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Education in the media: Wednesday 17 January 2018

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Today’s Education in the media blog focuses on online websites offering ‘fake degrees’, and what we are doing to tackle this, as well as an NAO report into the number of pupils taking STEM subjects.

Fake degrees

Yesterday, Tuesday, 17 January, BBC Radio 4’s File on Four discussed the topic of ‘fake degrees’. This is where websites pose as universities and offer fake degrees without the purchaser having to do any studying or take any exams. The documentary focused on a whistleblower who works for Axact, one of the companies responsible for handing out fake degrees. The programme suggested that no governing body knew how to tackle the problem, including the Department for Education.

To coincide with the documentary on BBC File on Four, BBC Online published an article online which has then been followed up by The Victoria Derbyshire Show, The Daily Telegraph and the Sun.

The Department has set up their own project to tackle degree fraud. In 2015, the Government commissioned, Prospects, an information support company for graduates, to target bogus universities and perpetrators of degree fraud. This includes Prospects working with enforcers to crackdown on internet-based fraud operators. The project also aims to combat individual degree fraud by getting employers and universities to make more verification checks (for instance of degree certificates) when recruiting students and graduates.

As a result, over 30 bogus provider websites have been closed since the project began and many more have closed down voluntarily after being prompted or exposed.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

Degree fraud cheats both genuine learners and employers so we’ve taken decisive action to crack down on those seeking to profit from it. We have set up the Bogus Degree Project to combat degree fraud by identifying illegitimate providers that mislead students by pretending to be degree awarding bodies and providing them with unrecognised degrees.

Separately, in a further commitment to tackling HE fraud, the new regulator the Office for Students will have the new powers to regulate existing, registered providers and will take action where there is evidence of abuse or failure.

NAO Report

On Wednesday, 17 January, the National Audit Office published a report looking at the work done by the government to increase uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills across all levels of education.

The report mentions the number of girls studying STEM subjects at A level and is positive of the efforts taken by the government to improve the quality and take-up of STEM skills. This was covered by Schools Week and the TES.

The latest figures from the Higher Education Stats Authority demonstrate improvements in the number of women studying STEM subjects.

We are looking to make sure even more numbers of boys and girls take up the study of STEM subjects through the STEM ambassadors programme which is creating a network of Maths Hubs and Science Learning Partnerships to attract top talent. As well as this, we are investing £84m in improving computer science teaching.

A Government spokesperson said:

As the NAO report recognises, the government has a number of initiatives in place which are boosting participation in STEM subjects, with the number of entries to STEM A-Levels by girls increasing by 17% since 2010.

The Industrial Strategy also committed an additional £406m to improving skills – including substantial investments in maths, digital and technical education to help ensure we are producing the highly skilled workforce that UK employers need. STEM skills are a vital part of this which is why we are developing a cross-government board to help address the issues faced by industries across the country. Last month, we held the first Skills Summit which brought together leading businesses such as Google and Rolls Royce to drive major skills reform.

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