India churns out brilliant graduates by the thousands each year. However, as the market for higher education grows and Massive Open Online Courses revolutionise distance learning, there has been a sharp increase in fake universities and fake degrees. There is an influential mafia network that facilitates fake degree infrastructure in India. The Khaleej Times even described the manufacture of fake certificates as a "money-minting industry that has never stopped churning out business for the people involved in it." And the ramifications of these fake degrees are felt all over the world.
Bengaluru, home to some of the best educational insitutions in the country, is fast becoming a hub for dubious firms offering fake degree certificates. The city police's most recent catch happened last week, when an MBA graduate was arrested for selling 300 fake certificates from four universities. Police belive the conman sold them to clients for between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. These certificates may appear handy for a time, many people have managed to find jo bs in private firms. However, when firms run background checks, the fraud comes to light and these fake-degree holders lose their jobs.
Most of these scamsters do their dealings online. In 2017, the Central Crime Branch police raided an education consulting firm on M.G. Road and arrested a post-graduate who had managed to sell 2000 fake marks cards! 36,900 emails were recovered. Police have also busted a pan-India fake degree racket operating under the name "Delhi Education Society." This set up included regional offices and over 40 agents across the country and had allegedly sold over 50,000 forged marksheets and university certificates.
The trouble for students is that many of them are unable to differentiate between what is legal and genuine and what is fake. A genuine University will have the approval of the University Grants Commission. However, with universities mushrooming everywhere, providing distance education, students are confused. There are many benefits to distance education in India, but only through the proper channels and universities.
According to the Commission, the University Grants Commission Act 1956 under Section 22(1) provides that a degree can be awarded only by a University established under a Central, State / Provincial Act or an institution deemed-to-be-university under Section 3 of the UGC Act, or an institution especially empoered by an Act of Parliament to confer the degree.
Across the border, Pakistani law enforcement officials raided the headquarters of the IT software firm Axact, in the port city of Karachi. This firm allegedly ran a global fake degree empire. On May 17, the New York times ran an investigative piece, alleging that some 370 websites selling fake degrees from bogus universities were being run by Axact.
This phenomenon is known globally as credential/ qualification fraud, a U.S. $1 billion 'cottage' industry that has tainted higher education. Thousands of UK nationals have bought fake degrees from a multi-million pound 'diploma mill' in Pakistan, revealed an investigation by BBC Radio 4's File on Four program.
India has had its share of controversy around the subject too - the 'think tank', Indian Institute of Planning and Management being a recent example.
Fraud and corruption in education exist in various forms beyond contract-cheating. Its global manifestations include diploma mills and the counterfeiting of academic documents as well as bribery to ensure the licensing of academic institutions, the hiring of academic staff, passing of examinations, admission into educational programmes and the awarding of degrees.
How do institutions guard against fraud?
At the most basic level, the solution involves robust processes for vetting student qualifications. But just as important is understanding the size and scope of the problem, its variations, and the hotspots where it occurs. Lasting solutions demand both vigilance and a good deal of creativity on the part of
admissions personnel, institutions, governments, and others.
— Dr N. Prabhudev is a Former Director, Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology...