Thursday, December 09, 2004

Dec. 9, 2004: The Nation (Pakistan): Fake degrees proliferate

The Nation (Pakistan)
December 9, 2004 Thursday
SECTION: Nationwide International News

LENGTH: 1021 words

HEADLINE: ARTICLE: A dime a dozen


BY WAJAHAT LATIF - The generations, which went through college and university in the 50s and 60s will recall that education used to be a simple and straightforward matter. The first serious examination in a student's life was matriculation, at the end of ten years of school, normally at age 15. I studied in a high school affiliated to the University of Punjab. The University conducted the examinations in spring and the results were announced in summer and the college term began in the autumn. If you were not the failing type, it took four years for graduation and another two for MA. Any hanky panky in postgraduate research was unthinkable either for those who enrolled or those who supervised. And as a rule, both were intellectually exceptional. For that reason not many people enrolled for a Ph.D.

All that has changed. Unaccredited and fake institutions are multiplying. According to some reports, hundreds if not thousands of such outfits are dishing out fake degrees and making money all over the world. USA, and the UK are no exception.

Nor, indeed, is Pakistan. In Pakistan, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, an unaccredited Ph.D. degree can be had for $7,500 from American Branch of Preston University. Preston is accredited to the World Association of Universities and Colleges formed to accredit dubious institutions like the American World University. But WAUC itself is not recognised by the US Department of Education as an accreditation service.

Some weeks ago, a newspaper simultaneously carried the story of a raid on a degree depot in Sialkot, and an advertisement of a Washington International University, located in a shopping mall in America. WIU has a website and claims to give any degree in one year. The section on "accelerated degree program" states: "Revolutionary learning method: Core curriculum is bypassed to concentrate on new developments and trends in your field of study. There are no exams to pass. Book reports and research papers will be required as evidence of mastery of the subject matter".

Britain too has a problem of fake academic outfits. But recently, cases of a fake neurosurgeon and a nuclear safety engineer forced Her Majesty's Government to act. According to a report, the British Department of Education and Skills has referred these institutions to the Companies House, the regulatory body for the use of business names. The term 'University' is protected under the British law.

Dr Isa Daudpota, a Physicist working on a project in Comstech who chanced upon the problem of fake degrees in the higher academia some time back, and some parents, have been highlighting the issue in the press. As a result, the HEC has cautioned parents through newspaper ads to be careful against fake educational institutions and degrees. But no regulatory or coercive action has so far been taken to put such institutions out of business.Daudpota alleges that the National University of Modern Languages had awarded two Ph.D. in six months soon after obtaining a charter from the University Grants Commission on 29 May 2000. Before this date, NUML was the National Institute of Modern languages affiliated to Quaid-e-Azam University. The two PhDs were awarded to two Professors of English in NUML. The third PhD, Dr Daudpota says, was given in similar haste, to the Chairman UGC, which is now the Higher Education Commission. The three theses are available with the HEC but not the NUML, which is strange.If the work on the three theses started before NIML became a University, their outline of research required approval by the Board of Advanced Study and Research of QAU, of which NIML was an affiliated institute prior to May 2000. It appears that no reference to any NIML thesis exists at QAU. I find the above unbelievable. Scandals in education have been around for some years, but that they involve higher education is quite disturbing. PhD are being sold a dime a dozen! In a seminar held in the Sustainable Development Policy Institute on 'Quality of Higher Education; Accountability Questioned' last week, I was shocked to listen to Dr Daudpota and the concerns his presentation raised. Another distinguished member of the QAU reinforced what he said. The HEC rep made an articulate case for the Commission but did not really address the issue. One got the impression that the HEC did not have the power to stop what was going on. Although the consensus in the seminar was that there was no accountability in the academia, and it seemed clear that we were talking about fraud, deception, forgery and corruption etc., yet no one seemed really interested in making a formal complaint to the police or the NAB. According to Daudpota, he had kept the HEC informed of findings as he investigated deeper into his chance discovery, in the belief that the HEC would be able to act and arrest the rot in the higher education system. It appears that the only action that the HEC has taken so far is to put him on notice for termination of contract! Obviously, this is an urgent matter, causing all kinds of rumor. The Ministry of Education and the HEC should take it up at the earliest, go into Daudpota's allegations and put speculations at rest. What they can do is to form an international committee of eminent scholars who should go into the larger question of fake educational institutions and degrees, but immediately and specifically examine the theses that Dr Daudpota has identified, to determine their merit and make recommendations. None of them seems to have been a whole time student. Did they attend any classes or lectures? Who was supervising the research? Was any fieldwork undertaken? What was the quantity and quality of the data collected? What was the quality of analysis? Was the work original and did it meet PhD standards? These are some of the questions the committee will be faced with. In the meanwhile, Daudpota should retain his job because terminating his contract at this stage, before a proper enquiry, can be understood as bias. Depending on the result of the enquiry, either he goes home or some other heads begin to roll.