Fake degrees rampant, but facing scrutiny

Mar 25, 2016, 2:25 PM EDT
(Source: Faizan Hassan/flickr)
(Source: Faizan Hassan/flickr)

Myanmar's parliament approved cabinet nominees for the incoming government on Thursday, and schockingly, fake degrees weren't an impediment. Two men on the list have bogus schools on their CVs from which they allegedly received doctorates. One, U Kyaw Win, admitted so on Tuesday when confronted by reporters, said he was "ashamed," and that he won't call himself "Dr." anymore. Nevertheless, he was still approved by parliament.

Fake degrees are a rampant problem in certain developing countries. Take India, for example, where an ongoing investigation has found that over 30% of lawyers in the country have fake degrees. (New mandatory academic verification programs are being implemented.)

Indeed, making and selling fake degrees is quite the thriving criminal enterprise. Sometimes it’s relatively small-scale fraud, as with the arrest of two men in India earlier this month for selling fake degrees at $525-900 apiece. Police found 358 bogus degrees and mark-sheets in their possession, and said the suspects had been in business for the past three years. Operating the entire network on the internet, they had no problem searching for people who wanted fake degrees, wrote Tribune India. Their fraudulent degrees originated from both nonexistent universities (for which they created websites) and real ones where they “arranged dummy students to appear in examinations on behalf of others.”

In other cases the fraud is done via a massive crime web. Kyaw Win’s phony PhD was from “Brooklyn Park University,” which was one of at least 370 academic websites exposed as bogus last May by the New York Times. The resulting tens of millions of dollars in estimated revenue from the fake degrees (with PhDs going for $4,000 or higher) under those names were traced back to Pakistani firm Axact. In the resulting uproar, the country’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested the firm’s management, and just this month it filed a final charge sheet with shocking figures.  

From 2010 to 2015, Axact issued diplomas and degrees of fake U.S.-based universities to over 240,000 students from different countries – earning more than $205 million in the process. (It had created an elaborate system of deceit including fake endorsements by U.S. government officials, glossy promotional videos with paid actors, and shell companies to hide the cash flow.)

But after the Axact scandal, much more scrutiny has been brought on fake degrees around the world. For example, earlier this month half of the Malir Development Authority’s workforce in Karachi, Pakistan was shown to have fake degrees. The former director made millions in bribes by appointing these 48 officers, of whom 38 are still in their positions. And this week troubled Pakistan International Airlines said it will fire at least 2,100 employees “very soon,” in large part due to new revelations of fake degrees. (The firm previously sacked 350 employees in April 2014 for the same reason.)

These crackdowns are long overdue.

For a broader perspective on this issue, see last year’s Blouin Creative Leadership Summit panel on Global Corruption: Causes and Consequences.