Fake qualifications are a threat to us who have earned our degrees

2015-05-30 22:12

  In recent times there has been a growing distasteful trend of people who either have forged their qualifications or have deliberately lied about the degrees that they possess on their curriculum vitae (CVs)According to the official Census 2011 results, there are about 52 million South Africans; the percentage of people aged 20 or older who have higher education stands at 12.1%. Statistics South Africa revealed in the first quarter of 2015 that the unemployment rate is at 26.4% and has increased from the last quarter of 2014.

More and more South Africans are becoming unemployed; this results in aggressive competition in the job market. Sadly, some people resort to “cooking” their CVs and qualifications in order to put themselves forward in the best possible light. Some would say that fraudulent qualifications are the product of unemployment or the fear thereof. However, the very individuals carrying out this fraud have been in positions of authority for some time.

A degree, no matter how it was obtained, is seen as a ticket to the good life especially in a country like South Africa were the majority of citizens do not have post matric schooling education. There are plenty of websites offering degrees for sale. Very well reproduced diploma and degree certificates are now easily obtainable. A high school dropout can obtain a PhD (doctorate) degree for a mere R10 000 without ever writing a thesis. Some South African professionals are turning to degree mills for "life experience degrees". Most of these degree mills covered themselves legally by referring to their fakes as "novelty" degrees. Virtually any degree - from a bachelor's to a doctorate - can be bought in the US and the UK. Sometimes universities cannot even tell the difference between the fake certificate and their own degrees without verifying it with Qualification Verification Services (QVS) or their own records.

Recently, there have been a number of cases of high profiled individuals in government, business and parastatal organisations who have blatantly falsified their qualifications. These include:

· South Africa's ambassador to Japan, Mohau Pheko, claimed she received her PhD degree from the American La Salle University in 2000.

· Johnny Molefe, who had been newly appointed to the position of Vice Chancellor of Tshwane University of Technology, was found to have a highly questionable doctorate from a shady “university” in the Caribbean.

· Pallo Jordan, ANC MP and struggle stalwart, claimed to have obtained his doctorate from the London School of Economics (LSE). However, upon enquiry, LSE denied having any records of Jordan studying there.

· Former ANC spokesman Carl Niehaus was forced to step down in 2009 after it was revealed that he had left a broad trail of financial mismanagement, racking up R4.5 million in debt, and lied about having a master’s degree and a doctorate in theology from the University of Utrecht.

· Former Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Sicelo Shiceka, lied about having a master’s degree in political economy from the University of the Free State and it this qualification was listed in his official curriculum vitae on the department’s website.

· SABC chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng was found guilty of lying about having a matric certificate by public protector Thuli Madonsela. Motsoeneng claimed that he had matriculated from Metsimantsho High School in QwaQwa in 1995.

· Former SANRAL board chairwoman, Tembakazi Mnyaka, stated on her CV that she received a master’s degree in town planning from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, but this was found to be not true.

· Former SABC board chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala lied about having a BComm degree and a postgraduate diploma in labour relations. UNISA confirmed that SABC chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala does not hold either the BComm or postgraduate degree she has claimed to have on her CV.

· South African Airways chairwoman Dudu Myeni claimed she had a BA in administration from the University of Zululand when she was appointed in 2009.

· Businessman Nico Bezuidenhout, who was appointed to the Mango board in 2006, rose to the position of Mango CEO and became the acting South African Airways CEO – all without a degree. Mr Bezuidenhout misled the public into believing that he held a BCom degree in transport economics and industrial psychology, as well as an MBA degree. Mr Bezuidenhout actually dropped out of two universities, the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and UNISA, before completing his degree.

· A shining example includes, Lindiwe Mazibuko who quit her job in 2014 as the DA’s parliamentary leader to actively further her studies at Harvard University. She recently graduated and obtained her Master’s degree in public administration.

Qualifications fraud poses a danger to the credibility of the country's education system and also to those of us who have genuinely been to university and got our degrees. This is absolutely disgusting that high ranking officials which we as young people should be looking up to are blatantly lying about the degrees that they possess. The South African government National Development Plan (NDP), targets to train 6 000 PhD student annually. The NDP has set a target of training 100 000 PhD students by 2030, the current output in South Africa is a shocking mere 1800 PhD students.

According to Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town, Xolela Mangcu there are only 194 black or South African professors out of the country’s total of 4000. The number translates to 4% of the total population. Clearly, there needs to be intervention and black South Africans are not really encouraged to pursue PhD degree let alone be professors one day.

I’m particularly focusing on PhD students as I am a black PhD candidate myself (yeah baby, I had to throw that in somewhere; I’m in my twenties, black African, born and bred in a township with three degrees behind my name and currently pursuing a PhD in Chartered Accountancy degree) ALL LEGIT! Pause and let that sink in- PhD (doctorate) baba! Okay enough about me, back to the business at hand.

Now, if a growing number of officials who hold high power of authority are faking their PhD degrees surely this will discourage people like me from pursuing such qualifications. It is deeply concerning about the message sent to society, and youth in particular, as some people are able secure top positions within a large state-owned organisations and government while they are unable to prove their claim of holding those qualifications. What is also worrying as well is that even the qualifications of those who have obtained them legitimately will be treated with suspicion (especially if you are black African) and this is unfair to all those of us who have genuinely worked to acquire such qualifications. People who lie about their qualification make a mockery of those of us who have justifiably spend years at university, studied diligently and obtained our degrees.

The proliferation of fake degrees exposes a serious problem of moral bankruptcy in South Africa. If more and more people lie about their qualifications and they get away with it; the entire education system in this country will lose legitimacy and credibility. There needs to be adequate systems and controls in place to curb this disease of qualification fraud. There should be proper vetting processes in place before any individual is employed at any level of government, business and state-owned entity.

Qualifications fraud does have serious consequences as it can become life-threatening when perpetrated by someone purporting to be a qualified medical professional, but is not. A fake medical doctor prescribing drugs or, practicing surgery on unsuspecting patients can pose serious danger. Also, a fake civil engineer building structures such as bridges that would eventually collapse one day; or even fake educators who are not competent to be teaching our children at school.

Some universities in South Africa have vowed to prosecute individuals who use fake degrees purporting to have been issued by their institutions. Those who are found to have lied, misrepresented and forged their qualifications should be severely punished and face the full might of the law. This can be done through either jail time or black listing in a central database like those who default on honouring their credit agreements.

Follow me on Twitter: @CamModisane

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