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Spurious degrees: A thriving underground market

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | PROF DR N PRABHUDEV
Published Dec 30, 2018, 6:34 am IST
Updated Dec 30, 2018, 6:34 am IST
PhD is the highest possible academic degree, there's no doubt that having a PhD creates better opportunities.
Bengaluru, home to some of the best educational institutions in the country, is fast becoming a hub for dubious firms offering fake degree certificates.
 Bengaluru, home to some of the best educational institutions in the country, is fast becoming a hub for dubious firms offering fake degree certificates.

A Fake degree is just a clique and a cheque away. Academe has become home to a flourishing underground market in spurious degrees.

A degree is a valuable commodity! India churns out brilliant graduates by the hundreds and not so brilliant ones by the thousands every year. But, unfortunately, it also churns out fake degrees by the thousands.

 

PhD is the highest possible academic degree, there's no doubt that having a PhD creates better opportunities. To qualify as a professor, one needs- a doctorate and sufficient work experience. He seems to have the calculations all worked out. "If I have a doctorate, there is a hike in the salary and I will get more students for private tuitions and can easily recover the money in no time". Sound arithmetic! 

How long does it take to earn a PhD? ( 8 to 10 yrs.)

The true answer is, it depends. If you take breaks between courses, if you require more time to complete your dissertation, your completion time will vary significantly

Steps to pursue a doctoral degree
1. First obtain an undergraduate degree- Three to four years; however, the length could be shorter or longer depending upon the number of credits taken per semester. 

2. Complete a Master's Degree- focuses primarily on a specific field of study of applied and theoretical topics. Pursuing a master's degree takes two to three years to complete.

3. Pursue and Complete a Doctorate Degree- Research to find the doctoral degree program that fulfills your interest. Look for the best college or university that matches your requirements.

Research is about offering something new-The Western world is years ahead of us in terms of path-breaking research. In India, despite having skilled people, research is offering old wine in a new bottle. A good effort in research entails reading anywhere between 250-350 research papers- the number may vary depending on the topic. Scholars need to skim the literature, to identify the research gap and select the topic.

It is a Fad to have a title in front of their names. It charges one's personal esteem to parade themselves as MBAs or PhDs. Some people are willing to pay a hefty sum to have fake PhD certificates from fictitious universities. Some go to the extent of giving handsome donations to universities to get the fake doctorates. It is hardly worth the paper it is printed on. But the crisp parchment with gold-embossed lettering has its uses, some of them very lucrative. 

The consequences for anyone caught supplying fake degrees might be just an injunction. Faking an academic qualification is like carrying a ticking time bomb with no idea of when it could go off - when you claim the qualification for the first time, or it might take years before it explodes in your face - taking your riches and your reputation with it.

There's no doubt that the incidence of academic fraud and corruption is a growing menace worldwide. The ghostwriting of academic works and academic frauds like dissertation plagiarism is a thriving racket. Submission of term papers, theses, and dissertations written by ghostwriters - so-called contract cheating - have been on the rise in recent years. The ghostwriting industry can be commissioned online. In the UK alone, more than 20,000 students are said to have purchased writing assignment from essay mills in 2016. 

Advances in technology, the international student mobility and the globalization of education have made fraudulent academic activity more routine while rendering detection more difficult! Business Booms Where There is a Demand. Degree mills capitalize on the consumer desire for a more competitive career edge. That the fake degree business rakes in over $500 million dollars a year. Sounds like plenty of people buy the message.

Bengaluru, home to some of the best educational institutions in the country, is fast becoming a hub for dubious firms offering fake degree certificates. Going by the raids in the recent past, as many as 40,000 people are working in and around the city with the fake degree certificates.   The U.S. continues to hold the dubious title of most popular location for degree mills- Allen Ezell. Probably 500,000 Americans hold fake degrees. "One of six education doctorates are fraudulent. 

A quack is a "fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skills. Many Indians turn to traditional remedies and treatments prepared according to recipes from ancient Hindu texts - or to "quacks" who present themselves as doctors but lack any medical qualifications. About 57% of purported Indian doctors are in the latter category. 

On the quack track: Over 50% 'doctors' in country are practicing without formal degree and Some 10 lakh quacks 'practice' allopathic medicine in the country, according to the Indian Medical Association.

In the age of instant communication and instant just about everything else, some people are finding bogus PhDs and degrees the way to go. Why would they want to spend eight to ten years and thousands of dollars or Rupees to get the certification when buying such credentials off the internet is so much easier?

Recent reports have suggested that there is a new generation of fake degrees available which include correct serial numbers and falsified student records. Not only would this make them much more difficult to detect, but also it suggests that the counterfeiters have managed to get inside a university, either by hacking into its systems or having someone on the inside.

Indian degrees are cheaper- range from Rs 15,000 to Rs 50.000, depending on the university. The UK and American ones are, of course, the most sought-after. Agencies too have set up shop, hawking fake degrees or getting ghost-writers to churn out theses on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from business management to political science. Sometimes, these fly-by-night operators just pocket the money and disappear

Remedies
The formal title of 'Doctor' be legally protected, so unjustified use could lead to prosecution. He can be charged under sections 466/ 468/ 471 of the Indian Penal Code. 

l University Grants Commission is the only body which monitors Indian Universities. UGC must come forward to tackle this problem. UGC need to frame mechanism to monitor PhD registrations, research publications and thesis reports. It's simple and easy to do with the help of a web portal. Also, passing national level examination in research aptitude should be made mandatory for PhD Registration. Criteria of quality research publications for PhD should be in place.

l Strong Authentication and Verifi cation Procedures

l Safeguards against Corrupt Recruit ment Agents and International Admissions Fraud

l Detecting and Preventing Plagiarism

Remember, degree mills are not going away anytime soon. The process to set up a fake university can be easy - a convincing domain name with an educational website installed from a template should do it. And with the addition of relevant text, sometimes plagiarized directly from a real university website, the deception is complete. Their methods will no doubt reach new levels of sophistication. Be vigilant; your career and reputation depend on it. Continued alertness and vigilance is needed to preserve academic integrity. We need to stop fake universities trading on commodities that they're not licensed to award.

(The writer is a former Director of Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology) 

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