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The University of Wales is to stop validating all external degrees at home and abroad. and it has a new vice chancellor, Professor Medwin Hughes. This has happened eventually, after years of pressure, first from bloggers, and then from BBC Wales. That is a tacit admission that their validation procedures were useless, and bordering on the corrupt.

But the news doesn’t appear on the University of Wales front page. It is hidden away in a news item. With the incredible spin it is billed as “University of Wales launches bold new academic strategy“. No admission of the bad mistakes appears anywhere. Still worse, the vice-chancellor who was responsible for years of malpractice, Marc Clement, has not vanished, but has been promoted to be president of the University of Wales. It was Professor Clement who claimed, in November 2010, to be taken by “complete and total surprise“, when Welsh education minister accused him of bring the University of Wales into disrepute. This, sadly, cannot be true. I know that Clement was well aware of my 2008 blog, and of the opinion of Polly Toynbee. He’d corresponded with both of us in 2008.

Until recently the University of Wales validated an astonishing 11,675 degree courses, including fundamantalist bible colleges in Russia, Chinese medicine in Barcelona and courses in quackery at the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine,  the Northern College of Acupuncture and the Mctimoney College of Chiropractic.

In October 2008 I posted Another worthless validation: the University of Wales and nutritional therapy. With the help of the Freedom of Information Act, it was possible to reveal the mind-boggling incompetence of the validation process used by the University of Wales. The vice chancellors organisation, UUK, did nothing whatsoever, as usual.

The mainstream media eventually caught up with bloggers. In 2010, BBC1 TV (Wales) produced an excellent TV programme that exposed the enormous degree validation scam run by the University of Wales. The programme can be seen on YouTube (Part 1, and Part 2). The programme also exposed, incidentally, the uselessness of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) which did nothing until the scam was exposed by TV and blogs.

One of the potty courses "validated" by the University of Wales was a "BSc" in Nutrional Therapy, run by Jacqueline Young at the Northern College of Acupuncture. The problem of Jacqueline Young’s fantasy approach to facts was pointed out at least as far back as 2004, by Ray Girvan., who wrote about it again in May 2005. The problems were brought to wider attention when Ben Goldacre wrote two articles in his Badscience column, Imploding Researchers (September 2005), and the following week, Tangled Webs.

“we were pondering the ethics and wisdom of Jacqueline Young dishing out preposterous, made-up, pseudoscientific nonsense as if it was authoritative BBC fact, with phrases such as: “Implosion researchers have found that if water is put through a spiral its electrical field changes and it then appears to have a potent, restorative effect on cells.” “

I wrote to Clement in 2008 to ask for his opinion, as a one-time electrical engineer, of this statement. Naturally I got no reply. It seems to be a characteristic of people who are very well paid that failure to do their job results in promotion, not firing.

Furthermore, the people who were primarily responsible for validating crackpot degrees are still there. It seems that Professor Nigel Palastanga (a physiotherapist) is still  Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning, Teaching and Enhancement). He was the person who totally failed to notice that Jacqueline Young had been a laughing stock for years before his committee solemnly approved her degree. And as late as 2010, Jacqueline Young was made a senior lecturer.

Palastanga

Among the courses "validated" by Palastanga were the McTimoney College of Chiropractic. They are presumably now in deep trouble. The College was, incidentally, owned by the BPP University, as recently promoted by David Willetts, so this is yet another sign of Willetts’ bad judgment. It’s private so it must be good, OK? The matter was recently given some well-deserved bad publicity in Private Eye.

It is a sorry story of pathetic quality control procedures and snail-like response from regulatory authorites. But something has been done and we should be grateful for that. Patients will be a bit safer now.

Follow-up

Quackometer also posted on October 3rd: McTimoney Chiropractic College in Deep Trouble.

October 4th More from BBC Wales, The new vice chancellor speaks. He admits nothing about malpractice.

October 5th “University of Wales degree and visa scam exposed by BBC”. More BBC Wales from Ciaran Jenkins.

October 5th (20.31) “Scrap University of Wales call by vice-chancellors” “Five universities want the University of Wales (UoW) title scrapped because they are appalled by claims about the validation of its qualifications.” So they noticed at last, 3 years after the first revelations, on this blog and by the BBC.

October 12. “University of Wales helps 650 stranded Tasmac students“. More than 650 overseas students may lose £7,850 fees paid to the Tasmac London School of Business, for a degree formerly validated by University of Wales. Tasmac has gone into liquidation, That’s what happens when validations are handed out like sweeties. The fact that the QAA approved the course means, as this case among others has shown, absolutely nothing. The University of Wales should be sufficiently ashamed of its past behaviour to refund the fees.

October 18. Bob Croydon, Welsh representative of the Prince of Wales’ Foundation for the Built Environment, is rather cross with Leighton Andrews, the Welsh minister of education who must get much of the credit for winding up the scams. He may also be in trouble with the quacktitioner royal after writing in an email " “Whilst the Minister could doubtless give the Prince of Wales a good run for his money in the Self Importancy Sweepstakes it would be. . ."

October 21 It now seems that the University of Wales will essentially vanish (and BBC report). . The chair of Council, Huw Thomas, has resigned. The closure is a pity for those who have real degrees awarded by the university, but it is a fate well-earned, The remaining mystery is the fate of Prof Clement and Prof Palastanga, who presided over the validation fiasco. It is they who are responsible for the students who have now been abandoned (read an account of Tasmac)

October 22 The Daily Telegraph reports University of Wales abolished after visa scandal. This misses the whole back story about validation scams.

Although the chair of Council has resigned, there is no information yet about Professors Clement and Palastanga, who presided over the fiasco. I was told on 24 October that “This information is yet to be determined”.

October 28. The university has produced two statements. one for students, and one for alumni. Both documents say

"Why is the merger happening?
Recent developments in Welsh Higher Education policy have been driven by a desire for there to be fewer universities in Wales. The Welsh Government is putting policies in place to have only six or seven universities (there are currently eleven). Our merger is in response to this challenge from the Government."

This, sadly, is a straighforward lie. The closure is a result of a long-running saga of phony and incompetent validations, sold for money. They have been aware of this at least since my first post in 2008, but nothing happened until the BBC gave it wide publicity. You don’t have to take my word that it’s a lie. Geraint Talfan Davies, a member of the Welsh government-commissioned McCormick review, said:

“I think that everybody has been aware of some of the risks involved in the University of Wales’ overseas activities.

“Validating at distance provides some real challenges, governance challenges, and that goes for everybody.

“The difficulty with the University of Wales was that it was on a pretty big scale and doing it on that scale makes it more difficult.”

It seems the University has lost touch with the idea of telling the truth.

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17 Responses to The University of Wales disgraced (but its vice chancellor is promoted)

  • This is more ammo to my cannon. See my summary of the great work done by others and possible consequences of university misdeeds later in the student’s life – http://www.palgrave-journals.com/dbm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/dbm201118a.html.
    Also hear me on BBC Radio 4 on October 4th, You and Yours, and the QAA!

  • The Northern College of Acupuncture has simply jumped ship: now its getting Middlesex University to “validate” its degrees. What’s the point in this grubby practice being exposed in the University of Wales, for another lot to come along and do the same?

    By the way – did you notice the entire teaching team of 7 at the NCA Nutritional Therapy course were all women? In this age of equal opportunities, I wonder why that is?

    Still, at least Gillian McKeith wasn’t one of them.

  • In this “age of equal opportunities” a team of 7 men would not rate a mention.

    2^7 is only 128!

  • Obviously one can validate bullshit too, until now I thought this can be done only in a zoo

  • It gets worse – University of Wales degree and visa scam exposed by BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-15171830

  • Or maybe better – “Scrap University of Wales call by vice-chancellors” – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-15191954

  • The Interuniversity College, in Graz, Austria, is offering post-graduate degrees in several health-related areas and has put them on findamasters.com database.

    inter-uni.net has endearingly put a link to ‘zur britische evaluation’ (the whole site is in German, despite having a link to an English vrsion, except for the next bit, as far as I can see)…a letter from the University of Wales, dated April 2010, saying that validation has had to be postponed ‘due to reasons internal to the University of Wales.’ See http://www.inter-uni.net/static/download/about/evaluation_report_british_university_system_en.pdf

    So the Interuniversity College doesn’t seem to have got the validation, sadly, but even so are proud to put up the letter! I don’t know any German, perhaps there is more to be discovered on their site of interest.

    One thing which can certainly be said in their favour is that the Interuniversity College do their stuff from some gorgeous surroundings.

  • I’m sure that many of these courses, like many arts courses, will hit the fan when people have to pay £9000. As Maggie said, “You can’t buck the market”.
    And in the real world, I’ve had to deal with three patients recently who have bladder cancer and have been taking pioglitazone long term. That is the real scandal David you should be discussing.

  • Actually the MHRA have dealt with pioglitazone risks as soon as they became apparent
    http://www.mhra.gov.uk/Safetyinformation/DrugSafetyUpdate/CON125962

  • If the MHRA had shown some cojones in the first place and not given authorisation to a drug without primary end point data then this wouldn’t have happen. Then again, that would leave us with just metformin for type 2 diabetes. Strange how evidence based medicine only applies to natural medicine? Happy to see homeopathy cut by the NHS but please can we also have a proper discussion about conventional medicines that aren’t backed up with robust evidence. The people I have to take off pioglitazone with heart failure have a right to know what’s going on.

  • @Dangerous
    I hate to have to point out the obvious, your first sentence makes no sense, There is no way to predict rare side effects. Because they are rare, they can be detected only after a large number of people have been treated. That was done efficiently, and the results are available to the public..

  • From the patient’s point of view they are probably willing to accept rare side effects if a new drug that comes onto the market has primary end point data. Whether it lowers a patient’s blood glucose (by which way diabetes drugs are granted authorisation) is of little relevance to the patient. Whether it reduces their risk of micro and macro vascular complications is.
    With QoF medicine is now about chasing targets (even though many aren’t backed up with evidence eg. tight blood glucose control in type 2 diabetes).
    Do you really think the public are aware of the lack of evidence that many drugs have?
    That reminds me, I’ve got a load of people to review on ezetimibe tomorrow. Another drug that came to market without primary end point data and with cancer concerns (SEAS study).

  • Why is it all those who have had a free lunch or two over the last 10 years can continue to make money promoting themselves as “Professors” without actually publishing any research in their own name ?

    Cardiff Astrobiology Department has moved to Buckingham University (possibly to get an increased budget on the £15k they received annually in Wales) Dr Daryl Hamilton Wallis notorious Chairman of The Fields Group in Bridgend now appears as an Honorary Professor without actually publishing any research? Will he be going into the Degree Printing business to add to his hundreds of Will Writing, Visa Application, CV Writing and other document spooling businesses.

    And just how much money can you make selling fake data recovery reports? Possibly enough to justify taking out a High Court Injunction ? http://www.data-recovery-blog.com

  • Bizarrely, McTimoney College of Chiropractic have just issued a ‘Newsflash’, saying (cached):

    NEWSFLASH!
    Date posted – November 2, 2011 | Posted in Latest News
     
    Clarification of the College’s position with regard to the University of Wales
    A statement from the Principal
     
    Contrary to misleading comments in the news and misinformation circulating in blogs, the University of Wales has not withdrawn validation from the McTimoney College of Chiropractic, and its validation with the University remains intact and secure.
     
    Current students will graduate with University of Wales degrees, and any new students enrolling with the College are similarly protected until 2017.

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