State in threat to sue fake Irish university
Published 08/01/2008 | 00:00
The State is considering legal action against a bogus university which is damaging the reputation of Irish education abroad.
The Department of Education and Science said last night it had written several times to the Irish International University instructing the owners to stop using the word university as their use of it was against the law.
"Irish International University (IIU) has no standing as an educational institution in Ireland," said a department spokesperson.
"It is registered only as a business name with the Companies Registration Office. Under the 1997 Universities Act, it requires the approval of the Minister for Education and Science to use the title 'university' and this department has never given such approval."
She said that the department's legal section was still examining the options with regard to IIU. It recognised that the existence of such organisations was contrary to the interests of Ireland's higher education institutions.
IIU was first exposed in the Irish Independent in November 2005 but is still recruiting students from overseas. Many are travelling to the UK where a leading businesswoman has been embarrassed into handing back an honorary award she received from the so-called university.
Mary Chapman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, had agreed to be guest of honour at a "graduation ceremony" last year for the institution which then put her picture on its website to recruit more overseas students.
The IIU had hired rooms at Oxford at the Divinity School, next to the world-famous Bodelian Library. However, following an investigation by the BBC London, the IIU will no longer be allowed to use facilities at Oxford or Cambridge.
The BBC said IIU had been operating in the UK for the past seven years. Although the organisation is unaccredited, hundreds of students have been given educational visas to enter Britain and take its exams at private colleges in London, it said.
The IIU Honorary Chancellor was listed as His Excellency Baron Knowth -- real name Prof Jeffrey Wooller, a successful chartered accountant from London. Mr Wooller, a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, spends most of his time living as a tax exile in Monte Carlo.
A BBC undercover reporter, posing as an academic, arranged to meet Mr Wooller at a hotel in Monaco. The meeting was secretly filmed and Mr Wooler acknowledged that IIU was not "recognised anywhere".
He also admitted its elaborate website, since modified, was an illusion: "When you look at the website, it's a figment of someone's imagination. Someone's dreamt up what a university should look like, and that's what's on the website."
Mr Wooller said students paid a lot of money to attend the award ceremonies and "if you can mention Oxford, Cambridge then the whole world thinks it must be a good university."