Stop Fake Certificates! 

“Opportunity to obtain an Honorary Doctoral Degree and Professorship Award.” This was the subject line of an email that I received recently. Wow! Wonderful; the fifteen years of hard work that I dedicated to obtain my PhD, Postdoctoral Habilitation and Professorship and three decades of work for African development recognized by the award of my honorary doctoral degree by an African university were not needed it seems. Now anyone can just buy the title ‘Dr. h.c.’ in a short time from an American university, one that is “recognized by the Confederation of International Accreditation Commission CIAC” and sold at “affordable costs”. Wow! Wow?

Instead of forwarding this ‘good news’ to our sons (working hard for their PhDs) and my younger friends (longing for their professorships), I started crying: Stop Fake Certificates! Over 200 million students in higher education worldwide (a number that has doubled since 2000) are awarded tens of millions of certificates every year. A simple Google search for “fake certificates” offers numerous websites such as “Best Place to Buy a Fake Diploma”. How many hundreds of thousands, even millions of diplomas are bought, received as a result of favouritism, nepotism, special or sexual services or simple online shopping? Most universities know of such cases, but it is high time to do some serious research about the practice with figures that show the scale of the problem.

Educational institutions have to increase sanctions for the issue of fraudulent certificates. Courts have to sentence companies and individuals selling fake diplomas and recognise that it is a very serious crime. Websites that provide certificates for sale should be investigated. Fake certificates are not just a minor moral problem, they destroy lives! A medical doctor in Asia told me that he would never allow his son, also a medical doctor, to treat him. When I asked him with no small amount of surprise “Why?” he answered “Because I know how he got his degree”! A bridge built by an engineer who has not actually studied for or understands his profession can lead to fatalities. The human resources director of a company in Africa recently told me that he no longer looks at certificates when he is recruiting because he does not know which certificates are real; he relies rather on interviews and practical tests to judge whether candidates are suitable, capable and knowledgeable enough for the job.

The reasons for the production, sale and award of fake certificates are well-known: temptation to engage in corrupt practices can be high when teaching salaries are low; simple greed; economic competition (among other factors) between private higher education institutions competing for students; corrupt practices in accreditation and supervisory bodies, etc. Fake certificates undermine and destroy in a serious way the credibility of higher education institutions and by extension the qualifications that so many students have worked so hard to earn.

Just as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has made large strides in fighting money laundering and black markets, so universities, governments and accreditation organisations must increase and accelerate their efforts to combat fake, falsified certificates. The Globethics Consortium for Ethics in Higher Education, established in June 2017 is a coalition of institutions in higher education that is willing to work on this. Join us! Students, teachers, parents, accreditation and supervisory authorities, ministries of education and UNESCO can together increase their joint efforts to ensure the award of certificates that are based on hard work, competence, performance and values such as integrity, honesty and truthfulness.

Let us campaign together to “Stop Fake Certificates!” Students and teachers, start with yourselves: the job market thirsts for people with integrity. It is better to be a person without a certificate and a title than one with a falsified certificate. Before your conscience and your God you know that: My integrity is my diploma!

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