Isn’t It Ironic?

One of my ongoing frustrations is the lack of prosecutions for degree fraud, despite the fact that it is against the law in the UK and carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.

A new guide for students ‘Don’t Finish Your Career Before it Starts’ has just been distributed to universities and warns of the criminal consequences of white lies or embellishments. As a follow-up we were asked if we had any case studies of successful prosecutions of graduates. Sadly, we don’t.

The cases we know of are individuals who faked their qualifications, so aren’t valid graduates. The one high profile case we’ve covered here is Dennis O’Riordan, the University of East Anglia graduate who was dismissed from the Bar for degree fraud, but he has not been prosecuted to date.

As we know, most degree fraud goes undetected due to the lack of proper checks being made by employers, although every survey confirms that about 1/3 of applicants admit to lying on their CVs.

The prevailing view seems to be that it’s OK to get a little creative with your CV if you can actually do the job. Why should you be discounted because your skills and qualifications are from the University of Life? But not every instance is an honest candidate, just trying to get ahead.

Recently in Manchester,  Wade Jordan was jailed for three years for fraud and perverting the course of justice. Jordan landed an HR role at biotechnology firm, Qiagen’s, Manchester office by claiming he had an MA in Human Resource Management from Manchester Metropolitan University. He went on to swindle almost £50,000 in fraudulent expense claims between 2010 and 2013. A police investigation, launched after the company unearthed his expenses fiddle, found he had no such qualification – something Qiagen could have checked themselves with Manchester Metropolitan University, when they recruited him. 

The fact that Jordan was recruited into an HR role only adds insult to injury, although it could teach Alanis Morrisette a thing or two about irony.

Boosting the Signal

After his constructive comments a couple of weeks ago on my post about older graduates I have had some interesting exchanges with Neil Patrick from 40PlusCareerGuru.

Neil’s very kindly covered HEDD and what we’re trying to achieve over on his excellent blog. You can read his thoughts here

Thanks for boosting the signal, Neil.

We’ve had some very positive feedback about the Fake Britain piece, and a renewed interest in our blog here. If you’ve just joined us – welcome, and please feel free to comment.

I was also asked to contribute a piece for the graduate employment and careers magazine Graduate Market Trends about the vicious circle of fraud and what we can do to stop it spinning out of control. You can read the online version here.

I’m still digesting what I learned at a great conference I attended in Washington last month. Verification service providers from all over the world were gathered and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak about HEDD. More later.

Fake Britain

If you stuck around after BBC Breakfast today you will have seen the issue of fake certificates and degree fraud covered on the BBC1 consumer programme Fake Britain.

it’s no longer on BBC iPlayer, but you can catch our segment on YouTube, if you missed it.

Jayne explaining a fake certificate

Jayne explaining a fake certificate

It demonstrates the consequences of fraud and looks in more detail at the case of Julia Rawlinson, the Torquay ‘teacher’ we have mentioned before here on the blog. It discusses the effects on the pupils she was preparing for exams at the time when she was arrested and the possible consequences for them of not getting the grades due to their inadequate teacher. We talk to some current students about their views.

We also show some fake certificates and expose the sophistication of the degree mills combining provision of fake documents with verification websites like the fake University of Wolverhamton where you can use the certificate student ID to get a verification online.

It was an excellent example of clear, serious consumer journalism.

Sadly our Rogues Gallery of fake certificates grows bigger by the week. The latest culprit is a mash up of one university’s name and the crest and signatures from another. On the one hand it’s great to catch the culprits, but depressing in the frequency of the occurrences.

 

20th Century Graduates

As we passed the milestone of 20,000 HEDD enquiries we took some time to look at some of the outcomes.

Qualifications are less likely to be checked the further away from graduation day a candidate gets.  Of the 20,000+ enquiries received since HEDD launched two years ago, 76% have been to check qualifications of those who graduated after 2000 and almost half are to verify graduates who left university within the last four years.

Just 16% of enquiries were to undertake checks on those who graduated in the 1990s, and the number was halved (8%) for those leaving university before the ‘90s.

Graduates who are further on in their career have more opportunity to blatantly lie, exaggerate or bend the truth a little more than their more recent counterparts simply because they are not being checked out.

When someone has been working for a while, it’s common to assume that academic checks will have been made by previous employers. From a candidate’s point of view, qualifications can seem less important the further on in our career that we get.

Higher classification degrees are much more common now and those who have been in the workplace a long time can feel under pressure with competition from the new wave of graduates who are regularly achieving a first or 2.1 degree. Perhaps they feel that the third class degree from a former polytechnic isn’t appropriate to the senior position that they are in and are therefore tempted to embellish.

If someone is willing to lie at this level, how can you trust them when they become part of your organisation? It’s incredibly important that employers validate who they are recruiting, and not just rely on good work references to get the full picture of a person.

BBC Education picked up the story today.

 

 

Novelty Value?

Companies and websites selling novelty awards and certificates have been around a long time. For around £30 you can pimp your collection of awards as an ego boost or a prank.

But if they’re offering more than a ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ certificate, and claim to be providing ‘replacement’ or ‘novelty’ degree certificates, it’s a different matter. 

Disclaimers on the websites advising that these are novelty items only and should not be used to misrepresent the bearer are not enough to legitimise their business and they run the risk of prosecution and even jail for a variety of offences e.g.

  • producing counterfeit qualification certificates which bear registered trade marks without the consent of the trade mark proprietors contrary to the Trade Marks Act 1994,
  • infringing copies of a copyright work contrary to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988,
  • and other offences contrary to the Fraud Act 2006.

We are particulary appalled by one site offering replacement certificates for over 50 UK universities. It also has an eBay store and a Facebook page. The eBay store shows feedback from satisfied customers, with their eBay identity. (I hope they weren’t planning on using the certificates for nefarious purposes now their cover has been blown.)

I’m not mentioning names, as we are working with Trading Standards to shut them down and prosecute the proprietor. We’ll reveal all once action has been taken. We have notifed the universities.

Interestingly enough the proprietor was jailed four years ago for exactly the same offences.

Clearly a period of reflection at Her Majesty’s Pleasure hasn’t taught them anything.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I recently interviewed some students whilst filming for a BBC Documentary on degree fraud. Yes, we’re going to be on TV – more about that later.

Their views were fascinating and encouraging. They also had a take on things which I hadn’t considered.

The most common questions we get asked on HEDD are about data protection and student consent, when universities are joining. I hope the points below convince them that their students are more than happy to be part of HEDD.

The Student Perspective:

Unaware that their degree qualifications are not checked with their universities by 80% of major graduate employers. For ME’s and SME’s the figure is undoubtedly much higher. They were shocked by this, frankly. They had no idea employers would rely on paper credentials without verifying with the issuing university.

Unaware of the levels or types of degree fraud – as you might expect – no-one is.

Appalled at bogus universities, fake certificates, grade inflation claims. 

View it as the university’s responsibility to do something. They felt the universities had a duty of care to ensure their interests are protected.

Completely comfortable with having their student record data in a central database available for checking.  They were proud of their study and achievements and had no objections even to the extent of publishing them.

Came up with the concept of HEDD unprompted – ‘there should be a central database where you can check everyone’ – I was happy to fill them in on what we’re doing.

Want the Government to make it mandatory - ‘the Government should make universities do it’.

Frustrated that their pre-university qualifications were rigorously checked by UCAS with software checks on their personal statements and academic submissions to prevent cheating; but that no such rigour applies to their job applications and employment. I’d never considered this at all, but they are right.

Related this point to their financial investment in HE and expectations of how that is protected. This week’s figures showing the levels of expected debt with the high fees make this point really hit home.

We’ll be passing on these comments to colleagues in universities and to employers. I’m happy to let the students make the case for us.

Forgers Target Cash Strapped Students

We recently attended the Document Verification Workshop run in London and it was a fantastic platform to discuss with Universities, legal firms and screening agencies the experience that they have had with forged or counterfeit documents.

One of the interesting things that came out of the session was the vulnerability of graduation ceremonies to exploitation by companies who create fake documentation.

One of the presenters highlighted the practice whereby fake documentation companies have agents at graduation ceremonies who will pay £200-300 to a student to “borrow” their certificate for 15-minutes. Although the vast majority of graduates are sensible rational people, the allure of a £200-300 cash injection can be a significant reward for being award from your certificate for only 15-minutes, right?

What happens in that 15-minutes is a trip to a photocopier or scanner and copious note taking regarding security features of the document so that fake document companies can even better emulate documentation later.

All the more reason to check student qualifications: Documentation can look very similar to the real thing and the average, untrained reasonable person will be unlikely to tell the difference. However, proper candidate checks to ensure that documentation you receive is legitimate can mitigate the risk of documentation fraud.

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