Bogus university ‘degree mill’ targeting foreign students
Hardeep Singh running unaccredited Isles International University with Dublin address
Fairview Park, Dublin: Isles International University, registered to a post box in the local area, reported an income of €115,000 in 2017, according to financial accounts. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
A bogus university selling unaccredited qualifications to overseas students is operating out of Dublin, as part of an international “degree mill” network.
Hardeep Singh (54) is the president of “Isles International University”, which has been operating in Ireland for nearly two decades under various names.
Isles International poses online as a Dublin-based college offering degrees in accounting, business and human resources. The company is not an accredited higher education institution, and targets overseas students with the promise of earning an Irish university qualification online that holds “international recognition”.
Last year the company, which is registered to a post box in Fairview, north Dublin, reported an income of €115,000, according to financial accounts. The title of university is legally protected, so the group are registered under the name “Institud Idirnaiseuinta na hEireann den Aontas Eorpach”.
The company does not have a physical office in Ireland, yet declared expenditure of €50,400 in office expenses, and €31,000 in utilities, over the last two years. The company spent €17,000 on travel costs, and €8,800 on graduation costs, according to its 2017 accounts.
The company says on its website its qualifications are backed by the “Quality Assurance Commission” (QAC) of the United Kingdom. However the QAC is simply a company name registered in the UK by Mr Singh, to a post box in Riverside Business Park, Wales.
Previously the group went by the name Irish International University, and European Business School. Degree mills in most cases sell unaccredited qualifications attained after a short period of work online.
Mr Singh, founder of the bogus university, is living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Mr Shephard told The Irish Times.
Credo Trust offers online courses for professional diplomas, sometimes under the moniker Cambridge Global Learning. Courses include diplomas in “accelerative learning”, and the group does not claim to offer academic degrees.
Documentation for an online “postgraduate professional diploma”, the fee for which is £1,150, states the course is accredited by the QAC. The document goes on to claim students will be able to proceed to a PhD in behavioural science elsewhere afterwards.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Shephard said he is only involved in the “academic side” of the business, such as assessing students’ work.
Credo Trust have students “from all over the world”, he said, mainly in developing countries, who complete projects online which are then assessed.
“With regards to the accreditation [of] qualifications, we have a highly qualified board of advisers, of 12 people from 10 countries, of which most have a PhD, each a recognised expert in their respective field,” Mr Shephard said.
Mr Singh and Mr Shephard are between them involved with five other UK companies operating as education providers, including the Oxford College of Management, a site offering doctorates and masters in business administration. All the company names are registered to the same Welsh post box as the QAC.
Mr Shephard said he was a trustee rather than a director of Isles International, and was not involved with the accounting or finances of the group.
English accountants Atkinsons is listed as the auditor who signed off on Isles International University accounts last year. However they said they never carried out auditing services for Isles International, or any Irish firm.
James Aston, an accountant with international firm BDO, is listed as the auditor on their 2016 accounts, but also said the entity had never been a client. *
Both accountants said the signatures listed under their names on Isles International’s accounts were not their signatures.
In a statement, Isles International said they were a “self-accredited institution”. The statement said the company registered in Ireland was “dormant” and was “to have been closed down many years ago”. It also claimed Mr Singh had passed away two years ago, and questions over their accounts were “fake news and false allegations”.
The Department of Education is aware the group is posing online as a university in Ireland. However enforcement powers are limited as the company stopped using the title “university” in its registered company name and web address.
* This article was amended on April 30th, 2018