Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dubious qualifications, Will the real doctor please stand up?

 Many resort to buying academic qualifications and degree or diploma mills

SEVERAL years ago, I met a Penang businessman who had a ‘Dr’ title to his name. When I asked him in English about his field of study, he hesitated.

Pressed for an answer, he gestured with his hands and made drilling sounds to depict the act of digging a road. I then realised he was trying to tell me that his doctoral degree was in civil engineering.

Later, I heard about another Penang businessman who was asked by an air hostess to assist in a medical situation on board a plane because of his ‘Dr’ title.

The businessman hastily clarified in Hokkien to the air hostess, who was also from Penang: “Wah si kim siew eh loh koon. Beh heow kuah lang.” (“I am an animal doctor. I can’t treat humans.”)

The public must be getting used to reading about individuals whom they know did not attend a single day of tertiary education — and can hardly string together a sentence in English — being awarded doctoral degrees.

Instead of gaining respect from their peers, those who pay for their doctorates from degree (or diploma) mills become the object of scorn when they flash their ‘Dr’ titles.

As Penangites become more affluent, they seem to think they can buy anything including educational qualifications.

But no genuine institution of higher learning will confer degrees on ineligible individuals, no matter how much money is given.

So people turn to degree mills, those unaccredited education institutions that offer academic degrees and diplomas for a fee.

Degree mills look impressive and genuine because they often claim to be recognised by Unesco, an agency of the United Nations that promotes education and communication. However, the Unesco website states clearly that it does not have the mandate to accredit or recognise higher education institutions.

People who buy from diploma/degree mills know exactly what they are paying for and probably think they are not committing any crime. But they should be aware that the authorities will not hesitate to act.

Last July, it was reported that the police were tracking 525 people who allegedly bought fake degrees and certificates from non-existent international universities.

Some 40 individuals, including a Tan Sri and several politicians, had their statements recorded as part of the police investigation into fake academic degrees bought from an education institute in Selangor.

If Penang is serious about developing itself into an educational hub, the state government should ensure that it does not appoint individuals who have dubious doctoral degrees to sit in the various bodies set up to look into improving aspects of the economy, education, transport and tourism.

It may be customary for institutions of higher learning to confer honorary degrees on individuals for their contributions to society. It is equally customary for the recipients to refrain from using the ‘Dr’ title.

Some of these people think it is fashionable to use the ‘Dr’ prefix, but in reality it can be misleading.

Universities are concerned that the public may be confused by an honorary doctorate and the doctorate awarded to those who meet the academic requirements.

Therefore, some universities have begun awarding such honorary degrees as LittD (Doctor of Letters), LHD (Doctor of Humane Letters) and ScD (Doctor of Science) instead of the usual PhD to avoid further confusion.

- Contributed by David Tan, Pinang Points

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