Fake qualifications are on the rise. How universities can manage the risk

Another consequence is that fraudulent qualifications may increase the tendency for institutions to hire their own – accepting more students from their own institution for further study, or employment, rather than recruiting from further afield. That’s because students who’ve already been trained by the institution are more easily verified and represent a known entity.

For employers, hiring those who have falsified their qualifications or lied on their CVs can lead to costly exposure to legal action, high staff turnover, lost revenue and public reputational damage which may take years to repair.

For example, in 2012 it was discovered that Scott Thompson, the then CEO of Yahoo, had not earned the computer science degree he claimed. Instead, he had a degree in accounting. Herbalife’s CEO, Gregory Probert, was forced to resign in 2008 after it emerged that he did not have the MBA he claimed to.

Checks and balances

The University of Cape Town, where we work and conduct research, checks the validity of every undergraduate applicant’s school-leaving certificate. Postgraduate applicants must undergo rigorous selection processes. If falsified documentation is discovered, the application is rejected; in some instances, an enquiry or disciplinary process follows.

This approach is available to all universities in the country. South Africa is ahead of the curve when it comes to the ability to verify qualifications. It boasts a fully-automated, centralised online degree verification system, called MiE. This was the first commercial background screening company of its kind worldwide.

The system links higher education institutions to a centralised database where third party queries may be fielded. The service verifies Grade 12 certificates and checks tertiary qualifications. These include short courses, diplomas and degrees, which are checked directly with local and global institutions. The system also checks whether an academic institution is accredited by the relevant governing body.

For employers, and universities who are also large employers, it is imperative to follow due diligence and check references. Developing collegial relationships across institutions and other organisations can facilitate the due diligence process. Employers must do their homework online as well: check candidates’ online presence and across social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

In addition, a competency-based interview can go a long way in alerting interviewers to what may be a falsified qualification. Use the interview process to look for depth of knowledge across the applicant’s field.

Finally, when in doubt, don’t appoint. Additionally, have the courage not to appoint straight away. Even if someone appears to tick all the boxes, there is still a responsibility for due diligence. Re-advertise and continue the search to find other applicants when doubts arise. Taking extra time and care to properly vet qualifications, references and CVs will pay dividends in the long run.

The Conversation

Linda Ronnie, Associate Professor, University of Cape Town and Suki Goodman, Associate professor, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.