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.