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Oxford University Exploited in Fake Awards Scam

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Ukrainian businessmen are using the academic reputation of the University of Oxford to sell millions of pounds worth of fake awards and titles, according to a newspaper investigation.

The Europe Business Assembly (EBA) has awarded thousands of awards from its offices in Ukraine and central Oxford, selling titles such as the “Queen Victoria Commemorative Award” for up to £9,300 (US$12,115).

In its advertising, it prominently features photographs of Oxford colleges, copies the university’s typeface and claims to offer access to “exclusive Oxford university lectures”.

However, the organization has no official ties to the university. A former employee of EBA told the Times: “We were selling the idea that [recipients] were becoming part of the great Oxford institution. We didn’t provide a network. We didn’t provide opportunities to broaden their academic horizons.”

Another ex-staff member said: “What’s £8,000 for a certificate? £8,000 is not a lot to have Oxford on your wall.”

Potential award-winners are targeted by EBA, with a focus on countries deemed to be more receptive to paying for an award. One former employee said: “We were asked to focus on areas where people would buy. The Middle East, eastern Europe and Russia . . . where the idea that money buys you credentials is still there.”

The process of approaching potential winners appears to have been random. Another former staff member told the Times about the surprised reaction one person gave when being told their town could win a “best city” award. “One town came back and said, ‘Why have you contacted us? We only have 5,000 people and not even a tourism industry’.”

The organization holds lavish ceremonies for its winners at hired venues in Oxford and across Europe, which prominently feature traditional British paraphernalia. One award ceremony before Christmas in Oxford featured trumpeters, a bagpiper, a man in a yeoman warder’s costume as well as a red carpet for guests.

EBA’s business model is not actually illegal, as there’s nothing to prevent companies from marketing and selling “vanity awards” and no concrete claims are made about their connection to the University of Oxford.

A spokesman for the university said: “We can confirm that the Europe Business Assembly is not affiliated or otherwise linked to the University of Oxford. We have no further comment on this company.”

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As editor of TopUniversities.com, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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