Qualification fraud should be easy to fix – but why isn’t SA doing anything?

Fake degrees are a problem that South Africa has had for years, yet it could be satisfyingly simple to solve.

When you go to the shop and buy bread, milk and, if you’re feeling luxurious, a sneaky chocolate, you pay for it. How do you pay for it? Maybe cash but increasingly with a card or even tapping your phone.

What you’re really doing is saying to the cashier that you don’t have the money on you but you have the money in your bank and that they can take it and put it in their bank.

But if you don’t have the money, it’s a problem. So, they have a system that checks with the bank that you have the money before accepting the transaction. It’s simple and near instantaneous.

Yet we still are unable to have a system of accurate checks for national qualifications despite having bodies which oversee qualification standards.

ALSO READ: Minister Noxolo Kiviet reported to SIU over university degree fraud

Last year, the KZN high court punished a fraud to the tune of over R2 million for lying about having a B.Sc degree in engineering when applying to work at Umgeni Water. Credit where it’s due; you could probably fake having a BA, B.Com or even an LLB but pretending to be an engineer is ballsy.

Other than that, it raises some scary questions; How did they get away with it for some eight years? What is the function of having a degree? Why have we not made qualification confirmation easier?

Admittedly, a lot of what is done in the field of work is learnt on the job. If you have a legitimate degree from 20 years ago, not only is some knowledge outdated but you’re probably not even using what you learnt back then and are rather applying things you’ve learnt in the field. It doesn’t make degrees worthless; they are still benchmarks to get into industry, but it’s easy to see how fraudsters can get away with faking it until they’re making it.

But it’s been an issue for years. Remember Johnny Molefe being shocked that his doctorate came from an uncredited institution or Sicelo Shiceka claimed to have a master’s from the University of the Free State (UFS)? Those instances were over a decade ago and we’re still dealing with questions over Minister Kiviet’s qualifications.

The annoying thing is that in most of these instances, the one person lying about the degree affects a large number of people. It’s not like millions don’t rely on good service from Umgeni Water or that it would be nice to have ministers with the knowledge they claim to have.

ALSO READ: Official at KZN premier’s office charged for submitting fraudulent qualifications

Degrees confer status that is a public good. It propels the bearer into society under the assumption that they know what they claim to know. It’s not just a means to a job. It’s a document that indicates your ability to serve the industry and, by extension, the public.

That’s why we’re okay with the state spending so much money on subsidising university degrees because the outcome is good for the public.

So where, dear country, is our register of qualified individuals? If degree fraud was such an issue that we made it a specific crime back in 2018, what is stopping us from making a list that employers can check upon receipt of a CV? It should be simple; plug in the ID number and let it spit out the qualifications issued by recognised institutions in South Africa.

Yes, we might not be able to do much checking with foreign qualifications and sure there are public privacy concerns… but degrees are public goods and most of the qualification fraud is within our borders so those are hardly issues when we’re trying to build a country with applicants who think of their own salaries before how they are going to get the job done.

ALSO READ: JRA CEO placed on special leave over ‘bogus’ qualifications

It’s not good enough that the burden is on the good guys to bring the liars to justice. We need to equip the good guys so that they never hire the liars in the first place.

There are so many things wrong in South Africa that will require a lot of effort to fix. This one is satisfyingly simple. Give me an easy way to check my employee’s qualifications.

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