Update on Axact, the Pakistani “Diploma Mill”

The New York Times has run a follow-up to its investigative report on the business practices of Axact, a Pakistani corporation that has advertised itself as the “largest software exporter” in the country but that has generated millions in annual revenues by selling diplomas and degrees from several hundred elite-sounding secondary schools and postsecondary institutions that have no existence beyond their thinly contrived websites.

The follow-up article, written by Saba Imtiaz and Declan Walsh, is titled “Pakistani Investigators Raid Offices of Axact, Fake Diploma Company,” and it is available online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/20/world/asia/pakistani-investigators-raid-offices-of-axact-fake-diploma-company.html.

It might seem that the Pakistani government was so embarrassed by the report in the Times that that embarrassment outweighed whatever political influence Axact has been able to buy. But Axact has also been developing a television station that would compete with the existing major networks in Pakistan. Those other media companies have piled onto the Times report, and that domestic media attention has transformed the exposure of the company’s dubious business practices into a national political issue.

I am not sure if the illustrative comments in the Times article are indicative of hyperbole but, especially from half a world away, they seem ironical and even humorously so. One legislator has asked, “’What’s the reason that we Pakistanis are such experts in forgery?’” In its public statement on the matter, the Interior Ministry has more formally highlighted much the same concern, asserting that its investigators will “determine whether Axact ‘is involved in any such illegal work which can tarnish the good image of the country in the world.’”

In any case, the raid by heavily armed investigators seems largely a stunt meant to convey the seriousness of the government’s response to the allegations. But it seems such an exaggerated response to a “diploma mill” that it actually suggests quite the opposite: that the big show now will simply lead to larger payoffs to make the whole issue disappear once the world and Axact’s media competitors have stopped having any reason to pay attention.

Here are a couple of the most interesting paragraphs in the Times follow-up article:

“Bloggers examined the company’s network of online universities and high schools, which carry American-sounding names like Barkley and Columbiana, and publicized the names of other sites that they said were operated by the company, and that went beyond a list published by The Times on Sunday. . . .

“In all, The Times has identified 145 university sites, 41 high school and 18 fake accreditation body websites, as well as 121 degree portals that strongly appear to be operated by Axact, based on comparison of coding blocks and of site content and design.”

If you follow the link to the list compiled by the Times reporters, you will discover as I did that some of the names are embarrassingly obvious knock-offs while others are kind of ingenious.

At some point in my own relatively recent past, I spent a an entire afternoon compiling a list of pseudonyms that I might use if I were to start writing across a broad variety of genres. It was a truly absorbing exercise (inspired by research I had done into the career of Mike Avallone, self-described as “the fastest typewriter in the East”), and I can imagine someone in one of Axact’s offices doing this for a living and becoming completely absorbed in his or her work—though at some point it would probably become almost suicide-inducing.

I also recall an episode in MASH in which Radar decided to better himself by taking a correspondence school course to become a writer. The school’s instructors all had the surnames of famous authors but different first names. I don’t remember exactly what the names were but something like Harold Melville, Eugene Hemingway, and Herman Mailer is not very far off-base.

So, what Axact has been doing is undeniably humorous. But I am guessing that many of the corporation’s customers have probably been gullible and guileless—perhaps as many as or even more than the number who have been knowing participants in the fraudulent credentialing. So, this is very likely one of those situations that becomes considerably more darkly humorous and even pathetic the closer one gets to the actual victims. The dollar amounts may seem small in comparison to the tuition and fees paid by U.S. students to Corinthian Colleges et al, but I am guessing that they amount to very substantial sums for many Pakistanis.

 

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