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How tricksters acquire ‘degrees’

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 degree 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 for you 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 CBD, one comes face to face with the new phenomenon and the contagious bug that has bitten aspirants to acquire university degrees. Here one encounters posters plastered all over, advertising the contacts for services that will help you earn a degree from university of 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 practice 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 didn’t want to be identified to avoid friction with his seniors and colleagues told the People Weekend: “University administration and the lecturers are willing accomplices in the racket.

Mark you, the scandal entails handsome amounts of money changing hands. Obviously, there’re many takers given that ours isn’t a society built on firm 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 registered as full-time students.

A City MP renowned for deficit in academic achievements beyond basic education is now the proud degree holder and set to garner  for higher things in the political pecking order though nobody remembers being in a degree class with him. So is a member of the Senate and two high profile aspirants for governorship in the last election. Under the new Constitution, the President and his deputy as well as the 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 through hook or crook could get worse should the contemplated law requiring MPs and MCAs to have a degree as well, sail through passed. 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, have pushed potential workers and those in employment to acquire academic papers at whatever cost, including cheating and cutting corners.

He says: “In developed countries like the US and Japan, papers don’t count for everything. Here they are the life-line. 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 don’t 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 it’s 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 don’t exist. Thousands of other public employees, more so in the 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 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 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 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 don’t 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 challenges and risky unless the offer is absolutely irresistible”.

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