"In the first quarter of this year alone we added 42 bogus institutions to the database, and there are thousands of fake degree certificates in circulation.
"It is easy to see why people would be tricked into thinking they could get a genuine degree from these websites.
"On the surface they appear credible.
"They use the word university in their title, and many imitate legitimate sites with all of the information you would expect from study guides to lecturers words of welcome and student testimonials.
"Innocent applicants can be duped out of thousand of pounds to end up with a worthless piece of parchment with a fancy seal."
"Campuses" described on the websites were often "actually just mailing addresses or virtual offices", said Ms Rowley.
"Coursework can amount to no more than listing your skills based on life experience or specifying the degree you want," she said.
"If you are offered a degree for little effort and a minimal fee, you have to question its legitimacy."