KUWAIT CITY—After Kuwait’s Ministry of Higher Education summoned 259 people who hold fake degrees to court, the country has turned to examine how such degrees became so widespread and how their use could be blocked in the future. In the meantime, many of the false degree holders appear to be in deep trouble.
“We have referred them to the prosecution to take all the legal procedures against them, because they have received these certificates unlawfully,” said Bader Al-Issa, the minister of education and higher education, in a statement to the Kuwait News Agency.
In February 2015, Al-Fanar Media published a series of reports highlighting a global network of fake online universities that use aggressive marketing to provide fake scholarships to lure students in and steal their money to end up with worthless degrees. Then in last May, The New York Times published two reports on fake universities that grant unaccredited degrees, pointing out that 3,142 people working in Gulf countries had received such degrees, including 278 people working in Kuwait.
“Unfortunately, the reports were true,” said Nouria Al-Awadi, the director general of the National Bureau for Academic Accreditation and Education Quality Assurance.
Al-Awadi said the Bureau had tracked down 259 people of the 278 mentioned in The New York Times’ report. Al-Awadi added that the false degree holders have been documented in a table showing the person’s name, job title, and employment sector in which he or she works.
“The issue is quite important and cannot be tolerated,” she said.
The names, nationalities, positions of the forged diplomas’ holders were not announced. Neither have the results of the investigations. But the Minister of Higher Education confirmed that most of them work in the private sector.
The reasons behind the spread of forged diplomas seem to be many. “Some government agencies’ permissiveness and negligence played a role in that,” said Al-Awadi. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices abroad previously approved the certificates, she said, when it is only supposed to approve certificates that have been accredited by a genuine academic authority. According to Al-Awadi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not supposed to approve any university degree without coordinating first with the Kuwaiti national accreditation bureau.
“There are, of course, other gaps, including the fact that some institutions hire people holding diplomas [supposedly] earned abroad, even though they have left Kuwait for just very short periods of time,” she said.
Although Al-Awadi admitted loopholes exist, she stresses that the majority of forged diplomas holders obtained them before 2010 and before the establishment of the National Bureau for Academic Accreditation and Education Quality Assurance.
On the other hand, some say that there are many academics in the country who also hold forged diplomas but have not been investigated.
“There are doubts about the degrees of more than 1,400 faculty members in Kuwait. Still, nobody has moved to check that yet,” said Abdullah Al-Azmi, a faculty member at the College of Technological Studies at the Public Authority for Applied Education, an academic institution specializing in vocational education.
Of course, the problem of fake certificates is not only a Kuwaiti problem. According to The New York Times, 1,216 persons received fake university diplomas in the United Arab Emirates, 1198 in Saudi Arabia, 81 in Oman, and 70 in Bahrain. However, Kuwait appears to be the only Gulf country that has investigated the reports.
The skepticism about academic degrees seems to be expanding. In March 24, the National Assembly demanded the government disclose the details of the degrees earned by the managers, heads of departments, ministers, members of parliament, and all those who are employed by the government to determine if their educational accomplishments were accredited or fake.
Kholoud Al-Hindi, a faculty member at the Public Authority for Applied Education, thinks that to get rid of the phenomenon of fake university degrees, the government needs to deal first with the reasons behind its spread.
“Unfortunately, the government bases all the hiring advantages on one’s degree, and not for professionalism. So, workers look for diplomas to apply for jobs rather than improving their performance,” Al-Hindi said.
But Al-Awadi thinks that fighting against fake degrees cannot be done in the absence of the necessary legislation, even if local accreditation bodies exist. “We need laws to support our work, help us more in fact-finding, and take the necessary action against violators.”