Following a major expose by the NYT, which outed a local software company with selling fake degrees to international clientele, I can not help but think this could not have been better timed! There are 3 key lessons that can be learned from this scandal, especially relating to the use of technology and higher education.
1. The first reason being that just as the proposed Cyber Crime Bill is in the process of debated and finalized, this scandal reveals a new level of sophisticated, corporate-backed criminal activity that was going on unmonitored (or perhaps selectively over-looked) for over ten years.
What we require are a series of bills to counter the complexity of the business world and not without the active involvement of the everyday Pakistani. Our elected representatives should survey and run campaigns to garner citizen’s feedback and expertise before passing the Cyber Crime Bill. Pakistan has no shortage of Cyber Security and Information Technology experts who can easily weigh-in on the local and international cyber crime scenario. There should be an open and transparent dialogue about how we, as a nation, will move forward to protect our civil rights, both on-line and off-line.
2. In the era of Massive Online Open Courses and self-education via easily accessible resources, the need for a conventional university degree is already a highly debatable. A good number of professionals learn new skills through web resources, from bona fide instructors and go on to get enhanced employment opportunities. With the changing face of modern-day employment, there are also a number of professionals who work on a project-by- project basis and telecommute or work from home.
Seeing how large percentage of our lives, from work to recreation is now linked to the Web, it is understandable why people are eager to trust educational opportunities that pop-up online. While a number of them may be authentic, the expose indicates that vigilance is still required when procuring services on the ‘net. I urge you to make effort to verify the legitimacy of online courses, especially the ones where a certificate is offered, by making the effort to call or run a background check via Google, etc. You can pick up the telephone and call the Better Business Bureau to check whether the university or college offering the degree actually exists.
For those of you who do not find anything remotely unethical about procuring a degree at a the click of a button, I have the following piece of advice. If any website offers a short-cut to a prestigious university degree, mind it not an ‘education’, then you will get what you pay for. There are no short-cuts to success, only the temporary buoyancy of a well-calculated scam.
3. So the NYT story unmasked a fake degree scandal linked to customers abroad; it is time to turn the gaze inwards, to evaluate the state of Higher Education in Pakistan. How genuine are the colleges and universities that target Pakistani students with attractive slogans and fast-paced degree programs? Many also slap on logos and suggest affiliations with elite educational institutions from the world over. Do those affiliations actually have merit or are they another way to extract a few extra thousand rupees?
What the NYT revealed was the ugly side of business, where unscrupulous businessmen prey on the client’s vulnerabilities for their own profit. There is the young Dubai-based accountant who was swindled to the tune of $30,000 by first the degree-granting company then by another representative pretending to be from the Ministry of Labour in the UAE.
Do we hold the Higher Education Commission responsible when university students and their parents are duped by slick-talking salesman disguised as university administration?
There needs to be more awareness spread about how to go about verifying the claims made by educational institutions.Those of us who are working in and around Higher-Ed should release tip sheets, preferably with the co-operation of the government representatives, to inform the general public. Are we paying attention when hundreds of foreign-university representatives open up educational counselling centers to offer the American/British/Australian Dream paired with a hefty fee?
While the trial by media and the courts are getting underway, it will serve us well to push for a public hearing request on the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PEC 2015) to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication as soon as possible.