Overseas students seeking a prestigious UK legal qualification are likely to have been duped by 32 fake universities shut down by the government over the past year, the Gazette has learned.

Last year Jo Johnson, minister of state for universities and science, announced that the government had appointed Prospects, Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) to help expose ‘unscrupulous organisations’ and remove misleading websites.

Johnson said the action would help to protect the UK’s reputation as a provider of high-quality education.

HEDD has since identified 62 bogus institutions. Of those, 32 have been shut down, 25 of which were based overseas but claiming to be UK universities.

There are no details on what courses were being offered. However, Jayne Rowley (pictured), HE director for Prospects, said law was likely to have been among them.

She said: ‘I would imagine law would have featured heavily in a lot of the courses. It tends to be law, medicine, business, MBAs and PHDs. You would not see anything on, for instance, medieval Icelandic literature, as it’s not likely to attract overseas students.’

HEDD research shows that only 20% of employers verify applicants’ qualifications with the awarding body, relying instead on CVs and certificates.

However, a toolkit published by HEDD in February highlights examples of individuals committing fraud by falsely creating a certificate or altering a genuine document from a real university.

In one case study, a bogus barrister received a 14-month suspended sentence and 200-hour community service order.

The toolkit states that, starting with a forged degree certificate in 2000 and forging other letters and credentials, she became a local government lawyer with several councils and became lead member for planning at a borough council.

The toolkit adds: ‘She was only found out when constituents began looking into her background after raising a number of complaints about her work identifying areas of land for development, not by her employers.’

Rowley said HEDD investigated the fake institutions and identified them as bogus after they were reported to the organisation. HEDD then provided the evidence to the appropriate law enforcement bodies to take action to shut them down, depending on which laws were being broken.

Rowley said there were still several open cases which HEDD will continue to monitor, working with law enforcement agencies to take action. ‘In the meantime they are all flagged on the HEDD website as not being genuine UK degree-awarding bodies,’ she added.

A Law Society spokesperson said: ’Students should ensure that the institutions they are looking to attend are legitimate.  The Solicitors Regulation Authority will be able to verify if an institution, university or college offering a legal qualifications is officially recognised.’