The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has warned prospective students of “bogus” colleges – including US-based online institutions – after laying criminal charges with the SAPS and FBI.
These colleges, said the department, used a range of methods to mislead the public.
“The recent trends identified by the department are the number of online operators committing internet fraud by purporting to offer degrees in 15 days using the name and logo of the DHET,” said the department’s spokesman, Khaye Nkwanyana.
Most of these college websites were run from the US, he said.
The department has published a list of more than 40 colleges, local and international, on its website as a means to warn the public about alleged unscrupulous providers and their modus operandi.
“The department has also filed cases against these bogus colleges with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the USA,” Nkwanyana said.
He said colleges referred to the FBI had all removed the name and logo of the DHET from their websites and Facebook pages.
Some of the listed colleges’ websites had either been shut or suspended. Nkwanyana said the number of bogus colleges remained constant.
“The challenge is the changing manner in which bogus colleges operate, often hiding behind registered institutions and offering their programmes. They also provide incomplete nomenclatures of programmes, removing the words diploma, higher certificate (or) degree, to avoid getting caught,” Nkwanyana said.
“The current threats are the online operators from the USA who use the name and logo of the DHET and registered institutions offering unregistered programmes.”
There was also anecdotal evidence of colleges selling qualifications, but the cost of the sale was not known, said Nkwanyana.
He said the government had put structures in place – such as the “National Bogus Colleges Task Team” and similar teams across all nine provinces – to shut down illegal colleges.
The department’s director of investigations, Shaheeda Essack, said on Thursday: “Some of the colleges registered may be registered as private FET (Further Education and Training) colleges, but they are offering unregistered higher education programmes or making fraudulent claims.”
Referring to the “name and shame” list seen by the Daily News, Essack said: “All the colleges listed have not been registered to provide higher education. Their registration as private FET colleges is irrelevant and it does not allow them to offer higher education programmes.”
Nkwanyana said so far they had opened criminal cases against two suspect colleges in KwaZulu-Natal, while two others would be investigated soon.
He said the department had to follow due legal process by issuing letters of warnings to these colleges, then filing cases with the SAPS if the provider continued to operate. Police would then conduct their investigation, and prosecution would follow.
He said Empangeni Commercial College was closed in October and Style Design College was shut in 2012, and last year after it re-opened. However, the case against Style had “stalled” since the owner had “fled the country”.
KZN police spokesman, Major Thulani Zwane, yesterday confirmed a case of fraud had been opened in respect of the Empangeni college on October 15, but that “no arrest has been made and the investigation is continuing”.
To avoid falling prey to bogus colleges, Nkwanyana said parents and prospective students should contact the department at 0800 87 2222 or visit its website, www.dhet.gov.za for a list of registered institutions.