Stop! in the name of the Law #2

Hot on the heels of South Africa and Belgium Ireland’s is the next Government to propose legislation to combat higher education fraud.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that cheating your way to a degree is as bad as lying about one.

So we are delighted that the use of contract cheating services aka essay mills looks set to become illegal in Ireland in the Autumn.

A Bill has just been published with amendments to Qualifications and Quality Assurance legislation in Ireland making it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services.

Whilst students are already subject to the rules of their institutions about cheating, it has been impossible to deal with the thousands of essay mills putting pressure on students on campus, by email and even on posters in the London Underground to buy their writing services.

Lord Storey proposed an amendment to the Higher Education Research Act last year to tackle contract cheating in the UK, but it didn’t make it to legislation.

Hedd is part of the new QAA working group on academic integrity which has identified the legislative route as one of the priorities for the group. Last year the QAA published excellent guidance for HE Providers on this subject.

We have had some success using existing legislation to shut down bogus universities and  diploma mills, but it’s inadequate for essay mills in its current form.

Specific laws governing higher education fraud might not lead to many more prosecutions, but should be a more powerful deterrent. We urge the UK Government to follow the Irish example and stop these companies.

Stop! In the name of the law.

In the UK it’s possible to prosecute individuals with fake qualifications under existing fraud and forgery legislation and we can also target bogus universities and fake certificate websites under trademark, copyright and forgery legislation.

We encourage employers and education providers to take legal action when fraud is uncovered, but criminal prosecutions are few and far between.

South Africa is going one step further to stamp out degree fraud with a specific bill before Parliament, proposed by the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa), Hedd’s equivalent verification hub and international partner.

The bill contains provisions that compel education institutions and employers to report fraudulent or misrepresented qualifications to Saqa, which works closely with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to pursue cases of alleged fraud.

This follows news from Belgium * that the Higher Education Commission of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation approved a proposal for a decree aimed at fighting the spread of fake universities across the country, which was subsequently adopted by the Government. Institutions will have to state clearly that they do not offer legally-recognised awards. It also imposes fines on institutions for misuse of protected terms such as ‘university’, ‘higher education institution’ and ‘faculty’.

We would welcome such legislation here in the UK and have shared details with colleagues at the Department for Education and the Office for Students to show what can be done.

*Links to a report in English rather than the original report from ‘7 sur 7’ in French.

Be(hold) the front page

Yes. I’m excited to pick up my free world cup giant wall chart….

but more excited that working with the Times over the past week got an important message about degree fraud on today’s front page.

‘Don’t take selfies with your certificates showing’ is the key message, writ large.

The story is here if you can get past the Times paywall.

And here in the Guardian or here in the Daily Mail if you can’t.

No selfies please!

It’s coming up to that time of year when attention turns to caps, gowns, marquees, prosecco and proud families. It’s also time for our annual warning about graduation selfies. Our latest research shows that we can’t say this too often or too loudly.

We’ve put this out today through our press office and it’s being picked up already. Please spread the word. Thank you.

As more than two thirds of students plan to take graduation selfies this year, Prospects Hedd warns that they could be used to produce fake degree certificates

Prospects Hedd, the official system for degree and university authentication in the UK surveyed 1,068 students preparing to graduate this year.

While 69% plan to include their degree certificate on a photo, 24% will video their achievement.

Seventy one per cent of students plan to share their content on social media, with Facebook and Instagram the favoured channels.

Female students were much more likely to want to take a selfie (73%) and share it (74%) than their male equivalents – 58% and 60% respectively.

Sharing images of degree certificates can unwittingly give fraudsters access to the latest logos, crests, signatories, stamps, holograms and wording, fuelling the multi-million pound trade in fake degrees.

The latest designs can be easily copied onto fake certificates and passed off as genuine to unwitting employers.

Seventy four per cent of students were unaware that images of degree certificates can be used to produce fakes and 66% said that this was a concern.

Awareness is twice as high among males; 41% were aware of the risk compared with 20% of women.

‘Don’t give fraudsters the opportunity to copy your degree certificate. You wouldn’t share a picture of your passport or your driving licence. Degree certificates are no different,’ says Jayne Rowley, Chief Executive at Prospects.

‘Degree fraud affects everyone. After investing time and money in a degree, genuine graduates should not be at risk of losing out in the jobs market to a candidate using a fake certificate.’

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

An interesting take by a judge last week when jailing Simon Macartney for fraud and using fake documents. Judge Andrew Goymer also condemned the employer for failing to make proper checks on a job applicant’s qualifications.

Get Surrey reports that Macartney was employed as the Driving Standards Manager for the South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) for four years, earning more than £200,000. His job required him to assess whether paramedics were qualified to drive ambulances. He lied about his career as a police traffic officer and then produced fake certificates when challenged about his qualifications. He is now serving a three year sentence in prison.

The judge said SECAmb’s system of checking employees’ qualifications was a ‘disaster waiting to happen’, and the recruitment process used by the Trust ‘left much to be desired’ and ‘was thoroughly lax’.

Managers did not ask for original proof of qualifications when jobs were offered to applicants.

The judge said the offence had called into question public confidence in the ambulance service, which people had a right to believe had employed people qualified to do the work they were paid for.

Comments on the article include demands for Macartney to pay the tax payers’ money back.

Employers are under increasing pressure to make proper checks after a number of cases of CV fraud made headlines and questioned employers’ recruitment processes.

The reputation of your organisation is at risk if you don’t check who you’re employing. It’s easy to verify the claims made by applicants.

  • Tell applicants you make thorough background checks when advertising your jobs.
  • Ask for original certificates, not photocopies or scans.
  • For most UK graduates you can check their degrees through www.hedd.ac.uk.

 

 

 

BBC Brilliant

Well that went well.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but yesterday the BBC did more to raise awareness among employers about the prevalence of fake degrees and the people prepared to cheat their way into a job than we could do in a year.

In the build up to the File on Four programme on Radio 4 last night which we contributed to, there was coverage all day.

The BBC online article I read at 6am yesterday morning was followed by segments on every radio news bulletin through the day.

I talked about the importance of employers making proper checks on the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC2*

The Jeremy Vine Show** picked up the baton at lunchtime with James Reed from Reed Recruitment revealing that when they analysed 10,000 CVs, 24% contained exaggerated degree results.

Twitter boosted the signal and I checked with our techies that the Hedd website would be able to cope.

The newspapers have picked up the story too and we are contributing to pieces in print and online.

The revelation on the programme that 3000 people in the UK bought fake degrees in just a two year period (2013-14) from one large degree mill operator shocked employers across the country. The programme went on to reveal where these people are working – including in the health sector.

MP James Frith from the Commons Education Select Committee (and my local MP) was on the programme too and pledged to take action after being staggered by the scale of the problem.

It was a brilliant platform to get the message out about the importance of making proper verification checks. Thank you BBC.

Our free toolkit for employers can be downloaded here.

*the item starts at 36 minutes if you’re skimming through.

** about 70 minutes in.

File on Four

‘Prospects chief executive, Jayne Rowley, is interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s File on 4, the award-winning current affairs documentary series investigating major issues at home and abroad.

‘Degrees of Deception’ airs at 8pm on Tuesday 16 January.

File on 4 exposes a multi-million pound global trade in fake diplomas.

A complex network of online universities sells degrees, doctorates and professional qualifications – for a price. Some of the buyers have gone on to trade on these credentials, including them on their CVs and gaining jobs in public life.

Others, after making an initial purchase, were blackmailed by the sellers, who threatened to expose them unless they paid out huge additional sums of money.

Despite criminal investigations in numerous countries, why is there still a thriving trade in dubious qualifications and are institutions and companies taking the issue seriously enough?’

Yes, that’s me. I was interviewed as part of Prospects’ work to reduce degree fraud through our Hedd verification service. I talked about the legislation that’s in place to deal with fraud of this nature – Fraud, Forgery, Trademark and Copyright. I’ll be explaining the regulatory challenge and what needs to happen to curb the issue.

Which, of course, can be boiled down to one simple thing. Making proper verification checks every time.

Listen live or catch up on BBC iPlayer.