France probes Chinese student degree fraud
60 Chinese students are said to have been bribing officials to secure diplomas from Toulon university.PARIS – France is investigating claims that hundreds of Chinese students bribed officials to secure diplomas in a corruption scandal at a French university, officials said Wednesday.
Prosecutors launched an inquiry last month after they were tipped off by a teacher who alleged Chinese students were being sold degrees at the Institute of Business Administration (IAE) in the south-eastern town of Toulon.
Several more French universities could also be involved in the traffic, the state prosecutor in Marseille, Jacques Dallest, told AFP.
"It would appear that these practices occur elsewhere in France," he said, adding that investigators believed four or five other faculties were linked to the corruption scandal, although no charges have yet been brought.
The education ministry confirmed in a statement Wednesday it was probing the allegations of corruption at the faculty, part of Toulon university, which enrolled 644 Chinese students for the current academic year.
It said a report would be filed later this month that aimed to "shed full light on the conditions in which diplomas were delivered, especially to foreign students, at Toulon University."
Le Monde newspaper reported on Wednesday that hundreds of Chinese students are suspected of buying sought-after French degrees at the faculty since 2004.
According to the paper, a group of Chinese students outraged by the practice first sounded the alert last year, reporting the allegations to their embassy.
Police caught wind of the alleged corruption ring last October while probing the assault of a Chinese female student, who was beaten up over an unpaid debt, and in turn alerted prosecutors and the university management.
Officers searched the university premises on 9 April. According to Le Monde, they confiscated all Chinese exam papers for the past four years.
The paper said the university director told police he was approached by a student offering EUR 100,000 in exchange for bachelors' and masters' degrees for some 60 fellow Chinese students.
Separately, it emerged Wednesday that anomalies had been spotted in the French-language test sat by would-be students in China.
In a letter seen by AFP, the CIEP international examining group warned French universities last month of a risk of fraud in recent tests conducted in five cities in China, in Beijing, Shanghai, Canton, Wuhan and Chengdu.
The president of Toulon University, Laroussi Oueslati, recently said a number of Chinese students fell short of the French language skills normally required of foreigners.
The number of Chinese students in France has soared from 1,934 in 1999 to 17,132 in 2006, making them the third largest foreign student group after Moroccans and Algerians, according to the Campus France study group.
AFP / Expatica