ANALYSIS: Implications of ‘fake degree’

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By Masud Khabeki

The negative implications of ‘fake degree’ need a thorough understanding. No doubt, we can identify plenty of reasons behind the efforts both by the students and the ‘fake degree’ providers, the obvious beneficiaries of the illegitimate business. The students have the intention for easy routes to achieve the target or looking for shortcuts to educational credentials as they seek better opportunities for employment. Many of the students are misled by what is offered by degree mills, but others knowingly pay a significant fee in order to claim (falsely) that they have completed a legitimate course of study leading to reliable certification.
Unscrupulous individuals respond including both parties, the students and the fake degree providers by exploiting the current demand for higher education credentials in our country. It is obvious that the people who buy fake qualifications are motivated by prospects of getting jobs they are not necessarily qualified for. Some are also motivated by prospects of a pay increase or a rise in salaried income especially if they can demonstrate higher qualifications than what they currently have.
We have noticed that years of good schooling and diplomas or degrees help to ensure access to high-skill jobs which carry high socio-economic status. Since skills are often positively associated with socio-economic status, employers tend to value diplomas and degrees as indicating that employees bring high skilled levels to the labor market. Where promotion and salary increments are linked to the attainment of higher qualifications, the implication of fraudulent qualifications on employment offers and promotion decisions is that holders of fraudulent qualifications effectively disadvantage people who are actually qualified and would have been appointed or promoted. Many university teachers having fake qualifications entered into the higher education sector using the same methodology and now indulge in promoting the ‘fake degree’ business in public sector universities.
More recently, the public sector universities have opened a window of opportunity for the corrupt individuals/faculties an instant platform from which to launch degree mills, which students often cannot readily distinguish from the learning opportunities offered by legitimate institutions. The public sector universities have opened a floodgate of deception that is not only harmful for our society but damaging the repute of our higher education sector. It is unimaginable to think that the fraudulent credentials are being issued in government sector universities. For instance, the Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi is awarding the degree of MSc Criminology without having the qualified faculty and without offering the necessary subjects of criminology since many years. Thus, the work of legitimate higher education providers – reliable evaluation of credentials, successful transfer of credit, reconciling differences in degree structure is undermined by such ‘fake degree’ mills like Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi. The fraud has been done by creating many attractions, that university is yielding significant benefits for society through the development of a skilled workforce and educated citizenry and to individuals through better and more rewarding employment opportunities and improved quality of life especially in the field of criminal justice studies.
‘Fake degree’, however, may not guarantee enjoyment of the same benefits even though vendors peddling in ‘fake degree’ and individual holders may gain from it. The dangers for the repute of the country, society and the economy are enormous as the fake certificates signify nothing and can be placed at the same level as counterfeit medicine and bank notes. The analogy with respect to counterfeit medicine, they may contain wrong or no active ingredients, or they may have the right active ingredient but at the wrong dose, making it both ineffective and harmful to the patient and society. Like counterfeit medicine and counterfeit banknotes, ‘fake degrees’ are produced with the intent to deceptively represent the original. Generally, lacking the legal authority or the legitimate accreditation and in most of the cases the absence of relevant or specialized knowledge, ‘fake degrees’ are therefore one form of fraud and deception. They may have the appearance of genuine qualifications but lack the essence of what they signify – the knowledge, skills, values and competences associated with appropriate doses of quality education and training. While some ‘fake degrees’ require awardees less study time to obtain, others are actually sold or bought and so do not require any meaningful coursework or research like the degree of MSc Criminology is being offered in Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi.
In terms of the financial costs involved, globally the fake and counterfeit qualifications business is a billion-dollar industry. Some expert estimates suggest that the industry is worth five billion dollars a year. It follows that counterfeit or fake degrees represent one of the lucrative opportunities for fraudsters. The facilitators of this mafia working in our public sector universities must be identified and legal actions have to be initiated against them to curb this growing problem of fraud and deception. The globalization and liberalization of higher education, the advent of online education, evening programs and open and distant learning (ODL) have created a festering environment where both legitimate and illegitimate higher education providers compete and thrive side by side in a context characterized by growing student international mobility and a competitive global market for jobs, the results of which include difficulties to tell which higher education providers and qualifications are illegitimate as we lack platforms where student could access to information and to know the legitimacy of degree programs. Our HEC has completely denied listening complaints against fraudsters and corrupt officials in higher education sector in Pakistan.
This is a serious challenge as we have noticed that even the global response to ‘fake degree’ is not considerable. It’s not only our governments or the HEC that has turned a blind eye and so tacitly appear to permit the use of ‘fake degrees’ by allowing offenders to continue serving in positions of power and influence since many efforts have been made to identify such misdemeanors. No wonder that the incidence of fake and fraudulent qualifications has reached a crisis level. Some universities, like the Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi has on their staff individuals with questionable credentials, suggesting that obtaining bogus degrees is tolerable. A pertinent question to consider is whether the status of such staff does not affect and reflect negatively on the credibility of the programs and qualifications and the institutions themselves. In other words, can a holder of “fake” degree teach and supervise and confer in the broad sense knowledge and skills that are valid? Also, can an institution head by a Dean, Chairman, Consultant or vice chancellor who possesses and was perhaps recruited on the basis of ‘“fake’” credentials award legitimate degrees, diplomas or certificates? What are the implications for the academic legitimacy of graduates and for the higher education system at large where key policy decisions are made by officials who assumed such key positions upon presenting fake qualifications or irrelevant to the subject? It is obvious that fraudulent qualifications carry the risks of derailing national development and aspirations for a better future.
The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan is not only failing to deliver but has become a unique place for mismanagement and corruption. The Chairperson National Agriculture Education Accreditation Council Islamabad is involved in corruption as he has appointed people to oblige MD Quality Assurance Agency HEC in clear violation of byelaws of the council. In another incident Prof. Sarwat Mirza also tendered his resignation on 30/09/2019 to Chairperson NAEAC due to uncomfortable working conditions. This all has been happening right under the nose of Chairman HEC, Islamabad. Consequently, HEC and public sector universities are clearly facing administrative challenges and need intervention at the earliest.

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