International campus students accuse Lancaster partner of fraud

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Some students receiving dual degrees from COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) University in Lahore, Pakistan, and Lancaster University have alleged that they have not been awarded the dual degrees despite completing the course and paying the full fee. These accusations also state that the Pakistani university partnered with Lancaster have committed fraud worth millions of rupees.

Recently a Professor at the same institute had 16 research papers retracted after it was revealed that the author created fake peer reviews by falsifying contact information for suggested reviewers.

In March a group consisting of CIIT students Rana Shahmir, Awais Khalil, Arslan Khalid, Shoaib Zafar and others, along with parents of the students, made these accusations against the Institution’s administration at Lahore Press Club. They alleged that the institute was not awarding dual degrees to the students who had got admission in the institute’s Dual Degree Programme (DDP). They stated that despite completing the course and paying the full fee they were not awarded dual degrees, having got admissions in 2012. Two waves of students had already graduated on the dual degree programme.

Lancaster University Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) Steve Bradley told SCAN: “In September 2014 Lancaster learnt that HEC had decided that it will no longer permit the award of a dual degree. However, HEC have approved the award of a Lancaster degree. For most students this means that the Lancaster degree will be both domestically and internationally recognised; for Engineering students we require additional recognition from the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC). The accreditation process with PEC is underway.”

According to the group, between 2,700 and 3,000 students had been admitted on the Dual Degree Programme. According to The News, the students and their parents alleged that the CIIT administration committed fraud worth millions of rupees as they said the programme was neither approved by the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) nor recognised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Bradley said that following the HEC decision to no longer permit the dual degree in 2014 Lancaster suspended recruitment to the programmes in Pakistan. “The decision of HEC was a surprising development, but when operating in foreign markets you are bound by the rules in that particular country. Furthermore, COMSATS still wish to award their degree, in addition to Lancaster’s, and they are in discussions with the authorities to seek a reversal of the HEC decision”, Bradley added.

CIIT in Lahore is one of Pakistan’s leading universities and has had a long standing partnership with Lancaster, with students completing Lancaster degree programmes at the Institute. There are approximately 2,000 students studying Lancaster degrees on the Lahore campus, studying undergraduate degrees in Business Studies, Engineering and Computing.

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) said that the initial dual degree programme had been encouraged by local authorities in Pakistan. The advantage of this model was that students would receive a domestically recognised degree from CIIT, hence facilitating employment in the public sector in Pakistan, in addition to an internationally recognised degree, in this case from Lancaster. Specifically, state employers require a degree validated by the Pakistan Higher Education Commission (HEC). Therefore, with HEC’s full knowledge, a dual degree was launched in 2010.” The HEC’s decision thus casts doubt over whether students on the programme would be employable to Pakistani state employers despite enrolling on an HEC supported dual degree programme.

Despite the Institution doing nothing to correct the problem the students say they still face economic and education loss owing to the CIIT administration, but will now graduate with a only a single degree. They raised issue with how CIIT could offer the Dual Degree Programme despite the fact it was not approved by the PEC or recognised by the HEC. The students alleged that they were misled at the time of admission.

An HEC official told The News that the issue first surfaced in 2010 when the CIIT administration was asked to build its system as a dual degree programme, which was not allowed under any law. He stated that the issue was taken up with both the HEC and PEC and it was decided that only a single degree from either COMSATS or Lancaster University would be awarded to students. The official further stated that Lancaster would be awarding these students with degrees.

COMSATS has also been under fire recently after a Pakistani professor at the Institute faced sixteen retractions for submitting fake peer reviews for the acceptance of his papers. Three Elsevier journals – Economic Modelling, Renewable Energy, and Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews – retracted the papers of the author, Khalid Zaman, an economist at COMSATS.