“The TEFL University” – as dodgy as it sounds?

The founder/ owner of “The TEFL University” seems genuinely keen to give stuff away for free or cheap (including other people’s stuff – see below), but unfortunately I still recommend giving this site and its courses a wide berth. Here are 20 reasons, followed by more details on some of them.

Firstly, whatever definition you care to use, “The TEFL University” is not a university. Therefore using the names “BA” and “degree” to describe one of its qualifications (a two or three month, $299.00 one) and the name of the site are pure deception.

It also has many of the common danger signs of dodgy TEFL courses:

  1. No accreditation, with evasive and downright bizarre comments on the topic
  2. “Teaching English Abroad is Fun” and apparently suitable for anyone
  3. Mention of how easy to pass/ impossible to fail it is
  4. Claims about being cheap or free put first in descriptions
  5. The same “do the course for free and then pay for a test and certificate” business model as some other dodgy TEFL courses I’ve written about, with a price for the test that is actually just as high as a lot of other online TEFL courses once you factor in their (permanent) GroupOn discounts
  6. Misleading use of the “120 hour TEFL course” description
  7. Mention of being above an unexplained (because non-existent) “industry standard”
  8. Mention of being “internationally accepted” without any description of what that means
  9. Mention of being “non-profit”/ “charitable” when that is clearly not actually legally the case
  10. Murky (to say the least) business relationships with other organisations which are mentioned, and some fishiness about those organisations too
  11. A close connection to Thailand
  12. A vague connection to the UK which is probably someone’s granny’s shed if it even exists at all
  13. Mention of a “Board of Directors” and other positions on the certificates that almost certainly don’t exist in such an admittedly small organization
  14. The founder doing most or all of the academic and admin jobs
  15. The founder/ owner/ course writer/ admin’s CV doesn’t really match what you might expect of a founder of a university, BA degree and TEFL course. Ditto for the other course writer and seeming business partner.
  16. A less than professional website with the bare minimum amount of information, along with grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes
  17. Underwhelming comments from former trainees, mainly focusing on cost, fun and ease of passing
  18. Rather scrappy and minimal course materials, with rather a random selection of links
  19. Even more unprofessional and evasive replies to email enquiries

More details of some of those here:

Whatever definition you care to use, “The TEFL University” is not a university. Therefore using the names “BA” and “degree” to describe one of its qualifications (a two or three month, $299.00 one) and the name of the site are pure deception. 

Rather ironically, the site mentions fake degrees/ universities, but its only proof that it isn’t a fake is that you actually have to do some study to get the “degree”. There certainly are real degree mills where you don’t have to study at all, but if avoiding that is all you need to be a “TEFL University”, then many online TEFL courses should be worth at least a BA and a CELTA should be worth a PhD!. Anyway, the site then goes on to say that no one who has paid for the course has ever failed and there are comments from students mentioning how easy it all is. It might be a good option if you are looking for a convincing fake degree as people have apparently used its reasonably professional-looking certificates to get work permits (including it seems the people who set up the course!), but in South Korea for example (which gets several mentions as a place their “graduates” have gone), you’d also have to lie about it being an online course as the government only accepts face to face degrees.

There is no actual attempt at proving that this is actually any more of a university than, say, i-to-i TEFL. In fact, the justification in the emails below would absolutely mean that every TEFL organisation in the world could be a “university”. Instead of proof that they are any better than that, there are most of the classic signs of fake universities:

  • No accreditation (despite claiming to be based in the UK, where universities – and indeed even just colleges – obviously need to be accredited)
  • No admission criteria bar an ability to pay
  • Very little study and time needed compared to a real undergraduate degree, and made even shorter by offering credits for virtually anything relevant (despite degrees from genuine distance providers like The Open University taking longer than face to face degrees, and ditto with UK-based distance and face to face MAs)
  • No list of faculty
  • The only two names associated with the course that I could find (on the front page of the TEFL course materials) only have degrees from that very same “TEFL University”! (I’d imagine you’d need at least one proper professor with a PhD to be a university, surely…)
  • No physical address given, but a vague claim of a link to an English-speaking country (in this case simply giving the address “Brighton, UK”!)
  • No phone number
  • A bogus coat of arms (with Latin in, of course – see the bottom of this page)

No accreditation, with evasive and downright bizarre comments on the topic

Both their website and emails say that they don’t need accreditation because “We are The TEFL University”. And I don’t need a gun license because I am The Master of the Universe…

“Teaching English Abroad is Fun” and apparently suitable for anyone

“Teaching English abroad is available to everyone!” – not if you don’t have a proper university degree it isn’t, at least not for most people in most places. And more importantly, would anyone say “Teaching is for everyone”??

“something that doesn’t involve the same amount of stress and has a lot more job satisfaction” – as far as stress goes, again teaching English is obviously still teaching, and when it isn’t really teaching, there goes the job satisfaction…

Misleading use of the “120 hour TEFL course” description

The only reason the “120 hour” thing exists is because that was the standard for face to face courses with observed and graded teaching practice (the important bit). No one has ever asked a teacher if they have passed a 120-hour online course, and anyway the booklet that make up this entire course has less than 120 pages with no actual exercises either in the book or online to do as you read it – meaning over one hour to read each page! Even if you do read all the things that they link to in full (a rather odd thing to do), I still don’t know where they got exactly 120-hours from.

Mention of being above an unexplained (because non-existent) “industry standard”

Some kind of link might have helped, but there is of course no industry body who sets such standards to link to…

Mention of being “internationally accepted” without any description of what that means

Most online qualifications won’t get you a visa, a job that you couldn’t have got with no qualification at all, a pay rise, or a promotion – and that is internationally universal! It’s unlikely that this totally unknown one would do any better than that.

Mention of being “non-profit”/ “charitable” when that is clearly not actually legally the case

See emails below for avoiding this question, plus registered charities would have reference numbers etc that would be on their site. See below for the founder’s other form on this topic.

Murky (to say the least) business relationships with other organisations which are mentioned, and some fishiness about those organisations too

The site mentions several times that the courses/ certificates can be offered so cheaply because it is being sponsored by Freebiesave.org, talking about them as “they” and not once mentioning that the site is completely owned by exactly the same person as “The TEFL University”. Ditto with the links to “Our friends in Thailand… the Thailand Teachers Club (TTC)” (despite The TEFL University’s founder’s email on his online CV being members@thailandteachersclub.com and having a profile page on that site).

The former site also makes less than convincing claims to be a non-profit charity but goes one worse with asking people to donate to it, while the latter seems to mainly be links to illegally uploaded TEFL books.

A close connection to Thailand

Spain has always been the centre for totally fake course that just take your money and don’t even bother sending you a certificate, but for an TEFL courses with much marketing and minimal standards Thailand has to be the world capital, and I’d closely investigate any course that was mainly based in that country before thinking about taking their courses.

A vague connection to the UK which is probably someone’s granny’s shed if it even exists at all

This is a common trick with TEFL course providers, online degree mills, and even EFL publishers that are really based in other countries. They at least usually have an actual address, rather than just “Brighton, UK” . The email below also mentions a “Saudi Arabian (Dammam) sub office” that is almost certainly really his flat in the place he now works, while giving two reasons why I can’t go to the Brighton office.

Mention of a “Board of Directors” and other positions on the certificates that almost certainly don’t exist in such an admittedly small organization

Again, they wouldn’t be the first to do this trick. They would probably be the first to do so after saying on their website that they are not a large international organisation… Also, the founder/ course writer/ owner signs himself off as “University admin”, so who on earth would the chairman of the board and the Registrar be??

The founder doing most or all of the academic and admin jobs

The emails below all end with “Max, University Admin”, obviously the same Max who wrote the course and set up the website, as that Max Diamond is definitely now working in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, according to his online CV.

The founder/ owner/ course writer/ admin’s CV doesn’t really match what you might expect of a founder of a university, BA degree and TEFL course. Ditto for the other course writer and seeming business partner.

The person who set up this “university” and TEFL course only has a degree from his very own university and only took the Cambridge CELTA two years ago. I can’t find any mention of academic publications on his online CV, but the freebies site he runs does give free PDFs of the books he has written, including The Budgie Manual, Horoscope 2014 – A Quick Guide to Your Future!, The Big Book of Homemade Candy Recipes and Amazing Cat Tales. 

His teaching experience mainly consists of “private lessons” in Thailand while also doing other jobs. So what is his background if not TEFL or academic based? Apparently “I have been in the business of Internet marketing for clients websites and for many years and thankfully, this keeps ‘food on the table’”…

And check out the photo on his “author profile” – not really what you’d expect from the founder/ owner/ chancellor of an actual university…

A less than professional website with the bare minimum amount of information, along with grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes

By no means the worst example of this among Thailand-based TEFL providers, but when I pasted the entire site into a Word document to edit it down to make this piece, Microsoft kindly pointed out quite a lot of basic errors that I don’t think you’d find on the site of, say, Cambridge ESOL or Aston University (“This club is 100% free to join and it’s members get a ton of stuff for nothing” etc). Not something they could apparently be bothered to check themselves…

Underwhelming comments from former trainees, mainly focusing on cost, fun and ease of passing

Examples include:

“I really enjoyed the course and unlike so many others, it was really affordable! Roger H., USA”

“Passed the course, applied for a job in China, and got it! Thank you so much. Sarah J., UK”

“A friend recommended The TEFL University, I will be doing the same to other friends. Many thanks, as I just could not afford those other ‘over-priced’ TEFL courses! Charlotte H., USA”

“Exams always make me nervous, but I sailed though this one. Great course, professional service. Tony J., USA”

“As you know, I needed the BA degree to be granted a work permit and now I have it, the job is mine. Cheers! Graham P., UK”

Rather scrappy and minimal course materials, with rather a random selection of links

And I’m saying that as someone who has contributed to some of the sites that they link to…

Again, I posted the text from the PDF into a Word document so I could pick out some bits of it and instantly found tons of errors, including misspelling the name of their own website on the very first page (“The TEFL Uuiversity”).

More importantly, unlike almost any TEFL course I have come across, there is no practice at all of the concepts etc as they go along. Rather strange that a course which starts by describing PPP could think that someone could learn something by just reading a 100-odd page book and then taking an exam… And when you are asked to read something to link to, that is the very un-TEFLy instruction they use – always just “Read…” and never “Read… and…” or “Read… for…”

The actual advice in the booklet is a mix of common sense and some other parts which are a bit, shall we say, eccentric. Here are some examples from the first third of the booklet that I read:

  • A suggestion that all teachers use PPP or ESA (Engage, Study and Activate), with absolutely no mention of other more generally accepted approaches like TTT (Test Teach Test) and TBA (the Task-based Approach).
  • The absolutely bizarre idea of avoiding the phonemic script (which is what I assume they mean when they mention the IPA) and instead trying to “respell” words to show their pronunciation, with examples like “Mi naeh miz Fred” and “buh NAEH nuh”. Makes you wonder why anyone needed to produce phonemic symbols. I also wonder how students can get hold of a dictionary with your respellings in it…
  • The model lesson plan is a lesson which wouldn’t pass a CELTA. It suggests avoiding the problem of vocabulary students might not understand by starting the class with translation of difficult words. Controlled practice is to get students to read out questions and answers in front of the class, continuing until you run out of time.
  • Suggesting “ass” (as in “arse”, presumably) and “ash” as a useful minimal pair
  • Not a single actual quote or academic reference (despite a great fondness for statements like “Research tends to indicate that…”)
  • The idea that “we” scan and skim but EFL students apparently don’t have those skills
  • Almost no alternatives given to the advice, e.g. no mention of the recent doubts about the usefulness of teaching reading microskills or of process writing
  • Bodily contact as the best form of controlling students (“Even quite disruptive teenagers can often be settled down with a simple gentle hand placed on their shoulder.”)
  • All context specific examples are about Thailand (as the two writers have only taught there, and now Saudi Arabia).

In general, the booklet looks like it took about a week to write, fair enough for a freebie book on budgies but as the basis of a teaching qualification, I think not.

Unprofessional and evasive replies to email enquiries

Here is the full exchange, which I would judge mainly as evasiveness, especially the classic technique of saying “The information is on the website” when it is quite clearly is not, then getting in a strop when I point that out and insist on actual answers to my questions. You can judge for yourselves. I’ve put the bits I think are important in bold.

“Hi I was wondering which of these definitions provided by the UK government your university matches: https://www.gov.uk/check-a-university-is-officially-recognised/overview Thanks”

 

“Dear Alex

Please read the FAQ page. Most general enquiries are answered there

Regards

Max

University Admin”

“Dear Max   Thanks for your reply. Had already read the FAQ and it seems to suggest that you have no recognition from the UK government. Would that be correct?   Thanks   All the best   Alex”

“Hi Alex

The TEFL University requires no recognition from anyone (nor do we want or need anybody!), we are the TEFL University!

We train teachers, we supply teachers (worldwide), we educate… full stop!

Max”

 

“Hi Alex

We are The TEFL University… our courses and certificates are accepted worldwide. The British government has no say in our certification, and how we conduct our courses, as with most non-governmental institutions!

Regards

Max

University Admin”

“Dear Max   Thanks for your very clear replies. In that case I don’t see what your reasons are for calling yourself a university and for calling one of your courses a BA. Could you tell me what distinguishes your course and organisation from other TEFL course providers? Thanks   All the best   Alex”

“Hi Alex

You can find most of your questions answered inside the pages of our website.

We are a genuine non-profit organisation, that provides a truly affordable solution for people wanting to further themselves and pursue a career in ESL teaching.

We are very passionate about what we do. Our sponsors feel the same.

Regards

Max

University Admin”

“Hi Max   Can I just check if that means you are a registered NPO?   I’ve looked at literally the whole site, including the download, and I still have quite a lot of questions, most of which are answered in other TEFL course websites. For example: – I couldn’t find any details about the academic staff. – Which countries in particular have people used your qualifications to get jobs and visas in, especially your BAs?   I can phone you or even pop into your office in Brighton if it’ll make it easier to discuss.   Cheers   Alex”   “Hi Alex

 

“Sorry, but I am currently at our Thailand sub office, and will be in our Saudi Arabian (Dammam) sub office next week.

Our staff is made up of teachers and academics from around the world. Exam and course marking is done from a datrabase of over 50 examination staff on a rotational basis. The Brighton office is used for internal admin purposes only.

We have graduates currently teaching in many countries (Thailand, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East, South America, South Korea etc)

If you still feel unsure about using our services, I suggest that you seek a course elsewhere that you feel more comfortable with.

Regards

Max

University Admin”

“Dear Max   Thanks for the rapid reply.   Sorry to get you at an inconvenient time, but I only just found out about you from a Google Alert I have on “TEFL”. When I saw that there was a TEFL university and that they were offering free courses, I instantly thought it was something that readers of my TEFL blog would be interested in reading about. I’ve written about free TEFL courses before, including this interview a couple of years ago: https://tefltastic.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/eslinsider-free-tefl-course/   I think the best way of allowing you to spread your message to my 30,000 or so monthly readers would probably also be some kind of email interview. Please let me know if that sounds okay.   Thanks for linking to EnglishClub.com and Usingenglish.com, btw, as they both have a fair bit of my TEFL writing on them!   All the best   Alex”

“Hi Max   Sorry to bother you again, but just to let you know that I’m about halfway through writing a post on what I’ve learned about your organisation so far, but I’ll still be very happy to include an interview or similar as I offered yesterday if you’d like to have your say.    All the best   Alex”

“Hi Alex

Thanks for the inclusion!

[PRIVATE INFO EDITED OUT] and the internet out here in [EDITED] is barely possible… sorry!

Next week I have to travel to several meetings, before flying back to Saudi. Please do send me the link to the blog article.

Regards

Max”

Note also the lack of a proper email signature and not using full names even from the first reply. I teach emailing to admin staff in a university here in Japan, and none of my students have ever sent me even a first example without a proper email signature…

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10 Responses to “The TEFL University” – as dodgy as it sounds?

  1. alexcase says:

    Here are two replies, one of which has a request to publish so I guess it’s okay to post them here:

    “Hi Alex

    You sound like a reporter that is only interested in making your blog EXTREME (correct info or not!)

    Obviously, you have little ESL experience (I don’t expect you to print this, of course!), otherwise, you would not be so scathing!

    At the end of the day… we help a lot of people that simply could not afford the ‘usual’ TEFL programmes, get jobs abroad.

    We don’t supply ‘life dregrees’ or ‘copy’ certificates… you earn what you get!

    No matter…

    I hope you will have enough morality to publish this statement in it’s entirity… but we will soon see if you are truly ‘worth your weight’ as a ‘genuine’ TEFL reporter… or not!

    Max

    Admin

    The TEFL University”

    and

    “Dear Alex

    Lastly (you should know this by now!)… while I am happy for you to say what you like about our organisation… you may not (nor have permission) to portray our logo on your blog!… so I ask you kindly, to remove this forthwith!

    I understand you are only looking out for ESL teachers,,, but abusing copyright is not the way to go, without our permission!

    Regards

    Max

    University Admin”

    Logo removed, and I’ll post my reply here too once I’ve sent it.

  2. alexcase says:

    Here’s my reply:

    “Dear Max

    Thanks for your replies.

    The logo has been removed and your emails have been published as requested.

    The post mentions that you do at least get students to study something, but in your emails you have again failed to provide any evidence that you are an actual university and that your “graduates” deserve actual BA degrees. In fact, your materials and staffing suggest standards even below those of most other online TEFL courses. My ELT CV is considerably more impressive than yours, and I wouldn’t dream of issuing anyone with a TEFL certificate, let alone a degree. And I certainly would never apply for jobs based on qualifications I had issued to myself.

    If you find any inaccuracies in the post please let me know or leave a comment on the blog. Also, I’ll be happy to mention it in the post if you sort out some of the problems I point out such as the typos or changing this model lesson plan to at least follow your own recommendations:

    https://tefltastic.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/tefl-course-model-lesson-plan/

    All the best

    Alex”

  3. Ben Naismith says:

    I wonder where I can get a life dregree. You should send him a picture of a spider missing a leg as payment for the course – the email exchange has that kind of vibe to it.

  4. “The TEFL University requires no recognition from anyone (nor do we want or need anybody!), we are the TEFL University!”

    That’s really poetic though.

  5. alexcase says:

    I wonder if that would work in a job interview – “I don’t need any qualifications – I am ‘The TEFL Teacher'”

    Latest reply from the guy here:

    “Dear Alex

    You do not have permission to post the photo. Please also remove this from your pages.

    However…

    It’s nice to see some constructive points about the ‘model lesson plan’

    I completely agree, and thank you for the input!

    The book is due for a re-write in December 2014, and I have included your notes with regard to the model lesson plan, and some other points you have made.

    Regards

    Max”

    still no attempt to argue with anything I’ve written. I’ll post my reply when I send it.

  6. smittenness says:

    Oh good grief. I dint know whether to laugh or cry at this nonsense. Where to begin? ‘University’? Appropriating work from others while banging on about ‘copyright’? Overuse of ‘quotation marks’? Absolute shambles. Thank you, Alex for calling them out.

  7. alexcase says:

    Here’s the reply I’m planning. What do you think?

    “Dear Max

    Thanks for your reply. That photo has also now been replaced with just a link.

    I’m very glad that you are willing to accept constructive criticism and make changes. The fact that so many changes are needed makes it quite clear that you are in no way qualified to issue TEFL certificates, but as that is true of most of the small TEFL courses, I’m willing to drop the topic now that anyone Googling the topic can find some analysis of what you are offering.

    I’m even willing to accept ‘The TEFL University’ as a cute but obviously inaccurate name for an online TEFL certificate provider. However, actually calling one of your courses a university degree is pure fraud and possibly outdoes all the other stunningly deceitful TEFL course providers out as far as the gap between what you advertise and what you offer goes. I therefore intend to continue and extend my campaign against your organisation until it stops advertising any of its courses as “degree”, “BA”, or any other expressions which suggests an actual university qualification. If I don’t hear of a plan to do away with this fraud, I plan to start my extended campaign by contacting immigration authorities with warnings that fraudulent degrees may have been used to obtain work permits in their countries.

    If, however, you are willing to stop dragging our unprofessional profession further into the mud by at least doing away with the actually fraudulent terms on your site, then I will completely drop the matter and amend my previous post to take out references to things which are no longer on the site.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    All the best

    Alex”

  8. Richard says:

    Here’s the Whois information on them. It looks like a solid university that can stand proud alongside Oxford and Yale:

    Domain Name: THETEFLUNIVERSITY.COM
    Registry Domain ID: 1803926048_DOMAIN_COM-VRSN
    Registrar WHOIS Server: whois.hostmonster.com
    Registrar URL: http://www.hostmonster.com/
    Updated Date: 2014-04-20T00:41:40Z
    Creation Date: 2013-05-26T02:03:14Z
    Registrar Registration Expiration Date: 2015-05-26T02:03:14Z
    Registrar: FastDomain Inc.
    Registrar IANA ID: 1154
    Registrar Abuse Contact Email:
    Registrar Abuse Contact Phone: +1 801 765 9400
    Reseller: HostMonster.Com
    Domain Status: clientTransferProhibited
    Registry Registrant ID:
    Registrant Name: DOMAIN PRIVACY SERVICE FBO REGISTRANT
    Registrant Organization:
    Registrant Street: 1958 SOUTH 950 EAST
    Registrant City: PROVO
    Registrant State/Province: UTAH
    Registrant Postal Code: 84606
    Registrant Country: UNITED STATES
    Registrant Phone: +1.8014948462
    Registrant Phone Ext:
    Registrant Fax:
    Registrant Fax Ext:
    Registrant Email:
    Registry Admin ID:
    Admin Name: DOMAIN PRIVACY SERVICE FBO REGISTRANT
    Admin Organization:
    Admin Street: 1958 SOUTH 950 EAST
    Admin City: PROVO
    Admin State/Province: UTAH
    Admin Postal Code: 84606
    Admin Country: UNITED STATES
    Admin Phone: +1.8014948462
    Admin Phone Ext:
    Admin Fax:
    Admin Fax Ext:
    Admin Email:
    Registry Tech ID:
    Tech Name: DOMAIN PRIVACY SERVICE FBO REGISTRANT
    Tech Organization:
    Tech Street: 1958 SOUTH 950 EAST
    Tech City: PROVO
    Tech State/Province: UTAH
    Tech Postal Code: 84606
    Tech Country: UNITED STATES
    Tech Phone: +1.8014948462
    Tech Phone Ext:
    Tech Fax:
    Tech Fax Ext:
    Tech Email:
    Name Server: NS1.HOSTMONSTER.COM
    Name Server: NS2.HOSTMONSTER.COM
    DNSSEC: unsigned
    URL of the ICANN WHOIS Data Problem Reporting System: http://wdprs.internic.net/

  9. David Sloan says:

    Here’s the man himself in action. Bit of a snake oil salesman.

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