Oxford University’s reputation has been used by Ukrainian businesspeople to sell made-up honours for over £9,000 a time, an investigation by The Times has revealed.
Honours running into the millions of pounds have been sold under the guise of the Europe Business Assembly (EBA) and on the reputation of the University, with awards such as the “The Queen Victoria Commemorative Award” selling for up to £9,300.
The business, which uses photographs of colleges in its advertising and copies the University’s typeface in its logo, claims to offer those attending events access to “exclusive Oxford University lectures.”
Former EBA staff claim they were encouraged to approach businesses and academics from developing countries with mass emails and cold-calls, with anybody who expressed interest asked to pay several thousand pounds to meet the company’s administrative costs.
One former employee, who spoke to the Times, said: “What’s £8,000 for a certificate? £8,000 is not a lot to have ‘Oxford’ on your wall.”
The EBA, run by a father and son from offices in both central Oxford and Ukraine, has given out thousands of awards since 2000 and seeks to trade on the reputation of Oxford University.
It also sells membership of organisations such as the “Academic Union” and the “International Club of Leaders”, and charges authors for articles included in its self-published journal, the Socrates Almanac.
Awards are given at ceremonies held at hired venues including the Oxford Town Hall, the Institute of Directors in London and other locations in Europe, with awards bestowed by John Netting, a former lecturer at Oxford Brookes University.
Ceremonies, which borrow from British state pageantry, often feature paid public figures such as the scientist and Lincoln fellow Baroness Greenfield. Awards cite a “patent” number as evidence of legitimacy, but the number corresponds to an expired trademark for a trophy design.
One former employee told The Times that they were asked to muddy the distinction between the EBA and Oxford University.
“We were selling the idea that they were becoming part of the great Oxford institution,” the former employee said. “It was just up to adding and finding random email addresses from universities and contacting them.”
Two Portuguese mayors, Ferndando Ruas and José Maria da Cunha Costa, used public money to buy “Best Cities” awards in 2013, local reports said. Ruas is now a MEP, and said he believed that the EBA was credible.
Stephen Rouse, a spokesperson for Oxford University, told Cherwell: “We welcome the opportunity to make very clear that this company, its events and its awards have absolutely nothing to do with the University of Oxford.
“Anyone who is ever unsure if an advertised course or award is actually connected to Oxford University is always welcome to contact the University and we will be happy to check for them.”