Making it easier to spot fake degrees

By Mogomotsi Magome Time of article published Apr 12, 2015

Share this article:

Johannesburg - The SA Qualifications Authority (SAQA) is introducing new regulations on the evaluation of qualifications obtained from foreign institutions to curb the scourge of fake degrees.

 SAQA has also introduced new security features on its certificate of evaluation which compared the foreign qualification with those offered in South Africa.

 The new regulations are contained in a draft policy which will see each application for evaluation of qualifications obtained abroad going through a stringent verification process.

Previously, SAQA only verified the authenticity of some of the foreign institutions and their qualifications and credibility if there was suspicion about their legitimacy.

With the new policy, all applications will go through this process.

This comes amid a heightened prevalence of fake qualifications in both the private and public sector, reaching such high levels as ambassadorial positions in government and higher education institutions.

South Africa’s new ambassador to Washington, Mninwa Mahlangu, was recently embroiled in controversy after his Bachelor of Arts degree was found to have been issued by the unaccredited University of Fairfax in the US.

The institution is said to have existed since 1986 but was discontinued in 2004, nearly nine years after Mahlangu was awarded the degree.

South African ambassador to Japan, Mohau Pheko, was also entangled in a qualifications scandal after it emerged she had done course work for her PhD with an unaccredited institution overseas.

The institution, LaSalle University, shut down in 1996 but Pheko claimed to have obtained her doctorate in 2000.

In 2011, former Tshwane University of Technology vice-chancellor and principal Johnny Molefe lost his job after it was revealed that his “doctorate” was acquired from an unaccredited university in the West Indies.

In 2014, ANC veteran Pallo Jordan resigned from Parliament and the ANC national executive committee after reports that his qualifications were false. Jordan apologised to the party.

SAQA confirmed this week it was experiencing an increased number of applications for evaluation of qualifications, particularly from government departments.

This follows a cabinet directive that all government departments and entities should strictly verify their employees’ qualifications with SAQA instead of using private verification agencies.

State-owned companies were still lagging behind as the cabinet directive was only specific to those under the ambit of the Department of Public Service and Administration.

This has led to such situations like that which occurred at the SABC, where a board chairwoman was appointed despite listing a non-existent degree on her CV.

Ellen Tshabalala eventually resigned after the Speaker of Parliament requested President Jacob Zuma to place her on suspension.

According to SAQA, the new process is likely to increase the time it takes for one’s qualifications to be evaluated and verified, but it believes this is well worth it to protect the integrity of the country’s National Qualifications Framework.

SAQA chief executive officer Joe Samuel said this week there was a growing concern around the world about the prevalence of fake degrees and qualifications.

“Previously our system was not explicit on the issue of verification, I believe the draft policy does strengthen the process. The issue of fake qualifications is not only a problem in South Africa or the African continent, it’s in fact a global problem.

“If you look at many qualifications which have been found to be fake, those were obtained from abroad. There are many institutions known as ‘degree mills’ all over Europe and the US,” said Samuels.

The strengthening of the evaluation and verification of these qualifications follows a recent announcement by the Department of Higher Education that it would make public the names of those who were found with fake qualifications. This would be done through a publication of the qualifications fraud register.

However, the move seems to have stalled momentarily as there are legal issues to consider, including the role of the criminal justice system in such cases.

“We are currently looking at the legal implications of such a process because if you say that somebody produced a fraudulent qualification, that is actually a criminal offence.

“You then have to be specific about the process to be followed and the role of the courts in that regard.

“It is something we are currently working on and we have presented an internal document to the minister to determine the way forward,” said Samuels.

SAQA annually received between 2 000 and 10 000 applications for evaluation from across the nine provinces.

Because the process of verification, which includes physically checking the existence and credibility of the foreign institution, was not done on all the applications, only about 1.2 percent of the qualifications were found not be to be credible.

Samuels said this was likely to change with the compulsory verification that was now about to become part of the policy.

[email protected]

The Sunday Independent

Share this article:

Related Articles