By Sandra Davie
AT LEAST 218 people, mostly Singaporeans, are proudly flaunting degrees, MBAs and doctorates from a dozen degree mills, including Preston University, Wisconsin International University, Paramount University of Technology, Kennedy-Western University and Rochville University.
This was uncovered by Straits Times checks on the Internet and trade publications, to find out how widespread the use of bogus qualifications is here.
Most of them are males and predominantly businessmen, professional trainers, private school lecturers and financial consultants.
The majority have basic diplomas and in some cases, degrees from bona fide universities, but quote masters or PhDs from bogus institutions to bolster their credentials.
A few such as Expressions International founder Theresa Chew, who has a honorary doctorate from Kennedy-Western University, and Mr George Quek, who has an honorary business doctorate from the Wisconsin International University, add the words Honoris Causa (Latin for a token of respect or honour) on their namecards, to indicate that it is an honorary degree.
But worryingly, an increasingly long list of private school lecturers and financial consultants openly cite their bought doctorates and masters' degrees, in their curriculum vitae and client pitches.
A typical example is Be-Mad, a company at Scotts Road, that trains human resource professionals. Its chief executive officer 'Dr' David Ong Kah Seng and two of his associates, 'Dr' Ng Sin Keh and Mr Yeo Thiang Swee, have degrees from Rochville University, Preston University and Atlantic International University, which are all commonly referred to as diploma mills in the United States.
On its website, Be-Mad consultancy boasts that its long list of clients includes ministries, banks and educational institutions.
Yet another two successful businessmen with questionable qualifications are options trading expert 'Dr' Clemen Chiang, a Nanyang Technological University graduate, who runs courses through Freely Business School at North Bridge Road and 'Dr' T. Chandroo who runs a chain of 60 Montessori kindergartens here and abroad. Both of them have doctorates from Preston University, classified as a degree mill in the US.
Why do these successful businessmen who have demonstrated expertise in an area resort to using degrees from unaccredited institutions?
After all, resume detectives say such bogus degrees are a 'ticking time bomb', which may burnish your CV for now, but sooner or later blow up in your face.
The Straits Times put the question to 'Drs' Ong, Chiang and Chandroo.
Mr Ong claimed that his alma mater Rochville University was a reputed one and claimed to have worked on a thesis for 18 months on behavioural sciences.
Mr Chandroo's secretary said he was 'too busy' to answer e-mails or calls from The Straits Times over the past month.
Mr Chiang, known to be an astute entrepreneur who set up Freely Business School and is widely quoted in the local press on options trading, admits that he was 'not so smart' when he signed up for an online doctorate programme from Preston University a few years ago.
The NTU engineering graduate said he wanted to complete a PhD in extra quick time and found out about Preston University through the Internet. And because it was listed as a partner of a private school here licensed by the Education Ministry, he thought it was an accredited institution.
He suggested a thesis topic on options trading which was accepted by the university faculty in Wyoming, US. He researched the topic and submitted his thesis within 16 months and was granted a PhD. It cost him all of S$18,000 in fees.
It was only later that he realised that Preston was not accredited in the US.
Mr Chiang sheepishly admits that he continues to use his doctorate as it helps to pave the way in business. Besides, he reasons: 'I did write a thesis for it.'
But he added: 'But I am thinking of dropping my doctorate title altogether until I complete the current PhD I am working on with the University of South Australia.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 29, 2008.