Two weeks and £4,500 (about $7,300) was all it took for one Peter Smith to receive an MBA from American University of London (AUOL), without having to complete a bit of coursework or vie for any prized internships.
Not a bad way to earn a Masters, especially if you consider that Peter Smith’s credentials (including his university degree and work experience) were completely made up and that the erstwhile applicant is actually Pete, a four-year-old Lurcher who has been living at the Battersea Dogs’ Home in the U.K.
AOUL touts itself as a leader in distance learning that has awarded degrees in business, informational technology, law, English and other disciplines to more than 100,000 students worldwide. But the university’s academic standards and programs seem to be other, and less, than what it claims, as BBC Newsnight reveals.
BBC Newsnight submitted an application for Pete with entirely fictitious credentials and without a photo, even though AUOL’s website said that a photo is required on an application. Just four days later, AUOL sent Pete an e-mail saying that his application for a degree was successful based on previous experience and that, once the university had received his £4,500 fee, he would be registered as an MBA graduate within about two weeks.
“No, no, apparently the APEL [Accreditation of Previous Experiential Learning] board awarded him the full degree immediately based on his qualification and his professional experience, so he doesn’t have to do any courses.”
Jan Bamford of London Met University, which offers an accredited MBA program, told the BBC that she found it “incredible that any organization is awarding an MBA on what essentially amounts to the evidence that is on a piece of paper.”
Bamford also called on the government to better regulate schools like AUOL. AUOL appears to be “of London” in name only; as its website states, it is incorporated in St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean. Its phone number can be traced to Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, as can the bank that university fees are paid to. Both AOUL’s founder, Professor Michael Nimier, and its registrar, Sonia Grimes, live in Beaconsfield, says the BBC.
An academic institution must be recognized by Parliament to award British degrees. But actually cracking down on less than academically rigorous institutions like AUOL is not necessarily easy as “it is perfectly legal to give the impression that a university is run in the UK even when in reality it is incorporated overseas,” says the BBC.
Online courses have become a fixture in higher education; you can now obtain a Master’s degree from a MOOC. Even while people debate the effectiveness of such massively enrolled courses, online education programs now seemed poised to go mainstream. It truly goes without saying that the online student must beware in choosing programs. Ironically, Pete’s acquiring an MBA via AUOL suggests that, even though MOOCs are free, they may provide a better education (though not, in most cases, a degree).
Pete has indeed gotten his share of internet fame as a result of serving as BBC Newsnight’s “test case” for earning (or rather buying) an MBA from AUOL. The Battersea Dogs’ Home site shows that he is still looking for a family. Says Rob Young, Head of Dog Rehoming, “Like a number of dogs in our care, Pete has been at Battersea for over three times the average stay and is really deserving of a loving new family that will enjoy having a scholar in the family. Pete’s ready to pack his degree and books and show his new owners how clever he is.”
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