Diplomas should not be mere pieces of paper. A graduate in India gives her diploma and cap to her mother on July 19 after receiving a degree at the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

Forging Academic Credentials

Al-Etihad, UAE, July 26

Forging academic credentials is a threat not only to education, but to the development of our nation. While there are no accurate statistics about the extent to which academic diplomas and degrees are falsified in the Gulf, the number of these cases revealed each year is not insignificant. How can the Gulf states move from the pivotal phase of the “oil age” to the post-oil era and cope with the challenges of the 21st century if this kind of behavior continues unabated? Certainly, such an act is a crime for which the perpetrator must be punished, but to date there exist no integrated criminal penalties for the forgery of scientific and academic credentials in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC must therefore work on a common law to deal with fraudulent scientific degrees and scientific plagiarism. Some have suggested imprisonment. Others have suggested public shaming, alongside long prison terms and a large fine. Either way, there is a dire need for a specific sanction’s regime for this crime, and this is what we expect from criminal courts in the Gulf states. Another problem is fake institutions that offer the highest-paying students an easy path toward a diploma. This is yet another challenge we must address. The US Council for Higher Education, for example, requires higher education institutions to receive accreditation at both the state and national level, as well as by international accreditation organizations. Therefore, the Gulf countries should do the same, by requiring universities to be accredited both inside and outside the country, and threatening to revoke the license of institutions failing to pass certification. Furthermore, we must destigmatize vocational education. Part of the problem is that many students who might be better suited to pursue a vocational degree refuse to do so because it is considered less prestigious. But the fact of the matter is that by 2020, the demand for skilled labor in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi alone will reach about 40,000 people, while the current educational system provides only 3,000 vocational graduates per year. Hence, enrolling more students in technical vocational education – or at least in a hybrid education – is necessary. In order to know a student’s preferences, whether academic or vocational, it is necessary to conduct tests in middle school and high school, as is the case in some schools in America that test for a student’s scientific abilities and personality traits, and enable him or her to choose the correct specialization without family pressure. These measures may help a student make an informed decision about his or her future and minimize the chances of cheating or forgery down the road. The phenomenon of false diplomas and scientific plagiarism is a crime that must be punished firmly, but the most important thing is that the aim of our educational system does not merely become to award a diploma. We must allow our students to learn and thrive while meeting the needs of today’s labor market. – Najat al-Saeed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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