Check bona fides to avoid academic fraud
TO prevent the counterfeiting of its credentials, Universiti Malaya has incorporated various safety features such as serial numbers and special designs. But so have other institutions of higher learning, including Universiti Sains Malaysia. In fact, security printing is the stock-in-trade for all institutions, educational or otherwise, when they want to protect the authenticity of documents.
However, as USM discovered, while these features may make scrolls difficult to copy, they are not tamper-proof. This is not to suggest that security features are not effective. They certainly have an important role to play in making sure that when documents have been improperly altered, they do not go undetected.
This is just to say that there will be no lack of forgers making money from falsifying documents and no shortage of people willing to pay cash for dubious papers.
Fortunately, USM apparently has a system in place which allowed early detection of the online scam selling its degrees. Unfortunately, no serial number would have been able to prevent the swindle in Subang Jaya since this was no document forger at work but rather a veritable diploma mill that has been operating for nine years.
The paper and ink were genuine enough and there was a familiar ring to the English-sounding names of the bogus degree-awarding foreign universities. But the qualifications were as fraudulent as the forged USM scrolls since they were handed out for cash in double-quick time without the need to attend classes, write term papers or take tests.
As such, though innocence should certainly be presumed until guilt is proven, it is not hard to concur with Selangor police chief Datuk Tun Hisan Tun Hamzah that those who bought the degrees knew very well they were phony.
Buying a degree is certainly no different from paying a professor for good grades or purchasing a finished essay on the Internet. It is academic fraud.
That said, however, as far as all forms of e-learning is concerned, it must be said that students are not always guilty. There have been cases when students were not aware that bogus universities were peddling fake degrees on the Net.
But this is all the more reason to spend some time checking the bona fides of the institutions.
More than anything, it is a matter of common sense to verify the qualifications with the individual institutions or accrediting authorities like the Malaysian Qualifications Agency to avoid fraud. This holds true for employers as well.
The fact that this may sometimes be difficult to do is no excuse for not doing so.