My World: A Personal Blog About Everything

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Fake Degrees UofT Degree=$6000, York=$3000

Here's an interesting article I read about someone who makes perfect counterfeit degrees for Ontario Universities for a few thousand dollars: http://www.thestar.com/article/549772
He makes transcripts too.

The total worldwide numbers of fake degrees is estimated at 200,000 per year. It also seems like it's hard to catch these guys, or at least get them convicted because their customers are untraceable and they claim to sell "novelty items".

What are consequences for society. As the article points out, we could have doctors who were never trained, engineers who can't do math, etc... but there are some problems here with the Star's analysis.

First, almost all the jobs they mention would have a stringent interview process. All the people applying to the jobs have degrees (real or fake) and it would be anticipated that during a technical interview it would become fairly if someone isn't qualified. If the interviewers don't ask any technical questions (I've never had an interview that didn't) then the person with a fake degree would have to be a very good liar to make up answers to those qualitative questions, like "what was your favourite project you worked on and what challenges did you face?".

Second, building on my first point, in a perfect meritocracy it shouldn't matter if you got a degree or not, it's what you can do. For example, say I attended all the classes at a school without paying tuition and without registering (just show up and listen) and I did all the readings and homework, I would have the same education without an actual degree. Hence I might be able to perform as well as someone else who has a degree. So now consider the fake degree market. Is it possible that many of the fake degrees are for people who are qualified for work but have a foreign degree that is not recognized by Canadian employers? Since we don't have numbers, we'll never know, but that certainly seems plausible and is that really so bad?

Third, this is probably the easiest problem in the world to solve. As is mentioned in the article UofT has an online request system to validate that a student got a real degree. In addition, many employers or grad school will request transcripts to be sent directly from the school (hence you can't send in a fake one yourself). This second point is weaker because you can usually send in a transcript yourself and just say you had trouble getting the school to mail it directly, but the point still stands that a transcript sent directly from a school is real. So how do we take this one step further? Go the UofT way, but take online verification one step further. ETS, the company that runs the GRE test, has some kind of "electronic score delivery system". Something like this, although annoying, would help in sending transcript scores quickly to anyone. The problem is the infrastructure, recipients have to be in the system and it's borthersome to make these requests (which might come with a transaction fee as well). It seems like these measures may be costly and annoying, so I think the best solution is for employers to be vigilant. Aiming towards a meritocratic ideal, just test that the candidates know what they need to know. Marks become somewhat irrelevent, and so do degrees, but this is probably the most practicle solution. If a degree and high marks are SUPPOSED to mean something then you would blow away the competition anyways.

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