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.
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.
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.
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.
The jury has been out for some time on the prudence of using the social networks like Facebook as hunting grounds for staff recruitment - whereas LinkedIn has built its reputation as a professional network.
Adecco, the global recruitment organisation has recently released the results of some research into CV fraud which discovered that one in ten users has lied on CVs listed publicly on LinkedIn. So even in a reputable, professional and public environment, people are still prepared to commit fraud. LinkedIn, of course, cannot control nor police what its users post on their profiles.
In line with other research in this area, the biggest lie, just like our big city lawyer Dennis O’Riordan, is around qualifications.
The research also found other interesting discrepancies:
- 9% lied about job titles;
- 9% lied about their age;
- 7% lied about their university;
- 7% lied about their school;
- and 5% about the length of time at a particular job or their experience.
Alex Fleming, Operations Director at Adecco has the following advice.
“Your CV is your opportunity to communicate to prospective employers your career history and strengths. It should be as accurate as possible. Although the temptation may be there to smooth out areas of your experience and qualifications that aren’t quite perfect, we would always advise candidates not to outright lie. It’s often said that the truth will always come out in the end and so it’s much safer to concentrate on your real achievements than investing in fictitious ones.”
(click on the picture to enlarge it)
Dear Mr Paxman,
You could have saved yourself a lot of time last night on your bogus university story if you had just gone to HEDD and looked up the American University of London. In a matter of seconds you would have seen that it is not a valid UK degree-awarding body. Passing on to viewers the valuable information that you can look up all valid UK degree- awarding bodies, past and present on HEDD would have been helpful too – particularly to the individuals on social networking sites proudly citing their AUOL qualifications. According to the BBC coverage today, at least one of them has had a rethink and removed it from his CV.
I wonder how many others have also done so?
Earlier this week we discussed Dennis O’Riordan and whether he will be prosecuted. I’m glad to say that the Church appears to take a dimmer view of this crime than the Bar with the successful prosecution of Maximilian Manin last month.
Mr Manin confessed his criminal past to the Bishop of Lincoln, who in the spirit of Christan forgiveness allowed him to keep his job of Chief Executive for the Diocese, but failed to mention that he had lied about having a first class degree from the University of Sheffield and an MBA in order to obtain the position in the first place.
With high profile examples like these hitting the headlines, perhaps we will see a step change in recruitment practices and more checks being made.