HC Deb 23 November 1972 vol 846 cc1499-501
10. Miss Fookes

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if, with a view to ending the practice of selling bogus degrees and other qualifications, she will seek powers to require all educational establishments catering for students beyond the minimum school leaving age to be accredited to the National Council for the Accreditation of Correspondence Colleges, or a similar organisation.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir: there would be difficulties about any kind of legislation. I am considering how I can best make information more widely available about United Kingdom degrees and other recognised qualifications. At present the Department gives guidance on the validity of specific qualifications when asked.

Miss Fookes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Robbins Committee of about 10 years ago was adamant that legislation was needed? May I remind her that there are such scandals as the case where someone was given a certificate of competence in estate agency and valuation matters and it turned out to be in the name of someone's cat?

Mrs. Thatcher

It is easier to pose the problem than to find the precise workable legislative solution.

Mr. Heffer

Shoot the cat.

Mrs. Thatcher

Some of us might say, "Shoot the people" as well. We are working on this problem. If there were an easy solution, we would have already found it.

Miss Lestor

I agree with what the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) has said, and I appreciate the difficulty of framing legislation to deal with the problem. May I remind the right hon. Lady that at the moment there are at least 27 degree mills in this country, and about 200 abroad? They are used by people here, and this often causes acute embarrassment to foreign students? For example, Sussex University is constantly being embarrassed by the Sussex College of Technology, one of the organisations which sells these degrees. The problem is increasing all the time and action is needed quickly to try to protect people from these malpractices.

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree with the hon. Lady. The problem arises when there is a certificate that looks as if it gives a degree comparable with a degree given by another institution of a similar name. It would be very difficult to get at all these institutions by legislation. The moment we took action against one, another would spring up giving not degrees but associateships, fellowships or licenciateships. I doubt whether, if we named them all, we would ever catch up with others that would then spring up. It must be remembered that there are a number of respectable professional bodies which give a series of letters, not always by examination but often warranted by the experience of the person, which stand very high in the eyes of people here and abroad.