IN 2004, Laura Callahan, then the senior director and chief information officer of the United States’ Department of Homeland Security, stepped down from her position after she was exposed for purchasing her bachelor’s degree, masters, and PhD doctorate through online transactions.
The incident raised questions on the security of the White House as it clearly showed that no thorough background check was done prior to the hiring of Callahan.
Early this year, Serge Belamant, CEO of Net1 UEPS in South Africa, which is responsible for distributing the equivalent of RM20bil in social grants monthly, was reported to have been duped into thinking he had a PhD.
In March this year, Myanmar’s Finance and Planning Minister U Kyaw Win also confessed to owning a fake PhD degree. He was, however, allowed to carry on with his job when the ruling party stated that fake educational credentials would not make any difference to his eligibility for the minister’s post.
The scam of fake degrees is among the worst kind of criminal activities today and it is growing in scale worldwide.
According to The Economist, between 40,000 and 45,000 legitimate PhDs are awarded annually in the US while 50,000 spurious PhDs are purchased and issued nationwide, valued at RM4bil per year. In other words, more than half of all people claiming a new PhD may be having a fake degree.
In Russia, a fake doctorate certificate could be bought for RM3,000. There are also syndicates that produce fake doctorate certificates with the name of Harvard University for RM120,000 each.
There is also a website issuing fake degrees including PhDs from reputable institutions of higher learning for RM240 only. This offer is very cheap and more attractive as the purchasers are allowed to choose from a variety of fields or courses and their preferred university.
A few years ago, fake degrees involving Malaysian universities were detected following a cheating case related to qualifications from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). The syndicate, masterminded by a former student of the university, offered USM degrees for RM4,888 each through a website.
In another case, Malaysian police were able to successfully suppress a syndicate that was selling fake certificates purportedly from five foreign countries. Buyers of degrees from this syndicate were reported to comprise businessmen, politicians and even individuals with the title of “Tan Sri”.
The company reportedly charged RM6,500 for a bachelor’s degree, RM8,500 for a masters and RM10,500 for PhD in various disciplines from foreign universities that were subsequently found to be non-existent.
While the desire to cheat may be a fundamental and sub-conscious aspect of human nature, not everyone will be dishonest enough to go to this extent. However, some opportunistic people would pursue short-cuts for faster rewards, thinking there is no need to study when you could easily obtain within seven days what would take university students three to six years of hard work to achieve.
Such dishonest people are proud to introduce themselves as “Dr” or even professor when in fact their education may be only up to Form 3 or Form 5.
These individuals feel this can boost their image and credibility while some do it to progress in their career or business.
These factors combined with public attitude, which easily believes glib talk without reviewing a person’s educational background, and the weakness of employers in Malaysia who only look at criminal records of job applicants, cause such fraudulent behaviour to proliferate.
A national data centre must be established to prevent graduate forgery and all certificates should be printed by the National Printers (Percetakan Nasional) which has a high level of security. Meanwhile, those individuals who flaunt their fake academic achievement should be repulsed by their attitude.
They should be ashamed to face society and even their family members who know the truth.
It is appropriate for them to be charged under section 468 (Forgery for the purpose of cheating) and 471 (Using as genuine a forged document) of the Penal Code.
If the individual is convicted, he or she “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine”.
Failure to curb this evil will seriously affect the quality of education in our country.
It will also send out a wrong impression to foreigners, thus affecting Malaysia’s efforts to make the country a hub of higher education.
Last year, the Majlis Professor Negara (MPN) launched the guidelines on the use of the “professor” title.
The guideline was aimed at enhancing the professional credibility and image of academics in Malaysia and to clarify how and when the title could be used.
DATUK AKHBAR SATAR
Director, Institute of Crime and Criminology,
HELP University, Kuala Lumpur