Here We Go Again

A fraudster who lied on his CV in order to land a job within the NHS, then cheated his employers out of almost £350,000 has been jailed for five years.

No, you haven’t accidentally wandered into last week’s post, this is another incidence of degree fraud in the NHS.

This time our criminal is Phillip Hufton, who does have a degree in nursing, but claimed to be a qualified doctor with a PhD. He wasn’t in a clinical role, but nevertheless he lied and cheated his way to stealing £350,000 from our NHS.

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) said Hufton’s actions were “reprehensible”.

I agree. I do.

But this does not excuse the fact that CPFT failed to check his credentials when they recruited him. Part of the blame has to lie with them as they had a clear opportunity to prevent this. Earlier this year Judge Andrew Goymer condemned a public sector employer for failing to check someone’s credentials saying that it was ‘a disaster waiting to happen’ and that the recruitment process was ‘thoroughly lax’.

#makethecheck

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Trust Me. I’m a Doctor

We have reported before on the improvements being made to screening checks by the NHS and other medical regulators like the General Medical Council (GMC). Many of these improvements cover recruitment of new staff and regular re-registration of existing professionals like midwives.

The big news story today surrounds medical professionals recruited in the 1990’s before these robust processes were introduced.

Zholia Alemi came to the UK with a medical degree from the University of Auckland. Under regulations covering the Commonwealth at that time, she did not have to take an exam here in the UK to join the GMC register in 1995.

Alemi is not a doctor. She dropped out of university after a year. Her false medical qualification was only discovered when she was convicted of fraud and theft in October after taking advantage of a vulnerable patient.

She was working as a consultant psychiatrist for a dementia service in west Cumbria at the time, faked a dementia patient’s will, stole bank cards and obtained signatures from other patients. She has now been jailed for five years.

The GMC has just ordered remedial checks on over 3,000 medical doctors working in the UK under the same entry conditions as Alemi. It says that it doesn’t expect to find anything untoward, but only proper verification checks will reveal the truth.

Our free toolkit – Advice and Guidance on Degree Fraud for Employers advises recruiters to make checks on the qualifications of all applicants with the awarding bodies. This is the only way to ensure the people we recruit are telling the truth about their credentials.

Let’s hope this wicked and abhorrent abuse of trust is an isolated case.

You Only Cheat Twice

A report from Tom Williams on our degree fraud team.

We often hear that people have ‘embellished’ their CV or LIED, as we prefer to call it, in order to get a job. The general feeling seems to be that this is normal and if people do a good job there’s no harm done.

That’s a very dangerous assumption indeed.

Yes, a fake fact on a CV might be their only crime and their contribution to your workforce may be exemplary. But it’s a risky business to put your faith and your company’s reputation and finances in the hands of a stranger without a verification check.

Alaska Freeman has an impressive CV which included her accountancy qualifications. Two successive employers failed to check on her claims and as a result she was able to steal around £115,000 from them.

Joining the first company in October 2012 as Assistant Management Accountant and later promoted to the senior position of Management Accountant, Freeman inflated her own pay, made personal purchases on company credit cards, transferred funds into her own bank accounts and stole petty cash.

After being exposed by HMRC in 2015 and sacked after an internal investigation, she was arrested.

Whilst on bail, she applied for a financial controller’s job with a new employer, was hired and immediately set about stealing from them too!

Thankfully Freeman has just been sentenced to 53 months in prison after pleading guilty to 10 counts of fraud. Let’s hope they follow up under the Proceeds of Crime Act to get that money back.

The financial impact of these crimes was severe and it took three years of hard work by dedicated employees for the first business to recover. Her crimes could so easily have cost jobs.

Both companies could have avoided this by making a proper background check for qualifications, references and even criminal records as a standard part of their recruitment process. The consequences of inadequate checks can be serious, long-term and irreversible.

Making checks is easy. You can download our free toolkit for employers at www.hedd.ac.uk

Where Do I Sign?

I’m delighted to see that senior HE figures are joining the call for the Government to take legislative action against essay mills. if you haven’t signed the petition yet you can do so here.

Today, 40 Vice Chancellors and HE heads have written to the Secretary of State. Our own Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah weighed in heavily saying:

‘I expect universities to be educating students about these services and highlight the stiff, and possibly life changing, penalties they face.

I also want the sector to do more to grip the problem, for example by tackling advertising of these services in their institutions and finally blocking these services from sending an alarming number of emails to the inboxes of university students and staff.

I have been working with organisations across the higher education sector to bear down on this problem and this has already resulted in the likes of YouTube removing adverts for these essay mills, but legislative options are not off the table.’

News outlets are covering the story, but here is the letter in full.

I’d be happy to add my name to the list.

The Right Honourable Damian Hinds MP
Secretary of State for Education
27 September 2018

Essay Mills and Contract Cheating

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to urge you to take action against the increasing problem of so-called essay mills, companies that facilitate contract cheating by producing assignments-to-order for students. Essay mills undermine the integrity of UK Higher Education and are unfair to the vast majority of honest, hard-working students. We are confident that you abhor such cheating as much as we do and encourage you to take the necessary steps to curb these practices, steps which must include a legislative ban on operating or advertising an essay mill.

In March 2017, Lord Young of Cookham, representing the Government, told Parliament that, ‘we remain open to legislation in the future should the steps we are taking prove insufficient.’ Despite concerted action by the QAA, universities and student unions, new research published last month indicates that contract cheating is becoming more common around the world. This form of cheating is particularly hard to detect and, whilst universities must continue to do their part, it is clear to us the time has come for the Government to give legislative backing to the efforts to shut down these
operations.

Legislation will not be a magic bullet; it is, however, a vital part of the broader package of measures. Legislation would, amongst other advantages, shut-down UK-based essay mills; prevent the advertising of their services near campuses and in public places such as the London Underground; enable the removal of essay mills from search engine findings and prevent UK-based companies from hosting online advertisements for essay mills. Most importantly, it will send a clear statement to the global Higher Education sector that the integrity of a UK degree is valued by the government. Any
legislation would need to be carefully crafted, in particular to ensure that the law targeted the essay mills themselves, and did not criminalise students or legitimate educational services. There are, however, existing models, including the Bill recently introduced by the Irish government and the draft bill published by Newton and Draper in 2017, either of which provide a starting point for developing legislation for the UK.

We therefore call upon you to:

• Commit to introducing legislation to ban the provision and advertising of essay mills before the end of this Parliament.

• Commission the QAA to develop and publish a draft Bill by or before the beginning of the next Parliamentary Session, building on their existing work with academic and legal experts.

• Give your Department’s full support to efforts by the QAA and OfS to tackle this issue,
including supporting the QAA’s proposed initiative to establish a UK Centre for Academic
Integrity, with a formal remit to research, analyse and combat academic misconduct.

Essay mills have no place in UK Higher Education. With New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and 17 US states all having introduced or introducing a ban, it is time for the UK to also take the necessary action to demonstrate that the UK is not a safe haven for Essay Mills to do business, and so to safeguard the reputation of the UK Higher Education sector.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Michael Arthur – President and Provost, University College London
Professor Dame Janet Beer  – Vice-Chancellor, University of Liverpool
Professor Amanda Blackmore – President and Chief Executive, GSM London
Professor Paul Boyle CBE – Vice-Chancellor, University of Leicester
Dr Tim Bradshaw – Chief Executive, Russell Group
Professor Hugh Brady – Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Bristol
Cath Brown – President, Open University Students Association
Professor Julia Buckingham CBE – Vice-Chancellor and President, Brunel University London
Professor Edward Byrne AC – President and Principal, King’s College London
Professor Anne Carlisle – Vice-Chancellor, Falmouth University
Professor Joy Carter CBE – Vice-Chancellor, University of Winchester and Chair of GuildHE
Professor Stuart Corbridge – Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Durham University
Professor Stuart Croft – Vice-Chancellor, University of Warwick
Mary Curnock Cook OBE – Former Chief Executive, UCAS
Professor Scott Davidson – Vice-Chancellor, Newman University
Professor Chris Day – Vice-Chancellor and President, Newcastle University
Professor Linda Drew – Vice-Chancellor, Ravensbourne University London
Professor Sir David Eastwood – Vice-Chancellor, University of Birmingham
Sir Mark Featherstone-Witty OBE – Founding Principal/CEO, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
Professor Ian Greer – President and Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University Belfast
Professor Gavin Henderson CBE – Principal, The Royal Centre School of Speech and Drama
Professor Margaret House OBE – Vice-Chancellor, Leeds Trinity University
Professor Sir Chris Husbands – Vice-Chancellor, Sheffield Hallam University
Alistair Jarvis – Chief Executive, Universities UK
Alison Johns – Chief Executive, AdvanceHE
Professor Mary Kellett – Acting Vice-Chancellor, The Open University
Professor Koen Lamberts – Vice-Chancellor, University of York
Professor John Last OBE – Vice-Chancellor, Norwich University of the Arts
Dr David Llewellyn – Vice-Chancellor, Harper Adams University
Professor Jane Longmore – Vice-Chancellor, University of Chichester
Professor Sally Mapstone – Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of St Andrews
Russell Marchant – Vice-Chancellor, Hartpury University
Gordon McKenzie – Chief Executive, GuildHE
Clarie Middleton – Principal and Chief Executive, Rose Bruford College
Professor Kathryn Mitchell – Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Derby
Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli – Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow and Chair of the Russell Group
Professor Malcolm Press – Vice-Chancellor, Manchester Metropolitan University
Professor Colin Riordan – Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University
Sir Anthony Seldon – Vice-Chancellor, University of Buckingham
Bilal Sheikh – Principal, Mont Rose College
Professor Sir Steve Smith – Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter
Professor Karen Stanton – Vice-Chancellor, York St John University
Professor Rob Warner – Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Plymouth Marjon University
Dr Greg Walker – CEO, MillionPlus
Professor Andrew Wathey CBE – Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Northumbria University
Professor Shearer West Vice-Chancellor, University of Nottingham

Jayne Rowley – Chief Executive, HECSU Prospects

Best Practice Makes Perfect

This month we’ve published the findings from our first Degree Fraud – Best Practice Round Table held at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce earlier this summer.

Colleagues and experts from 7 universities came together to discuss the issues facing universities – from fraudulent applications to fake certificates threatening the reputation of UK higher education and the career prospects of our students and graduates.

Tom Pinder from our Hedd team shares the outcomes on our digital HE intelligence platform, Luminate.

We’re planning more events later in the Autumn. If you would like to be involved please get in touch with us at heddteam@prospects.ac.uk

In the meantime you can download a copy of our toolkit of advice and guidance for HE Providers here.

#banessaymills

Following the recent discussions about legislation to deal with essay mills a petition has been created by the excellent Iain Mansfield which would compel the Government to examine the issue if 10,000 signatures are obtained.

I’ve signed on the dotted line. Take a moment to lend your support by following this link.

There’s an excellent article for students over on Push on why you shouldn’t cheat, which goes beyond the obvious morality argument. Food for thought.

Hail to the Cheat

Melissa Howard – a Republican Party candidate for the Florida House of Representatives was incensed when a news outlet claimed that she did not hold the degree she claimed on her candidate biography. Howard’s campaign maintained that the story was nothing more than an attempt to ‘hurt Melissa or her reputation within the community’ orchestrated by her opponent in the primary.

So incensed was Howard that she flew to Ohio to pose with photographs of her degree certificate from Miami University and posted them on Twitter and Facebook.

Unfortunately, along with her friends and supporters, officials from Miami University were also looking at the photographs, and in particular at the diploma, which appeared to have some inaccuracies.

  • The university didn’t run that course at the time she attended.
  • The signatory for the course was wrong on the diploma.
  • She attended, but wasn’t on the course she claimed.
  • She didn’t complete that course either.

Oops.

It appears that having been caught out in a lie about her qualifications*, Howard chose to compound it with a fake certificate, which she flaunted on social media.

Her campaign claims this is ‘Fake News’.

We agree – quite literally.

*Things could get worse for Howard. Under Florida law this is a criminal offence.
Florida statute 817.566 states, “Any person who, with intent to defraud, misrepresents his or her association with, or academic standing or other progress at, any postsecondary educational institution by falsely making, altering, simulating, or forging a document, degree, certificate, diploma, award, record, letter, transcript, form, or other paper; or any person who causes or procures such a misrepresentation; or any person who utters and publishes or otherwise represents such a document, degree, certificate, diploma, award, record, letter, transcript, form, or other paper as true, knowing it to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.”