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.

It’s All About You

There are over 3700 registered users on HEDD now and 12 university operators so we’ve been doing some user testing to find out exactly what customers are using HEDD for and how we could improve the services.

The university look up service is popular and well-used – nearly a quarter of the enquirers come to the site to check the validity of universities and to get details of their verification protocols. Nearly all the universities have directly engaged with this and many keep their own details up to date. This service is unique to HEDD and is valued highly by visitors. We are going to extend this service later this year to include the Higher Education Colleges delivering degree programmes validated by other universities.

65% of customers come to HEDD to use the verification service to check qualifications. As it’s the core service we were not surprised and as the number of participating universities grows, we think this number will increase.

We were a little surprised that checking degree classification was the reason for only 29% of enquirers. On further investigation it seems that many enquirers are happy that candidates are confirmed as having a degree and don’t care about the details.

Over a third use HEDD to check attendance dates. This was not in our original brief, but has been introduced due to the high demand. Screening agencies in particular are keen to match the dates – especially as part of a wider background check to look for gaps in timelines on CVs.

And it’s not just about graduates either. 10% of the enquiries are about current students enrolled in our universities. For council tax exemptions, discounted travel cards etc. confirming that students are enrolled  and for which dates is essential.

Nearly half of all our enquirers are overseas and they love HEDD. They are mainly checking international students returning home to employment. The fact that it is a 24/7 online service is proving vital across global time zones. There also seems to be a better developed culture overseas for verification  as evidenced by the National Student Clearinghouse in the States. 3,500 US universities and colleges are in, representing 98% of their students and graduates. This is a great motivator for our HEDD team as we strive to expand the service in the UK.

The US are not alone either, there are central verification services in many other countries. We’ll be looking to link to them from HEDD so enquirers can check qualifications across the globe from our central portal.

It’s The Business!

Check out our article on “Beating Degree Deception” in July’s edition of University Business.

We’re doing everything we can to spread the word about fraud. This week, The National Centre for Universities and Business have kindly published our piece on the Vicious Circle of Fraud on their blog. Thanks for that.

If  you have any comments or questions, then please feel free to leave them below.

Do-It-Yourself Verification?

When candidates apply for roles, they will provide you with a claim as to their academic achievement.

It is in the employer’s interest to ensure that these claims are in fact true, as it is ultimately the employer who will gain peace of mind about the legitimacy of the candidate.

The great thing about HEDD is that we provide the opportunity to verify a candidate’s award without the candidate’s involvement (excepting that you must have candidate consent). You can be sure that a positive result from HEDD means that candidate is a legitimate graduate who holds the award they claim to.

However, one thing that we see very often is employers requesting that candidates verify their own award. But this strikes us as a bit perplexing: If you, as an employer, do not trust a candidate’s claim to hold an academic award, why would you trust their claim to verify that award? Why put a candidate through this unnecessary step?

Putting Self-verification in Context

If you are willing to let a candidate verify their own award, then you might as well accept their claims to hold an award at face value.

If you wish to verify students and obtain total peace of mind, then you must conduct the verification process yourself without the candidate being involved. Anything else is less than the certainty you require and leaves you open to the risk of forged documents followed inevitably by forged verification results.

Candidates: “What happens to my data?”

With education verification checks required by many employers across the world, it is a legitimate question to ask: “What happens to my data?” In this post we explore what happens during a verification check and what you can do to make the verification process as painless as possible.

HEDD is the Higher Education Degree Datacheck – we are a central shared service for education verification for, at the time of writing, 11 partner institutions.

Although we are rapidly expanding, we presently verify all awards for:

  1. University of Manchester
  2. University of Salford
  3. University of Wolverhampton
  4. University of Nottingham
  5. University of East London
  6. University of Essex
  7. Sheffield Hallam University
  8. Imperial College London
  9. De Montfort University
  10. University of Sussex
  11. Anglia Ruskin University

If you are a student or graduate of one of these Universities, then our process starts with an employer or agency wishing to verify a your award. The Data Protection Act requires that in order to process or disclose your data, your consent is required and we require this as part of our terms of service.

Q: Are there any times when my consent is not required to disclose or process my data?

There exists one exemption under the Data Protection Act which allows data to be disclosed or processed without consent. This exemption concerns the prevention or detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, or the assessment of tax.

HEDD does not process any requests without consent. Exempted requests will only be fulfilled at the discretion of your University. Universities take protecting your data very seriously and will only release your data under such an exemption to legitimate authorities, such as the police, and only with a strong qualifying reason to do so.

At some point in the employment process, you should have signed a disclosure agreement. This agreement allows your prospective employer or a third party agency to process your data in order to verify your education and your dates of attendance.

The employer will either create an account with us or log in to an existing account and submit a verification request to a partner institution. In some instances, where the data is a perfect match to records we hold locally, an instant verification can be provided.

In other instances, where a perfect data match cannot be found, it will be sent to your University for a manual verification. The University will respond to the employer or agency through the HEDD system shortly.

Universities can respond in several ways.

They can verify the enquiry, where all the information is correct. They can also partially verify the enquiry and provide amendments where some of the information is incorrect. In the event that your student record cannot be found given the information provided, a result of not verified will be returned.

We are very proactive in ensuring that the correct response is provided. Where there is concern that an enquiry which is returned not verified is in fact a false-negative, we will endeavour to seek additional information in order to provide the correct result.

Your verification result will be available to the enquirer in their secure dashboard. They will be able to access it in future should you apply for a job with an employer who uses the same agency.

How can I help the verification process?

Many screening agencies are international organisations that have to verify awards from all over the world.

In order to assist them in verifying your qualification so starting your job is not delayed, it is useful to provide the following information on your CV:

  1. Your name as it appears on your degree certificate, if your name has changed, please tell them as Universities will not have record of this and it can cause a false-negative result
  1. Your date of birth
  1. Your qualification type, examples include “Bachelor of Science”, “Master of Arts”, “Postgraduate Certificate” or “Doctor of Philosophy”.
  1. Your course name, examples include “Mechanical Engineering”, “Law”, or “Mathematics”. Again, check this against your degree certificate as the university may express it in a different way than you think.
  1. Your classification, i.e. the result you got 2:1, 2;2 etc.
  1. Your year of graduation

If you can provide the prospective employer or agency with a copy of your award certificate, this can help greatly with the verification process.

If you studied at an affiliated institutution – such as at a former UMIST academy or a subsidiary college of a University – then this is also highly relevant in assisting the verification process.

Any further questions?

You’re more than welcome to ask in the comments below and we will answer them if we can.