The shadow world of HE won’t go away

Nov 29, 2023 | Home Featured, Selection & assessment, Webinars

Fake degrees and diplomas are among the most lucrative forms of qualification fraud. With high risks and high stakes for early talent recruiters, Chris Rea, a fraud expert for Prospects at Jisc, offers advice.

We’ve investigated more than 300 fake universities and worked with authorities to close 80 of them. For every genuine university we believe there is a shadow.

Online they can appear authentic and often copy the look and style of genuine institutions. It is not hard to see why an unwitting student, particular someone overseas who is less familiar with the UK, can be duped.

We’ve also come across hundreds of bogus degree certificates that you can easily buy online for just a few pounds. Some are obvious fakes, whilst others copy the genuine article, right down to holograms and watermarks.

A survey of universities for Hedd’s annual Qualification Fraud Awareness Week found that nearly half had encountered a fake degree certificate, just 6% hadn’t and the rest didn’t know.

While UK legislation means you can’t just set up a ‘university’ or award a degree, postgraduate certificates and diplomas are not subject to the same scrutiny or quality assessment.

The industry is unregulated and anyone can set up as a postgraduate education provider armed with only an entry at Companies House and a UK Register of Learning Providers number, neither of which are quality and standards indicators.

The risk to employers is that the knowledge and technical education gathered from an unregulated postgraduate learning provider may not be to the same standard as that delivered through a regulated UK institution.

Fraud in job applications
This year Cifas reported high instances of fraud in job applications. More than one in 10 people in the UK had lied about their degree qualification on their CV over the last twelve months.

In an earlier survey by Hedd and Credence, of 55,000 CVs analysed, 15% returned academic discrepancies. We also found half of large employers had experience with fake degrees.

However, only a minority of recruiters properly check qualifications. An ISE Pulse Survey found 82% of employers ask to see a certificate, but only 35% follow up with the awarding body.

High risks for employers
People without the required qualifications may be working on sensitive information or highly valuable intellectual property. If someone enters a company on false pretences, it isn’t uncommon for them to go on to undertake other forms of fraud or theft.

If they are uncovered, it can reflect badly on recruitment processes, the company and its activities –
not to mention the reputational damage to the brand.

When staff learn a fellow worker isn’t who they say they are, that the company has not been rigorous enough to check who’s being hired, it can also have a negative effect on employee morale and wellbeing.

There is also the resource and financial impact. ISE Student Recruitment Survey 2023 found the average cost per hire is £4,319.

Axelos found 40% of companies spent more than £10,000 in the last three years rehiring after employing someone who had lied about their qualifications.

What can recruiters do?
The only way to protect your organisation from degree fraud is by checking a candidate’s qualifications with the awarding body.

Hedd provides a secure central degree verification service. If you’re not sure about an institution, we also hold a database of genuine and bogus providers.

It’s important to verify all incoming graduates and tell them that you will do this in advance. Establishing a qualification fraud policy can help to cement the practice within recruitment teams. Reporting instances of fraud and cheating will help awareness and reduce instances. More information can be found in our Employer Toolkit.

The shadow world of UK education is thriving. If there’s one thing you can do to protect your organisation and employees, verify the education of every single early career hire that comes through the door.

In a recent ISE webinar, we looked at the harsh reality of qualification fraud in 2023, sharing best practice on how employers, universities and students can protect themselves.

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