Employers: verify graduate qualifications

May 29, 2018 | Selection & assessment

Chris Rea of Prospects urges employers to check the authenticity of the degree certificate of every graduate applicant.

A couple of weeks ago, we ran our annual media campaign warning graduates of the perils of tweeting ‘degree certificate selfies’.

It’s a shame that this message has to be conveyed. Graduation is one of the proudest moments of a young person’s life and it is quite natural for a graduate to post a picture of their degree certificate on social media.

The problem is that these certificate selfies are instantly embedded in image search databases and quickly become the essential materials for the fake degree certificate industry, which maximises the opportunities represented by the latest certificate designs, university branding and personal information to flood the market with thousands of fake certificates – some of an extremely high standard.

Our PR campaign was picked up by the Times newspaper, which led with ‘Graduation selfies leading to surge in first-class fake degrees’ on its front page.

The issue is getting more and more media coverage. In January 2018, BBC Radio’s File on 4 ‘Degrees of Deception’ investigated the online fake degree trade. Prospects-HECSU CEO Jayne Rowley featured in the programme and was also interviewed on the Victoria Derbyshire TV show.

Such media coverage is a sign that degree fraud (which includes ‘grade inflation’, fake certificates based on real universities, fake universities, diploma mills and various other fraudulent activities) and the associated issue of candidate verification are – finally – getting the attention they deserve.

The government is starting to get involved with discussions about the necessity for candidate verification taking place in the Education Select Committee and MPs and peers commenting on the issue.

In the HE sector, degree verification is being considered within the remit of the QAA’s quality code and the OfS is taking an interest.

“Other countries have taken a lead”

Other countries have taken a lead that the UK would do well to follow.

The Chinese government has made it mandatory for returning Chinese graduates to have their degree credentials verified. Without this, they cannot enter most sectors of the Chinese labour market. 

In Belgium, the authorities are taking legal steps to stamp out fake universities and diploma mills and the South African government has recently put forward legislation that will empower the courts to sentence individuals guilty of falsely representing their qualifications.

We have been running Hedd, UK HE’s official degree verification system, since 2011. More employers are using the system than ever before but although high-profile instances of degree fraud hit the headlines periodically, degree certificate authentication continues to be a minority pursuit.

“40% of companies surveyed had spent more than £10,000 in the previous three years rehiring after employing someone who had lied about their qualifications.”

It shouldn’t be. When an employer is a victim of degree fraud, it’s an expensive business. Axelos research from 2016 revealed that 40% of companies surveyed had spent more than £10,000 in the previous three years rehiring after employing someone who had lied about their qualifications.

There is a reputational cost too. David Scott’s employer will regret the day they appointed him as a managing director in charge of multi-million pound contracts in Kazakhstan.

He claimed to possess three degrees and the authorship of an academic paper on oil and gas engineering. These impressive credentials got him the job but his obvious lack of experience aroused his colleagues’ suspicions and after making the checks they should have  made before he was given the job, his employer discovered he had faked the degrees and that the academic work was the work of a namesake in the United States.

Simon Macartney faked his qualifications to secure a job with the South East Coast Ambulance Service teaching paramedics to drive at high speed. At the subsequent court case, the judge not only excoriated Macartney for his subterfuge but, in a welcome move, singled out the employer for criticism for not making the necessary checks in the first place.

Degree fraud is a global problem. It is multi-faceted, often very sophisticated and frequently damaging to universities’ reputations, graduates’ prospects and employers’ budgets.

But the solution is simple. If every employer checked the authenticity of the degree certificate of every graduate applicant, degree fraud would vanish overnight. 

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