The SA Qualifications Authority (Saqa) has called on prospective students to check the status of educational institutions they register with and to refrain from using fraudulent academic documents.
Last year the qualifications body discovered 98 forged qualifications, while 83 people were informed they had qualified at dubious institutions.
Saqa was last year involved in the controversy surrounding former Tshwane University of Technology vice-chancellor Professor Johnny Molefe and the university when it declared that his doctorate qualification was invalid.
But there are many other candidates who submit invalid qualifications, with Saqa evaluating a total of 1 334 inquiries about fraudulent documents last year alone.
“Suspected document fraud is always investigated and in the 2011/2012 financial year, at least 1 334 inquiries of this nature were made.
“A total of 98 suspected forgeries were confirmed. In addition, 83 applicants were informed that the institutions at which they obtained qualifications are not accredited in their countries of origin,” Saqa CEO Joe Samuels said.
All information obtained about forgeries and other fraudulent documents is shared with the police, higher education institutions and the Department of Home Affairs.
Most of these evaluations involve qualifications acquired from foreign institutions, but qualifications from local institutions are also evaluated on a large scale. “Saqa evaluates qualifications from the full range of education and training institutions, including traditional universities, to determine their comparability to South African qualifications and levels.
“In the 2011-2012 financial year 23 693 new applications were received. During the previous financial year there were 20 889,” said Samuels .
Among the many challenges they have to deal with in performing this task are issues of bogus institutions, document fraud, and misleading translations. “Also difficulties in the verification of authenticity, which are mostly related to technology, exploitation and a broader culture of corruption,” he said.
The matter of Molefe, according to Saqa, highlighted how important is its for institutions and individuals to be careful about the bodies they deal with.
“This issue (Molefe’s) heightened the awareness among employers and education institutions, of the existence of degree mills and the importance of verifying the status of foreign, as well as local institutions, and qualifications of prospective employees or students with Saqa.
“Saqa also encourages anyone who is considering enrolling with a foreign institution and thus obtaining a foreign qualification, or a private education institution operating in South Africa, to verify its status,” said Samuels .
The government is one of Saqa’s biggest clients as it requires the evaluation and verification of academic qualifications for senior positions.
In 2010 Saqa was mandated by the cabinet to verify qualifications of all public service employees, current and prospective in national and provincial government departments.
“Saqa’s entire verification process is evidence-based, which means that a definitive answer to every verification question must be found; this entails going to the source if Saqa does not already have the record on its system.
“This is the main reason why the previous minister of public service and administration (Richard Baloyi) sent out a directive to all public service entities that Saqa, and no other service provider, (should) verify the qualifications of all public sector employees, future and current.
“The discovery of the fraud always entails the involvement of the institution from which the person is claiming to have received the qualification.
“It seems that some of the institutions do open cases against the people who have made the claims.”