At what price a PhD degree?

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A video clip making the rounds on social media highlights the disparity in the ratio of PhDs among the members of the Shoura councils of GCC countries. It even notes the numbers of PhDs in the US Senate and House of Representative. Saudi Arabia has by far the largest proportion of PhDs among the lawmakers, with some 100 members of the Shoura Council holding PhDs according to the clip. If that is indeed true, then is it perhaps not overkill?

And does it not encourage those who want to obtain such a degree to look for an easy option? A finding of the Ministry of Higher Education identified 110 offices selling forged degrees from non-Saudi universities. The agencies had been supplying these bogus degrees for several years, and the recent finding was just the tip of the iceberg.

The degrees supplied by these diploma mills are not genuine or approved by any official body, and often are not worth the paper they are printed on. They are issued by institutions that may offer courses without stringent controls or approved standards, or they may be simply issued by the transfer of money into an overseas account.

Steps have been taken to identify the agencies that supply forged degrees. The ministry has set up a special department to crack down on the issuance of false degrees. The department could verify the authenticity of any degree by contacting the institution that purportedly issued the document. The names of those holding forged degrees would not be found on any accredited university register.

Fake college degrees can be a profitable business for those providing them. Prices for a fake bachelor’s or master’s degree can cost anywhere from SR3,000 to SR30,000 while a bogus doctorate degree can cost up to SR90,000 from an institution in the west.

With the advent of the internet, the issuance of fake degrees has become a universal dilemma and has made it easier for diploma mills to snare prospective candidates for bogus certification through fake ads or spam. Such institutions simply create a website that looks like it belongs to a genuine university.

A US media investigative team reported that such sites would provide online payment options for customers as well as details for prospective employers who might contact them to verify whether a degree is genuine or not.

Although there have been instances where students were genuinely unaware of the scam, in most cases it was reported that the prospective degree recipients knew exactly what they were getting into. A US Department of Justice finding some years ago created some ripples in this country when it named over a hundred recipients of bogus PhD degrees from Saudi Arabia who obtained their certificates from diploma mills. What was discomforting was that some of them held executive positions in the government at the time.

This raises another question. Why does everyone have to have a higher degree for employment? With the transfer of money to a diploma mill and very little mental effort, the recipient soon has an impressive piece of paper is in his hands that is sure to impress any human resources manager.

There are also cases where such degree holders were prompted by social pressure and not by the need for employment. Such people surrounded by a group of PhDs found it necessary to validate their standing in the group, and the diploma mill was the most expedient method.

Let us free ourselves from the belief that everyone should have a university degree. As one reader put it, “STOP this craziness insisting that only someone with a PhD can teach a basic course at university! Usually, they cannot and have no interest in doing so. We have diluted our education systems and overproduced PhDs who now outnumber the jobs available. Bring back Technical Colleges, Business Colleges, etc. and stop calling them universities. This is what the country needs most, a nation of capable and qualified doers and not an inflated bunch of idle or unimaginative PhD degree holders.”

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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