If you think that the IDA’s scandal with the fake degree is an isolated case, we’d like to assure you that it is not.
The problem with fake degrees is nothing new. Technology has made it so much easier to dish out a fake qualification and sell on the internet.
The former CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson, is a fine example. He got caught beefing up his resume with an embellished college degree. He claimed he had an accounting degree, but for 10 years his resume claimed it was a degree in computer science. The college he attended didn’t even offer a computer science degree until four years after Thompson graduated.
George Gollin is a board member of the U.S.-based Council for Higher Education Accreditation, he told CNN he estimates that more than 100,000 fake degrees are sold each year in the U.S. alone. Of those, around one third are postgraduate degrees. He added that a bogus degree will typically cost $1,000.
The institutions that sell these fake qualifications are known as either diploma mills or degree mills. Diploma mills issue fraudulent diplomas supposedly granted by real universities, while degree mills pose as real universities.
There are also some schools that sound like universities which will let you pass and get a degree without studies or exams and just a small amount of “coursework”. One degree mill required about a week’s worth of coursework to earn a masters degree.
Some degree mills award degrees on the basis of the buyer’s supposed “life experience”. These web sites even include a way for prospective employers to contact to verify the degree is genuine.
Many countries have government-run web sites where you can easily check if a university is officially accredited, for example: http://www.ecctis.co.uk/naric/Organisations/Product%20Catalogue/Online%20Databases.aspx
However, some mills offer fake degrees from real universities, it is essential that employers also check with someone at the university that the degree was actually issued.
If someone had been fraudulently representing themselves and getting jobs because of a fake degree, the employers can refer these cases to the criminal justice system and have them prosecuted.
The difficulty is when the schools are not exactly fraudulent and have legitimately made you go through a very simple course to get your degree. It is not fraud, it is not misrepresentation – these qualifications are the trickiest to sieve out.
Before you think that it should be the Government’s job to prohibit certain degrees, I’d like to urge you to consider the consequences: who is the government to decide which schools are good schools and which are not? What if you had worked very hard for a paper, only to see that your school had been tarnished by the government?
Whose job is it anyway to verify the hundreds and thousands of schools globally and negotiate their admission into an academic naughty/nice list? And would it create diplomatic tensions if we decide that a particular university shouldn’t be recognised?
There are many considerations and even the British ECCTIS and UK NARIC (discussed above) cannot answer for our region.
Meanwhile, the onus is up to Human Resource departments and hiring managers to do their due dilligence.
- Look up the internet and see if the degree could be bought.
- If the candidate had written a thesis, they should be able to produce a copy of that thesis.
- Aesthetic errors. Reputable universities almost never have design errors such as poor alignment, spelling mistakes, poor print quality or the lack of a proper seal.
- Query the school. Can the institution in question award that given qualification? Is the institution accredited?
These “red flags” are only a starting point. It takes a lot of experience and research to be able to identify bogus or fake degree; the above are just some of the elements used to spot fake qualifications.
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