Internet advertisements blatantly offer fake degrees. We are not talking about bog-standard pieces of paper, but of ones that are ‘authentic and very realistic looking … from colleges and universities worldwide’, which will give you ‘that extra edge’, and come with ‘authentic seals from the college or university of your choice’. The ‘instant graduate’ can also get a ‘cover letter from the college or university you will have graduated from.’
There is a distinction between ‘counterfeit fake’ and ‘genuine fake’. In the former case, the counterfeiters use state of the art technology to produce degree, birth, marriage, and driving documents that are incredibly difficult to distinguish from genuine ones. These sophisticated documents are produced by forgers working for international crime syndicates, which have access to specific types of paper and inks used in the genuine document. The counterfeit document undergoes a quality assurance check, for the industry would soon implode if a high ‘pass’ rate was not achieved. The ‘genuine fake’ is a certificate produced by a recognised university, obtained by bribery, complete with university stamp, hologram, recommendation letters, and placement on the university register for verification. The ‘instant graduate’ is guaranteed that they will pass all scrutiny.
The fake degree industry is rife in many countries:
An article in The Hindu (thehindu 2014), reported on a global survey undertaken by the screening firm First Advantage, which showed that, in 2013, over 70% of Indian ‘job experience certificates’ were forgeries. The article confirms that ‘forgers have been able to decipher what kind of paper to use, the right kind of ink to use as well as identical stamps, making it extremely difficult to spot a fake’, and that the ‘system allows some of the fake degrees to be issued with the help of university officials themselves for the price of a few hundred dollars’.
A report in The Economist (2012) tells of ‘the ease with which almost anyone in China can buy a fake degree … (for) those who cannot afford a degree from a fake foreign university, more than 100 fake Chinese universities now offer diplomas for sale. Many of them have websites and use names similar to those of real colleges. Some even use doctored photographs to advertise their qualifications: one image online shows a group of students said to be from the non-existent Wuhan University of Industry and Commerce standing in Tiananmen Square’. Within China, a growing number of authenticity checks are being carried out by officials.
Florian Bieber (2014), informs us that ‘dozens of private universities have emerged in the Balkans whose primary motivation is to make money. It’s no surprise that with weak state supervision and low standards, there is ample room for abuse. While good private universities have emerged in recent years, there are probably ten dubious institutions for every serious one’. A report by Mark Tutton of CNN (2010), estimated that more than 100,000 fake degrees are purchased each year in America, with a third being postgraduate degrees. One degree ‘manufacturer’ reportedly made $7 million from selling fake degrees to more than 9,600 ‘instant graduates’ in 131 countries. A Nigerian report (nairaland 2011) disclosed that the number fake universities in the country has risen from 44 to 51, some of which had been taken to court.
A foreign student attending a British university does not have to work to obtain a degree – course work can be bought, with many internet-based companies offering this service, and a guaranteed pass. Exams can be taken by a paid ‘doppleganger’. A report in The Independent on Sunday ( Brady, Dutta 2012), commented on an enquiry led by lord Willis in 2009, which concluded that the technology used by essay writing companies makes their products almost impossible to detect. ‘The Independent’ used the Freedom of information Act to establish ‘that at least 45,000 students at more than 80 UK institutions have been hauled before the authorities and found guilty of misconduct in their exams or coursework over the past three years … including individuals caught taking exams for someone else’. The high number of international students was implicated in the high rate of cheating.
And so on, and so on … Yes, there are companies that will perform checks on documents supplied by foreign students, these services are not cheap, can not guarantee to eradicate all cases of cheating, and are not used by most UK universities, who often use a ‘does-it-look-genuine’ approach.* Cynics will not be surprised by this. Whilst debt-ridden UK degree students typically pay £9,000 per year for their education (among the highest rates in the world), overseas ‘cash cows’ are ‘milked’ of upwards of £35,000 per year for the same degree. In 2013, the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee accused universities of being “driven by short-term gains in fee income”.
*UK universities have to demonstrate that they are using a set process to evaluate students from outside the EU, which forms the basis of ‘good practice’. The Home Office confers HTS status on universities – the right to recruit international students – as long as ‘good practice’ is being met. This involves having an admissions policy, detailing how the university evaluates applicants, and what sources of information staff use to make decisions. These are usually the applicant’s previous qualifications, their performance in an admissions test, or interview. How a university confirms previous qualifications is up to them.
They may engage a company to check whether an education provider is listed on an accredited database.
They may do this themselves.
They may check for the use of an official stamp.
They may check the paper quality of the certificate. Is it compatible with that known to be used by the issuing university?
They may check for security features used by the issuing university, such has a hologram.
They may check for font styles used by the issuing university?
They may check for alterations on the document.
They may check for Scanned (pixelated) signatures taken from website.
They may check for the formality of language and correctness of grammar.
They may check for confirmation letters, passports, birth certificates.
They may check for entry on a university register.
The student under ‘scrutiny’ has, however, in many cases, already been recruited by university sales people, who attend plush-hotel ‘degree fairs’ in such countries as India. The level of scrutiny applied to those already recruited, at no small cost, is open to question. Also, as this article makes clear, the above checks, although constituting a ‘process’, are thoroughly useless against the technological advances in forgery and the use of bribery – a bit like trying to detect underground water with a willow stick. At best, they will flush out the most obvious fraudsters, those who can not afford a bespoke forgery service.
The more useful parts of any authentication process are the admission test and interview. The former should require the candidate to be retina scanned or finger-printed, before undertaking a rigorous exam in the subject they wish to study, with proficiency in English being a key element in the marking process. If passing the exam, their retina or finger-print records should be checked on attending their initial lecture.
The same checks should be used on those interviewed, and the interview should thoroughly expose any lack of claimed expertise, and deficiency in spoken English. In the case of applicants of university teaching posts, a rigorous exam and interview should be the norm. This should be a retrospective requirement, with all current overseas lecturers, who have not done so, having to undertake an exam at the level of their claimed qualification, to be followed by an interview. These ‘authentification’ measures should also apply to EU applicants.
(British degree-qualified nurses can not simply apply for jobs in America, Australia, and Canada. Before they can register to practice in these countries they have to undertake exams specified by various State boards. Why should other academic disciplines be exempt from such testing?).
The opposition to anything resembling rigorous checks is of the same camp that opposed the recent rules to tighten the students visa system, in which academic staff are required to report to immigration authorities if non-EU students are absent from classes. This apparantly puts “pressure on staff to spy on their students” (notwithstanding that school teachers have always reported truancy), and would create “an environment of mistrust”, which would endanger “the crucial relationship between staff and students”. This is the argument from ‘lovey-dovey Tower’. Why should university lecturers be exempt from what is the norm in the real world? – the school teacher reporting truants, the manager reporting staff absence, etc. What type of trust is at risk of being broken by someone reporting absences, or, indeed, suspiciously poor course work? Lecturers are not being asked to undertake GCHQ levels of surveillance, GCHQ spies do that. Who would be “affronted” by a more rigorous ‘authentification’ process? – the fraud, for the genuine applicant would welcome the opportunity to prove the validity of their qualification. The belief that any measure should be opposed that makes the UK a less attractive place to study is simply putting economics before ethics. The real debate should be centred around why the British government is not adequately funding university education, and forcing universities to attract funds.
Many British universities are run as fund-seeking businesses, all too eager to exploit an applicant’s bank account, thus devaluing the degrees they issue. It is only a matter of time before some UK universities are placed on a banned list in other countries.
A question is: when is a university so predominantly a commercial enterprise that it is only masquerading as a university?
lenin nightingale 2014
Bieber F (2014) Revisiting New Universities in the Balkans: European Visions, UFOs, and Megatrends balkonist.net 14.6
Brady B, Dutta K (2012 ) 45,000 Caught Cheating At Britain’s Universities The Independent 11.3
Nairaland.com (2011) 22.9
thehindu.com (2014) Beware of Fake Degrees 3.3
The Economist (2012) A quick Study Bogus Degrees From Non-Existent Colleges Cause Headaches For Employers 7.7
Tutton M (2010) Uncovering The Multi-Million Dollar Fake Degree Industry Edition.cnn.com 12.1