As degree fraud presents a growing concern for the sector, action must be taken to ensure universities are still providing a valuable service and students are reaping the benefits of their hard work
The first Degree Fraud - Best Practice for UK Universities event, hosted by Prospects Hedd, was held on Wednesday 30 May 2018 at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. This roundtable provided seven higher education bodies a chance to share their experiences, expertise and theories of best practice for tackling and preventing degree fraud in the future.
How seriously is degree fraud taken?
The issue of how seriously an institution takes degree fraud stems from the fact that, from university to university, there is no form of standardised practice in working to prevent it, or tackling it when encountered. Working in silos - unintentionally or otherwise - can lead to a breakdown in communication between departments and a lack of awareness about degree fraud and how to approach it as a wider organisation.
Ultimately, degree fraud makes victims of UK students by devaluing the hard work they have put into their courses, and victims of universities by devaluing the education they are giving.
'We have conversations with other parts of the university but they don't always take it up.' - Katie Stanford, academic registry coordinator at Nottingham Trent University
'Degree fraud is taken seriously in our department within the registry, but I'm not sure how seriously it's taken by the wider university, or how aware people are of it.' - Debi Gill, awards and conferments administrator at Manchester Metropolitan University
On encountering fake certificates
Fake certificates represent one of the more common ways in which universities contend with degree fraud, with fraudsters submitting increasingly realistic forgeries and developing a greater understanding of what they believe they can get away with.
The burden of responsibility here is also shared with the employers, screening agents, and embassies checking those credentials in the first place - for instance, the older a degree certificate is, the less likely the employer is to check it at all. Simply looking at a certificate is not checking it. There is still plenty to be done about this type of fraud when it comes to employer awareness - students are often very surprised to learn that employers are not routinely authenticating their degrees.
'If everyone checks, the fake degrees don't get through. It's that simple.' - Sharon Horan, graduation officer at the University of Wolverhampton
Discover how to spot fake degree certificates.
More can be done by employers, universities, and Prospects Hedd to help improve the low level of student awareness surrounding degree fraud.
Graduation is a prime example of this, as students pose proudly with their degree certificate for a photograph to be shared on social media, unwittingly making a high-resolution image of their certificate available for would-be fraudsters. Working collaboratively with universities and employers, Prospects Hedd aims to educate students on the perils of such practices and help them better protect their investment in their higher education.
'I think [awareness] is quite low - there's not a lot of information that we give out to graduates. They should be expecting to have their degrees verified.' - Katie Stanford, Nottingham Trent University
What happens next?
One of the longer-term goals for Hedd and institutions is to work together to create a set of principles that could help inform degree fraud best practice.
Ideally, the minimum requirement would be for all HR and admissions departments to check every single [potential] employee that comes into an institution, raising cross-departmental awareness and usage and positioning universities as leaders in the fight against degree fraud.
Students and graduates should be better educated on the subject too, as well as universities and employers, informing them that their degree is likely to be verified in the future and that ultimately the adoption of this consistent verification practice will become the norm.
There is a long road ahead as Prospects Hedd continues to grow its network of institutions and employers. Future events similar to this with universities nationwide will further the conversation and help work towards protecting more and more UK graduates from degree fraud and its effects.
Should you be interested in participating in future events, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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