Photo: Ralph, with coursework. But not his coursework, obviously.
A University Degree is a funny thing – a bit of paper that can, under some circumstances, make a difference to both one’s credibility and one’s bank account. But then all degrees – not to mention doctorates – are not created equal. Specifically, some are granted by accredited institutions.
In the UK, the Education Reform Act of 1988 (section 214, here) dictates which institutions can legally grant a degree, and makes it an offence for an unaccredited institution to do so. In the United States and many other territories there is no such law. This means that you can, for a fee, acquire all manner of interesting qualifications that might be said to overstate one’s professional or academic achievements.
And so to Ralph.
Ralph H Cat, Esq, is a clever cat. He can, for example, open doors by hanging from the handle. Some might think this qualifies him for a degree, and as it turns out there are institutions that agree. Armed with his very own Gmail address, a fake address in Central London, a phone number (Ofcom handily provides dummy numbers for dramatic use) and a date of birth (his real age converted to human years with this chart) he set about obtaining his High School Diploma – after all, you have to start somewhere.
The institution in question – carefully chosen by clicking a Google advert that appears when you search for “buy degree” – issues “life experience” degrees so applicants can “Receive a College Degree for What You Already Know”. This makes the application process rather less strenuous than the one I had to go through via UCAS. The applicant is asked to “Briefly type the work or life experience that qualifies you for this degree.”
Here’s Ralph’s life experience, as submitted for consideration:
“Since leaving home I have spent the last three years looking after my brother, Hunter, who has limited mental capabilities and requires regular assistance with everyday tasks. We share an apartment together. Besides looking after him, I have a keen interest in food and sports – particularly soccer. I am also a keen hunter, although with limited opportunities to get out of the apartment (it’s hard to leave Hunter) this hobby is tricky to pursue.”
Naturally, as Ralph is a Good Cat, it is all true. He did leave home (in a cat carrier) and lives with Hunter, who isn’t terribly bright (he tries to hunt snowflakes) and does indeed need help with many cat-like tasks. They do share (our) apartment. Ralph loves watching football, or pretty much anything on TV, and hunts wasps, flies and other insects. In short, Ralph has lived a fairly average life as a London housecat. He has not, however, learned anything to merit a High School Diploma.
Nonetheless, within 24 hours – success! Ralph not only qualified, but was also offered a place on a scholarship programme, giving him a discount on the, er, “programme” fees. Here’s the confirmation, as presented by the website (click for full size):
Which is lovely, and makes me terribly proud. But although it was tempting to pay $203 and get this qualification, as a pushy parent I couldn’t help but hold greater aspirations for my furball. So I applied again, but this time for something a little trickier: a Bachelor’s Degree in Social and Behavioural Sciences, Cum Laude. The application form had conveniently saved Ralph’s CV, so it took a matter of seconds. And lo, just a few minutes later (again, click for full size):
I have to admit to being slightly sceptical – after all, surely no degree can be granted in less than five minutes based on a one paragraph life story. Perhaps this was an unfortunate system glitch? Fortunately the online chat tool was there to set my mind at ease:
As tempting as it is to get Ralph’s name up in lights on the Wikipedia page “List of animals with fraudulent diplomas“, though, I don’t think I’ll be writing off the best part of £350 for a worthless qualification. After all, Ralph is unlikely to ever apply for a job other than as my housecat and moth-slayer extraordinaire, and I know he’s a smart cookie. And in any case, he’s decided to take a Gap Year to go travelling first – he’s even found a rucksac.
Please note that I haven’t named or linked the institution in question here, either – partly because I don’t have the time to fend off lawyers should it become litigate-y, and partly because even the most cursory glance at its website is enough to tell anyone that it’s nonsense. One US Government website names it as a diploma mill that is suspected to operate from the UAE.