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Do you have money? Then buy a degree

Could the escalating and incessant demand for degrees as a prerequisite for jobs and elected office without foolproof regulatory framework be unwittingly providing platform for entrepreneurship in fake academic papers?

Previously, those yearning for a university degree they had not worked for or earned, would troop to backstreet operators and master forgers and buy fake degrees and other certificates. But the number was then negligible.

Today with the advent of mass university education and Module Two university programmes in public and some private institutions of higher learning which have led to flinging wide-open doors to university education, degree-hungry folks have devised new tricks — hiring others to do the brainwork and only show up on the graduation day and the subsequent photo-session in an academic gown.

Walking across the foot-bridge that connects University of Nairobi’s main campus and the Central Business District, one comes face to face with the new phenomenon and the contagious bug that has bitten aspirants for university degrees.

Here one encounters posters plastered all over, advertising the contacts for services that will help you earn a degree from university of your choice. Such posters typically read: “Want help to do your course-work call this no. …”, “Researcher on course work available”, “For reliable dissertation services call this number”.

The only service not indicated in the posters and for obvious reasons, but which everybody knows is available, is one of hiring someone to actually physically sit the examinations for you!

Multiple interviews with students and university lecturers in public and private universities indicate the practice is widespread, and that authorities are aware of the horrendous vice but are yet to act decisively on the grand deception.

A senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Political Science and Public Administration who did not want to be identified to avoid friction with his seniors and colleagues told People Weekend: “University administration and lecturers are willing accomplices in the racket.

The scandal entails handsome amounts of money changing hands remembering that ours is not a society built on morals.”

Most culprits in the racket are either politicians returning to college to acquire papers that will enable them run for higher offices or are employees who crave for papers to help them jump the promotion queue , besides seeking greener pastures elsewhere.

The comparative ease with which one can attain academic papers and certifications that were once revered is astonishing.

In the recent past, two well placed government officials on suspension for alleged corruption, graduated at a religious based university, but are not known to have set foot in any lecture theatre long enough, though they registered as full-time students.

A Nairobi City MP renowned for deficit in academic achievements beyond basic education is now a proud degree holder and set to garner for higher things in the political pecking order, though nobody remembers being in class with him.

So is a senator and two high profile aspirants for governorship in 2013 General Election. Under the new Constitution, the President and his deputy as well as governors and their deputies, must have a degree from a recognised institution.

The rush by sitting and aspiring politicians to arm themselves with university degrees by hook or crook could get worse should the contemplated law requiring MPs and MCAs to have a degree as well, sail through.

Should that happen, the rat race could assume nightmarish levels. Joining in the mad rush for degrees, mostly in the masters category, are thousands of working Kenyans yearning for promotion at the workplace or greener pastures elsewhere.

And of course, there is the ever growing crowd of job-seekers easily predisposed to short-cuts to enable them snap the scarce openings in the tight labour market.

Experts say the problem is fuelled by the fact that employment in Kenya is certificate, as opposed to talent and passion-driven.

Placing a high premium on educational certificates more than anything else, says Julius Muia, the chief executive at the National Economic and Social Council, Kenyan employers, has pushed potential workers and employees to acquire academic papers at whatever cost, including cheating and cutting corners.

He says: “In developed countries such as the US and Japan, papers don’t count for everything. Here they are the lifeline. We value papers more than the actual delivery and out-put of the employees,” he says adding the trend may, in the medium to long term, have serious ramifications on the county’s economic, social, and political fortunes.

“We need a human capital base that is real and tested, not one built on employees merely dangling academic papers,” says Muia.

Another factor adding to the crisis, says Dr Eldah Onsomu, a policy analyst at the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research Analysis (KIPPRA), is that Kenyan employers either do not bother testing validity of papers presented by potential employers, and/or there is no mechanism to do the same.

“You hardly have employers checking whether the papers presented are genuine or not. That is something easy to do. But what do you do when the degree certificate is genuine alright, but the owner paid someone else to sit the classes and the exams for them?

That is a bigger challenge”, says Dr Onsomu. Just last week, it emerged that the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) had on its payroll 136 employees allegedly with fake academic and professional qualifications.

Documents filed at the Employment and Labour Relations, formerly Industrial Court, on August 13, allege the workers were hired on the strength of forged certificates and manufactured “testimonials”. Majority had papers from schools or colleges that do not exist.

Thousands of other public employees, more so in county governments, are believed to have secured employment, courtesy of fake papers but are tricky to sack, let alone prosecute, because of political considerations.

Investigations by the People Weekend have established that a masters-degree “holder” in psychology has risen through the ranks working at a mental institution in Nairobi. Either unknown to his superiors or otherwise, the degree “holder” neither has a first degree, leave alone the proclaimed masters.

His only genuine qualification is a diploma certificate, the rest of the “papers” having likely been obtained from some “smart” printer down Nairobi’s River-Road. The other group sucked into making a kill from the booming “degree” industry at our institutions of higher learning is the army of jobless graduates offering hire services to degree-seekers.

Nick Mwangi, 27,(not his real name) who graduated with Economics degree five years ago but has not been in any formal employment says he uses his knowledge to ‘help those who can pay for his services pass exams’. He cynically terms university education a group effort or a harambee.

With big cracks in our moral values environment and overwhelming gravitation towards instant gratification taking the better of an increasing number of Kenyans, the short cuts appear destined to take root and thrive, observed a don.

“In any case, we also make a living otherwise we would be involved in crime, says Mwangi.” Another unemployed graduate who plies the same trade and who gave his name as Ronnie Martin said he operates a full time “office” conveniently close to the University of Nairobi’s main campus because there is “a huge demand for my services.”

He also introduced to us a colleague, Jane Njeri (not her real name) who confirmed she too: “runs a booming business.” Said Ronnie: “We basically ghost-write for people who are too busy, or who for some reason or other are unable to undertake the tough academic work by themselves.

Without jobs, we do not consider this wrong as we are just selling our expertise. We also help people write their exams though this is rare since logistics involved in such endeavour are more challenging and risky unless the offer is absolutely irresistible.”

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