Public to stand against phoney professionals

By Henk du Plessis

Would you trust your doctor or dentist to give you medical attention if you knew they didn?t have a valid doctor?s degree? What about your child's teacher? Would you trust them to educate your child without the right qualifications behind their name?

It takes three years to complete an undergraduate degree, one year to obtain an Honours degree, at least two years for a Masters degree and a minimum of two years to complete a Doctorate degree at a recognised tertiary institution, in other words, a minimum of eight years of academia in total before a person can walk away with the prestigious title of Doctor. With this title comes responsibility; people will engage in professionals? services trusting that they are thought leaders and experts in their specific domain of study and assuming that they have conducted intensive research within a specific study field.

However, it seems that some so called "professionals? are making a mockery of the academic process; those individuals that deem an online doctorate degree, obtainable for a few thousand Rands and within less than a year, as justifiable cause to use the title Doctor.

The public too often have blind faith when it comes to the professional services offered by doctors, teachers, homeopaths, dentists, etc., and sometimes get taken for a ride. They may well be charged exorbitant amounts of money for a service, based on the assumption that the service provider has years of academic knowledge and experience while this is not always the case.

The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) is the responsible body for the evaluation of foreign qualifications at a national level and plays an important role in upholding the standard of the academic fraternity in South Africa.

However, what can and should be done in instances where individuals acquire online tertiary degrees that are not recognised by SAQA? Should the public not have the right to know that the qualifications these "professionals? have are not recognised? That they are misrepresenting their industry and making a lot of money from the public under false pretences? What action is available to the public?

An example of an unaccredited institution is Bircham International University (BIU) (formerly Oxford International University). According to SAQA they are not listed as a recognised university by any valid accrediting authority. This university is furthermore listed as a non-recognised university by the educational authorities of the State of Oregon in the USA, which is a leading authority on detecting and publishing the names of non-recognised universities. As such, SAQA has indicated that they cannot accept qualifications conferred by the said university for evaluation purposes.

So, how credible and ethical are these practices to be selling products and services without accredited qualifications?

In the past three months alone according to BIU?s website, at least nine South African?s have obtained degrees from this institution. Their degrees are not queried as they are self-employed and they do not have to comply to rigorous evaluation procedures; something that would have been necessary had they applied for a position in a corporate organisation or in a regulated profession. These nine degrees included Homeopathy, Psychology Doctorate degrees, Masters Degree in Security and Emergency Management and a BSc - Scientific Nutrition.

The Tina Cowley Reading Centres who help learners with reading problems are also an example of an organisation that is implementing methodologies and selling their services based on the owner?s qualifications, of which a doctorate degree was obtained through BIU.

Parents and the general public need to be warned against these professionals practising businesses with dubious qualifications and should take action and not be afraid to ask questions regarding where their qualifications were obtained. Currently there is no forum to report these "professionals? with questionable degrees. Has the time not come to have a watchdog in place where organisations and individuals are discredited for misrepresentation?

Henk du Plessis is an ETD professional with twenty years of experience and he is passionate about quality and ethics in education and training. He holds a Masters degree in Human Resource Management from UP, is registered as an Industrial psychologist and has various business interests. He has published numerous articles in academic journals and websites/electronic media.