Fake Degrees: A multi-million dollar industry
DUBAI 15 September 2019: Forging educational certificates is big business. The most prolific scandal in recent years centred around Axact, a so-called ‘diploma mill’ operating hundreds of fake online universities from a call centre in Karachi, Pakistan.
The company sold more than 215,000 fake qualifications globally in 2015, making the company US$51 million (Dh187m) in one year .
The Middle East is not immune to the problem, and governments across the region are tackling the issue head on. Last year, Saudi Arabian authorities apprehended more than a 100 illegal outfits selling forged degrees from non-Saudi universities .
In the UAE, having detected 143 fake degrees earlier this year, Abu Dhabi’s Ministry of Higher Education is diligently tackling the issue by pursuing legal action against employees who have obtained fake educational certificates, according to HireRight, a leading global background screening provider.
In 2018, the government of Kuwait announced plans to set up a committee to examine certificates of state employees, amid increased concern that fake degrees have been used to obtain positions in the country’s public and private sectors .
Earlier this year, four universities in Lebanon were investigated for selling fake university degrees, leading to the arrests of a number of high-profile government officials, military personnel and civilians, and the closure of one of the country’s universities, Saida University College.
For many young people looking to kick-start their career, the rising cost of further education and student fees is a major concern. According to Forbes, the price of a four-year degree doubled between 1989 and 2016 in the US—about eight times faster than wages , and the outlook is just as bleak in the Middle East.
As the cost of a university degree continues to increase, and the value of having one in a competitive job market showing no sign of abating, this has unfortunately led some individuals to explore illegal avenues.
However, it’s not just those in their late teens and early 20s who are vulnerable to the lure of an ‘easy’ degree to their name. The BBC recently uncovered a number of NHS staff purchasing fake qualifications through the company Axact, including a consultant at a London teaching hospital who bought a degree in Internal Medicine, an anaesthetist who bought a degree in Hospital Management, and a consultant in paediatric emergency medicine who bought a Master of Science in Healthcare Technology.
It is challenging to quantify exactly how much fake degrees cost the business community every year, but what we do know is that the million-dollar industry has far reaching consequences. As well as undermining the credibility and value of education, fake degrees present huge problems for employers.
It is concerning that a recipient of a fake degree can display a certificate of the qualification that they have supposedly completed, with none of the necessary experience, knowledge and understanding of that subject. There is the near unthinkable impact of an underqualified surgeon performing operations or a commercial pilot flying hundreds of passengers without the correct experience. Not only this, a company’s reputation can be irreparably damaged, businesses can fold, and even the very integrity of an industry can be put at risk.
As technology improves, producing fake qualifications has become much easier and as a result, it is even more crucial for companies to check the authenticity of a candidate’s degree before hiring them. With potentially thousands of fake degree holders already in the job market, rescreening current employees should also be a priority for businesses.
Peter Cleverton, General Manager of EMEA at HireRight comments, ‘In recent years we have seen a staggering increase in the amount of fraudulent degree certificates available on the market. Fake degree certificates can also be very convincing; therefore, businesses must take steps to reduce the risk of them going unspotted in their recruitment process.
‘It is vital for businesses who are recruiting students or graduates to verify their qualifications either directly at source, or through a trusted third party provider. To help ensure that candidates have real qualifications from legitimate institutions, there are a number of accredited and government databases available which can be used to check if an education provider is genuine, or see if it is on a list of known diploma mills.
“Whether you verify your candidates’ education history in-house or through an external background screening provider, it is important that businesses confirm the institution name, course title, dates of study, qualification level, and grade obtained. Often mistakes can be genuine, and not meant to be misleading, but with the cost of getting it wrong being so great to a company, it’s vital to be safe and not sorry.”