How to Tackle the Growing Threat of Fake Qualifications

The explosion in access to technology – and the Internet – have made all kinds of things possible that were not before. One of the negative consequences is the proliferation of fake qualifications that has become a worldwide problem.

The National Student Clearinghouse stated that falsified academic credentials are a pervasive, serious and ever-increasing problem. “Degree mills” (also known as “diploma mills”) have become a billion-dollar industry, with over 3300 of these mills, providing fake university qualifications and certificates for all levels of degrees across the globe.

Fake academic certificates and degrees are just the beginning. Even those with legitimate degrees may falsify their academic transcripts or specialisation with the help of modern, sophisticated technologies; to get an advantage in their field. A higher education qualification is hugely beneficial for anyone seeking good employment as well as increasing their professional status.

This is why so many professionals are being tempted into adding and changing their type or level of qualification on their CV. In recent years, South Africa has seen credential falsification become far more prevalent than ever before. Labour organisations, such as the South African Qualifications Authority and the Ministries of Education, have exposed a sharp increase in the number of cases of qualification fraud from dozens to thousands, in the last 10 years.

In all likelihood, the real numbers are much higher than we know, as only reported cases are counted. This is an increasing threat to the reputation, legitimacy and quality of universities and businesses across the country. However, there are steps that can – and should – be taken by employers and academic institutions to protect themselves against this kind of fraud. This can include competency-focused interviewing, reference checking and multiple verification systems.

The reputational risk to businesses and academic institutions cannot be overstated. If an employer hires a candidate that is unqualified to – or incapable of – performing the job they are hired for, can be devastating to a company. Similarly, if a university accepts a postgraduate student’s application or hire a lecturer that has falsified qualifications, it immediately brings their standards into question.

This would mean that their previous academic records are less trustworthy as a predictor of success. In order to avoid this, a university may become more inclined to, exclusively, accept their own students for postgraduate degrees and staff for higher positions. The same goes for businesses who would be less likely to recruit from outside the organisation. This limits the opportunity and potential growth of those institutions by only selecting internally-verified candidates and ignoring the skills and capabilities of external candidates.

Hiring a new employee or accepting a new student who has falsified their credentials or lied on a CV can have a multitude of other negative consequences. This might mean high staff turnover, loss of revenue, public reputational damage, fewer qualified candidates or exposure to costly, legal liability. This could take years to fix and repairing the reputation of that institute may become impossible.

For example, the University of Cape Town has been focused in recent years on guaranteeing the validity of – and accessibility to – their former students’ certification and qualification documents. Postgraduates are put through a rigorous application process before they are selected to study. If documents are found to be falsified, that application is immediately rejected and a disciplinary or enquiry process may follow.

This approach is becoming more accessible and being adopted by universities across the country. South Africa has made tremendous strides in its ability to verify and approve qualifications. An automated, centralised online verification system, the first of its kind, called MiE (Management Integrity Evaluation) offers: criminal record checks, credit checks, global screenings, supplier risk solutions and psychometric assessments.

This service is able to link higher education institutions and different businesses to a centralised system with third party verification options. This database can help verify matric certificates, tertiary qualifications, past employment and credit as well as criminal history. It can also help verify accredited academic institutions and identify illegitimate degree mills.

For businesses and other employers, like universities or governments, it is critical to perform their due diligence and crosscheck all provided references. Without verifying the employment, personal, financial and educational backgrounds of potential employees and applicants; an organisation is placing themselves, their work and their workplace under threat.

Other tools can be used too, such as social media checks and competency-based interviews. Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn can provide insights to employers, on the everyday thoughts of their candidate and identify their employment claims as well as their online presence. Competency-based interviews can alert an employer to false qualifications by testing an applicant’s aptitude for that job and comparing what is said in person and what is written on their CV.

If there is any doubt remaining after conducting these kinds of educational and background verification procedures; do not appoint the applicant. Due diligence means that a candidate who ticks every box may still have information (or qualifications) in question and there is a responsibility to guarantee that potential worker’s capability and your business’s security. It may take time and resources to conduct a thorough employment verification process, but it will never cost what making a bad hire can do to an organisation.

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