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Menace of fake certificates.

Arab NewsA police sting operation has exposed a physics professor at a private college in Qassim as a peddler of fraudulent academic qualifications. Unfortunately it seems clear to many educationalists that this individual is far being the only person engaged in this deplorable trade.

He was selling forgeries of diplomas and university degrees for between SR700 and SR50,000. They were apparently of reasonable quality, with all the appropriate stamps.

Indeed last year it was reported that an Indian university gave a job to a 'professor' who produced documentation issued by the very same seat of learning. The certificates were forged. It was not until doubts arose over that professor's understanding of his subject, that the university's records were checked. It was discovered that he had never been enrolled.

The desire for qualifications has been driven by an increasingly specialized workplace, here in the Kingdom, as much as anywhere else in the world. Higher education, be it in technical colleges or advanced world-class research universities, such as KAUST, has drawn an ever-greater number of students. Thousands of young Saudis are traveling abroad every year as part of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. There is a great deal of learning going on among young people.

However, not everyone has the intellectual capacity to win coveted qualifications. Then again, some students may lack the application and dedication to do all the work necessary to succeed in exams. For both these groups, purchasing a convincing "qualification" may seem an attractive option. It is of course no such thing. Acquiring fake certificates is, in the first instance, morally corrosive. The acquirer is telling others a major lie about himself. In time he will probably come to believe that lie himself.

Maybe even more importantly, if that individual is given a responsible position on the basis of those phony pieces of paper, society at large is placed in great danger. The risks are clear. A fake electrician or mechanic will do work that is inherently unsafe. Maybe not this day, or the next. But one day that lack of knowledge will find him out. One day that failure to qualify will produce an error that will very probably cost people their lives.

Further up the employment chain, where you are looking at payments nearer to SR50,000 someone might buy documents that state them to be qualified design engineers or even medical professionals. The recipe for catastrophe here needs no explaining. Indeed medical professionals, including some Saudis, have been discovered working in the Kingdom in highly responsible and specialist roles, with minimal (often nursing) training if any.

Even a fake MBA can have serious consequences. Any business that hires a pretend Master in Business Administration could be plunged into chaos, when high-level responsibilities delegated to that individual are botched.

Busy Human Resource managers must stay constantly on the alert. However, in the pressure of work, it is all too often tempting to accept academic qualifications that appear to be in order. By and large, best practice says that all certificates should be checked with the educational institution that issued them. Indeed, around the world, reputable teaching organizations have departments devoted to verifying documentation.

Yet it is the moral hazard to phony qualifications that is more disturbing. Society is in part responsible for this. Recently, a young man going to Poland on a two-week course in government organization was seriously delighted to learn that at the end, he would be awarded a diploma. No exam. No test. All he had to do was turn up each day. His pleasure was based on the fact that pieces of paper are precisely what are demanded of young people these days as they go about their working lives. The fact that even pieces of paper such as that issued by the Polish foreign ministry at the end of the Warsaw course, are relatively meaningless, if no test has been given to check the information stayed with participants. It is another piece of paper to show potential employers.

For those who do not even go to the trouble of attending any course at all, there is a way to judge their value to society. Before they bought their fake top-level qualification, they were worth SR50,000. They were stupid enough to pay SR50,000 for a piece of paper and some ink that told a lie about themselves. That investment in falsehood qualifies them for nothing but shame and contempt.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Oct 3, 2013
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