Why it matters—context of fake qualifications

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Masud Khabeki

 

Many illegitimate practices including plagiarism, cheating in examinations, student admission and placement malpractices as well as dubious awards of academic and professional qualifications are often highlighted in higher education sector of Pakistan. The education mafia is successfully manipulating the existing rules with political patronage and profiting themselves with deception by exhibiting a complete disregard for the quality of education they are providing. Mafia has turned the public sector universities into ‘fake degree’ outlets as they are selling degrees without requiring recipients to do any prescribed, substantial and appropriate coursework required to earn a qualification at any particular level. The administration in universities has adopted a new form of deception by starting and running certain degree programs without having required faculty as well.

We can identify many connections between education and personal economic advantage of the members of education mafia working in the public sector universities. The members of educational mafia have created many faculties in public sector universities without having the requisite expertise or qualified faculty necessary to offer a degree program. They are driving the illegal market for higher education in which ‘public sector fake degree mills’ appear to meet the need for easy credentials. The incompetent faculty is installed in many of the degree programs (i.e. MSc Criminology in Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi) on the pretext of ‘relevance’. In essence, these ‘fake faculty members’ are representing a dark and hidden side of market forces subverting the norms and standards of degree pertaining in formal education and training. Paradoxically, similar dark episodes and ‘fake degree’ manufacturer faculty is evident in almost in all legitimate institutions across the Pakistan. Widespread misconduct is not only affecting university examinations and the conferring of academic credentials, but the fabrication and falsification of data, the licensing and accreditation of institutions is being done with the blessings of higher education commission of Pakistan. The array of areas infested by academic corruption confirms that academic fraud involves a variety of stakeholders including examination candidates, teaching or faculty members, supervisors, managers of courses, programs, institutions and universities.

It has been observed that the entities in-charge of quality assurance and accreditation are equally susceptible to corrupt practices, implying that accreditation may not guarantee academic quality. Apparently, there are several layers of deceit & dishonesty that those seeking to obtain higher education, the fake faculty members bent upon to deceive the students on the one hand and employers recruiting higher education graduates to fill vacancies and sometimes applicants for promotion in the workplace on the other need to appreciate, manage and avoid.

Higher education degrees are perceptively valued as a ladder to better and more rewarding career opportunities, especially in the emerging field of criminal justice system in Pakistan. Generally, our county is experiencing a significant growth in higher education and the effects of the massification of higher education are further compounded by the globalization of learning, training and education alluded to above. There is abundant evidence suggesting that degree qualifications assist in social mobility and result in both personal and public benefits. Benefits at the personal level include jobs, promotions for those who are already employed, higher pay, and social prestige. In particular, higher education qualifications place individuals at an advantage in society. Higher education, though it may not apply to possession of a qualification per se, enables citizens to understand difficult issues, make informed decision, and hold officials to account, which inevitably serve to assure the rise of an informed citizenry in a democratic society. Social and political empowerment are among the compelling reasons for increasing investment levels in higher education and, ironically, the proliferation of ‘fake’ qualifications. With the rise of the potential for social mobility comes the rising demand for higher education that effectively translates into a lucrative market for fake education mafia. Unintentionally, with the rising demand for credentials, a credential society emerges in which class, status and social mobility become intricately linked to possession of a qualification.  The temptation to acquire a degree by any means possible, other than studying for one, completes the cycle.  In some instances, it is the genesis of fake qualifications issued by “diploma mills” while some are also linked to legitimate institutions like public sector universities.

The difference may be hard to tell.  When public sector universities offer sub-standard education, sometimes under-resourced programs and degrees without due diligence are offered with very little effort by way of corrective action, like the one in Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi. Therefore, a fundamental challenge arises, one of how to effectively root out a situation symptomatic of state failure, clandestine or not and especially one that is also dispersed globally.

Coincidentally, in many countries it is a serious offence to offer education or award qualifications outside the confines of the law. For example, in Australia it is considered a criminal offence, while in India institutions offering fake qualifications are considered fake and the qualifications not fit for employment. Some countries, the Netherlands and New Zealand for example, criminalize the unauthorized use of terms such as ‘“degree’” and ‘“university.’” Yet, in practice there are many actors operating outside the law and the globalization of higher education implies that qualifications earned in one country may end up in another country where the holder may practice in a profession they are not fit for. Owing to globalization, certificates are shipped around the world using post and courier and the Internet. It follows that activities of fraudulent providers of credentials are not bound by national territorial limits, nor by time and space aspects of social interactions. The fraudulent providers have indeed a global field of play and reach in real time. As there are relatively little deterrents to engage in fraudulent practices given the modes of communication which make it difficult for anyone to check the authenticity of the documents.

The modus operandi adopted by the education mafia in Pakistan is quite simple. First, fraudsters/fake faculty get-into the well-placed existing universities by using the ladder of higher education and political influence. Secondly, these experts of deception adopt a department with a growing trend like the department of “Criminology” in most of the public sector universities in Pakistan. For many years people believed that higher education is only suffering heavily from plagiarism and concerned with postgraduate qualifications. They also believe that culprits include only politically exposed persons or government ministers among regular students but never thought of Deans, Professors and lecturers holding manipulated degrees would make public sector universities into ‘fake degree’ mills. These type of faculty members need to be identified and must face the course of action according to the law.

More recently, the problem is further fueled by the willingness of university’s vice chancellors to establish ‘fake degree’ producing departments, induction of lecturers ready to take bribes and admit unqualified students like the one in Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi. It is the status associated with higher qualifications that entices many students to take the unconventional path. The doctoral degrees of the troika including Dean of FOSS, Chairman Sociology Department and In-charge Criminology Department need to be scrutinize as their own dissertation are having serious concerns as they lack basic knowledge in their field of study. All of the three need to present their doctoral and master’s degrees before an independent inquiry committee as they are seriously failed to deliver in the studies of criminology since the inception of department in the university. There is plenty of evidence exist and the degrees of ‘fake faculty members’ need to be scrutinized to proceed towards clean-up operations in higher education sector.

Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Middle East like Pakistan provide important insights into the proliferation of fake qualifications. As China is also considered one of the leading producers of bogus degrees, not just for customers in China, but across Asia and beyond. While, in 2015, the Indonesian minister responsible for higher education observed that dozens of universities in Jakarta were selling fake diplomas to politicians. For this reason, a task force was set up to crack down on fake degrees issued mostly by private higher education institutions.  Yet in another instance, a Pakistan IT firm AXACT sold online degrees and diplomas to some 200,000 people from the Gulf countries over a period of four years and for thousands of dollars per certificate. AXACT operated a sophisticated scam through which students could interact with their alleged professors without knowing that they were dealing with a ‘bogus entity’. The same pattern is being adopted in the department of ‘Criminology’ in Arid Agriculture University where ‘fake faculty’ is pretending to be expert in ‘Criminology’ and awarding MSc degrees in Criminology.

Furthermore, the political importance of fake qualification cannot be overemphasized. A constitutional amendment, which required that candidates for public office in Pakistan should hold university degrees, was appealed for political reasons after it was realized that the requirement encouraged the buying of university degrees. Ironically, when the Pakistani Supreme Court ordered that degree qualifications of elected candidates should be verified, instead of pursuing the offenders the constitution was amended to eliminate the degree requirement. But, how long the responsible for producing ‘fake degree’ would remain beyond the reach of law enforcement agencies? They have to face the law for their misdeeds, because, it really matters. We have to eliminate this trend and have to question and stop our pseudo-intellectuals sitting in public sector universities.

 

The writer is on advisory board of an Islamabad based think tank