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.



Published by

Jayne Rowley

Jayne is Chief Executive at Graduate Prospects and Hedd

6 thoughts on “20th Century Graduates”

    1. Hello Paraic and welcome.

      Yes, there are more errors from the older cohort as a percentage of the enquiries we get, than the recent graduates, even though recent graduates make up most of the enquiries in number.

  1. Dear Jayne,

    I am most interested in the findings of this research. And clearly the mainstream media have been too.

    Co-incidentally and before I read about your findings, only yesterday I had posted on my own blog about the importance of employers making more thorough checks of potential employees’ backgrounds before appointing them. However the focus of my post was about the high levels of career ‘elaboration’ on social media platforms such as LinkedIn.

    My query is this. How can the larger raw number of HEDD checks (presumably segmented by age) processed for younger applicants be translated into a conclusion that older applicants pose a higher risk of ‘qualification fraud’ than their younger peers? And does it follow that if there are fewer checks, older applicants will necessarily respond by higher levels of attempted deception?

    Is there any hard evidence to support such a premise?

    Moreover, if the data you are using is simply the raw numbers of checks carried out, I cannot see how this can be used without due weightings to reflect several factors which must have a bearing, e.g. the smaller percentage of the population who attended university in the 80s and 90s, the longer average job tenure of older/more senior employees and the lower take up by employers of older workers generally?

    I would have thought than an alternative and equally valid interpretation of these numbers could be that younger applicants are viewed as more likely to attempt deception than their older peers?

    But perhaps I have missed something? I am concerned that the mainstream media may be misrepresenting the true facts of your analysis. I do hope you will be able to enlighten me.

    Kind regards

    Neil Patrick

    1. Hello Neil and welcome,

      I’ve been over to your blog and your thoughts echo many of our own. Incidentally I posted about LinkedIn back in November https://heddblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/take-adecco-at-this/ after some research by Adecco showed that 1 in 10 are lying on LinkedIn. Their research broke down the results to show what they were lying about.

      You are right about the media – they do pick selectively from any press we put out to suit the story they want to put out.

      Our key message, like yours, was to advise HR professionals to check all applicants to employment.

      Most checks are carried out on recent graduates, but most fraud is carried out by older graduates.

      Our conclusions are drawn from comments and feedback obtained over the past 5 years working on HEDD through its research, pilot, beta and now live stages, which were then confirmed by the analysis of the enquiry data.

      Even though there are many more enquiries about recent graduates, there are more ‘errors’ in HEDD enquiries about older graduates and it is disproportionate to the number of enquiries when compared to the checks on recent graduates.

      We also carry out research with employers about their verification practices. The conclusions we draw on older people not getting checked because they are assumed to have been checked earlier in the process, or because the focus is on their experience are based on comments from them.

      It is also backed up by detected degree fraud. In cases where fraud has been uncovered and reported, it is almost always older individuals. We’ve reported some cases here on the HEDD blog.

      I will follow your blog with interest.

  2. “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?”

    Personally, I am not convinced of this and, in my working life so far, I’ve never seen an example of it. Yet again, I think it’s the wrong target.

    Over the past couple of decades, universities have engaged in significant grade inflation to coincide with the increasing commercialisation of the higher education sector. Indeed, universities today issue more first class degrees than the total sum of people who attended British universities decades ago. What was once seen as a respectable grade, a lower second class degree, is now seen as a de facto fail and it leaves people with third class and pass degrees in an even worse situation.

    I don’t for one moment expect universities to upgrade degrees that were issues decades ago but the very least they ought to do (including the HEDD universities) is to issue letters on request from former students confirming that their degrees are of a high standard. That is a way for the universities to reduce the incidence of false claims in respect of older degrees (and, like I say, I’ve not encountered it myself). For example, a mature, experienced person wishing to change career to retrain as a teacher and move into the state school system would now be hampered by that lower second or third class degree from a couple of decades ago when different academic standards applied. That, by any standard, is just plain unfair and it certainly doesn’t benefit the British education system.

  3. Hello Ryan and welcome.

    I personally haven’t experienced it in my working life either, but that’s because the majority of fraud goes undetected.

    Developing HEDD has allowed us to have a national picture of degree fraud for the first time and we are learning more every day.

    Obviously we can only speculate on the reasons behind it – from cases like Dennis O’ Riordan and anecdotal feedback, but it’s a fact that fraud is more prevalent the further away from graduation a job applicant is. I sometimes feel the urge to excuse my lower second degree from time to time, based on the fact that it was a long time ago and have to stop myself. I worked hard, it was a tough course and I am proud of my achievement.

    You make a really interesting point though and it’s the same point people make about A levels. A*s and As are common now. Entry level grades for university are consequently higher, and there is talk of a Masters being the new 1st in the job market.

    It will also depend on the age of the recruiter to an extent. Anyone who has worked in HR for a long time will have seen the rising levels of qualifications from job applicants and will appreciate the changes when decision-making.

    I know people who have returned to higher education as mature students and in their experience their full background has been taken into consideration by the admissions departments, so I feel that they would not be disadvantaged in the admissions process for university, but the job market might be different.

    I’m sure statisticians could map some kind of equivalence based on what the distribution curve looks like, but with so few bands from 1st to Pass, again this might not tell us much and at the end of the day, it would be down to whether recruiters would take this into consideration.

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