Page last updated at 06:57 GMT, Friday, 21 November 2008

Uni's US college link 'damaging'

The University of Wales' links to a US college were damaging, says education expert John Bear

The University of Wales is a "laughing stock" for having awarded degrees at a controversial bible college in the USA, an American education expert says.

Trinity College of the Bible in Newburgh, Indiana, is not officially accredited, which means many states consider its degrees to be illegal.

Dr John Bear said the university's links with the college, which offers mainly distance education courses of a religious nature, was damaging.

The university has now cut the ties.

Dr Bear, whose books on education have sold more than half a million copies, told BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye programme that the University of Wales was exercising a "loophole" in the American system.

John Bear, education expert
When a school does these kind of things the world of higher education pays attention
John Bear, US education expert

The agreement had been in place since August 2007, but the University of Wales decided to sever its ties with the college last Friday, while Dragon's Eye was in America filming the story.

Professor Nigel Palastanga, a pro-vice chancellor at the University of Wales, said there was no requirement to work only with accredited colleges when the partnership began.

"The college went through our normal validation procedure which is very thorough," he said.

Trinity president Harold Hunter said he did not know why the University of Wales suddenly withdrew from the relationship.

However, he stressed that he had had "three good meetings" with the University of Wales since the link was established and welcomed the most recent delegation from the university just a fortnight ago.

"They are really good at what they do," he said.

"They seemed to be very complimentary about everything we're doing."

Dr Bear said the University of Wales' links with the college, which offers mainly distance education courses of a religious nature, were damaging its international reputation.

'Bad publicity'

"May I use the word laughing stock?" he said.

"When a school does these kind of things the world of higher education pays attention."

He said students who chose to study at unaccredited American colleges were putting a "timebomb" on their CVs.

But Prof Palastanga said he "seriously doubted" whether its reputation had suffered as a result of this episode.

Harold Hunter, president of Trinity College of the Bible in Newburgh, Indiana

They seemed to be very complimentary about everything we're doing
Harold Hunter, Trinity College of the Bible on the University of Wales

"We've learnt lessons from this and we will certainly be a little more careful with our relationships, particularly with the United States," he said.

Former FBI agent Allen Ezell, who ran an investigation to clamp down on illegal degrees in the United States, said the relationship was "unusual".

"It's to their benefit to make sure that schools issuing University of Wales diplomas are on the up and up," he said.

"It devalues a genuine University of Wales diploma if one can earn the same piece of paper in Indiana without doing the same rigorous work you would do in Wales."

Trinity College of the Bible has beein in three locations in its 40-year history.

It was founded in Michigan in 1969 before moving to Ohio as the Toledo School of the Bible and then uprooting again to its current location.

'Quality and status'

Mr Hunter admitted degrees from the college were illegal in many states.

Asked whether the college could be considered a bit controversial, he said: "It has been up until I became president three years ago. And we sometimes today deal with issues that I inherited from over three years ago."

The Quality Assurance Agency, which regulates universities in the UK, said it released a statement in July which warned higher education institutions "that they should not be collaborating with organisations that are not accredited".

The University of Wales said this is what prompted them to begin to question their relationship with Trinity.

Two other UK universities have previously entered into partnerships with Trinity College, though Liverpool St John and Canterbury Christ Church did not go so far as to award their own degrees there.

The Welsh Assembly Government said: "Officials are looking into some issues to identify the quality and status of the American institution concerned and we will report back to the minister in due course."

The University of Wales has partnership agreements with education institutions around the world as well as in the UK.

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