To most people, obtaining a degree is the culmination of years of dedication and hard work, the graduation ceremony the highlight of the academic year.
Devi Sankaree Govender (Carte Blanche presenter): “But there is a shortcut to success. Shocking as it may seem, all you need is to go online and buy any degree… even a doctorate.”
They’re appropriately called ”degree-mills’ – websites which offer qualifications without the accompanying pomp and ceremony, caps and gowns… or brains, it seems.
We completed an online application for a Doctorate in Business Administration and it wasn’t long before Dave Matt-McCoy from a university known as Woodfield contacted us.
Here, money and life experience seem to be the only criteria for a doctorate.
[On phone] Dave Matt McCoy (Woodfield University): “The cost for a DBA is $775, ma’am and it’s going to be based on your work and life experience. There are no classes or courses that you need to take.”
Devi: “When can I get that DBA?”
[On phone] Dave: “You’ll be getting it in the next seven to 10 days, ma’am.”
And for a few dollars more you can also get your homework done.
[On phone] Dave: “You got an option where you can get your thesis done as well. You can provide us a topic on which you require your thesis in.”
Devi: “You mean somebody will write a dissertation for me?”
[On phone] Dave: “Absolutely!”
While Woodfield is a relatively new degree-mill, another called St George University International, or SGUI, became a popular choice with South African “scholars” some years ago.
At the time, this so-called university had an address on the tiny island of St Kitts in the West Indies.
Its website no longer exists, but we found some pages hidden in an Internet archive.
Journalist Ray Faure was once the representative of St George University International in southern Africa.
He himself claims to be in possession of no fewer than seven doctorates in vastly different disciplines and admits to having paid for one of them… but only $50.
Ray Faure (Former Registrar: SGUI): “They gave me the title of ‘professor’.”
Ray: “Yes, because I was appointed regional registrar. My role was to handle the paperwork of the students, vet their qualifications.”
… This, while adding yet another degree to his own portfolio.
Ray: “I finished my Masters Degree in Business through them.”
Devi: “An MBA?”
Ray: “An MBA, yes.”
Ina van der Merwe is CEO of Manage Integrity Evaluation, a background screening service for potential employers.
She knows all about St George’s degrees.
Ina van der Merwe (CEO: Manage Integrity Evaluation): “Many, many people obtained their degrees from St George, so whenever we get a St George University International, we question mark it. And I can tell you, it is not a valid qualification.”
She says the Internet has enabled degree-mills like St George International and Woodfield to create a flourishing fake academic world, selling degrees to whoever wants one.
Ina: “On our system currently we are aware of a thousand degree-mills… worldwide.”
Ina’s company runs the National Qualifications Register, which stores three million records from 23 tertiary institutions in South Africa.
Ina: “If you’re not there, there is immediately a question mark. I looked at the stats for June alone – we had 2 500 people lying about their qualifications.”
So what’s the most popular fake degree amongst qualification imposters?
Ina: “They love B Comm.”
Devi: “Followed by?”
Ina: “By Law… everybody wants to be a lawyer.”
Devi: “So who would be doing this? One would think it would be someone who wanted to apply for a job, but didn’t have the necessary papers. But what if I told you that it is being alleged that a senior academic also chose this route?”
Prof Johnny Molefe is the acting Vice Chancellor of the Tshwane University of Technology and one of five candidates shortlisted to fill the position permanently.
His academic history seems impressive, with his crowning glory a Doctorate in Business Administration, summa cum laude, with straight As in 2002.
However, on closer inspection, the degree originates from none other than St George University International, the institution which seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth.
But not from Prof Molefe’s CV!
This, despite the fact that the South African Qualifications Authority, SAQA, informed him by registered mail in 2007 that SGUI was not an accredited university here, or in the West Indies.
Samuel Isaacs (CEO: SAQA): “The final outcome was that the doctorate was not from a recognised institution.”
And therefore worthless, says Samuel Isaacs, CEO of SAQA, government’s watchdog for the evaluation and verification of foreign qualifications.
He says, at the time, he’d also spoken to the Tshwane University of Technology.
Samuel: “We did alert the institution in 2007 already and so they knew about it. And I spoke personally to the Vice Chancellor at the time.”
SGUI was exposed as a scam some years ago by Australian academic and world expert on degree-mills, Dr George Brown.
Dr George Brown: “It was certainly not a British university and certainly did not belong to any formal education system in the world. They’ve basically empowered themselves to confer their own degrees, which anyone can do – you, me… my son can do it. It’s just like selling a piece of paper.”
But Ray Faure is adamant that it was a legitimate university with offices in the UK and Japan.
Ray: “They were registered, but they had a disclaimer themselves that said that they cannot guarantee that their degrees will be accepted.”
We asked Prof Molefe for an interview but, instead, TUT’s Director of Corporate Affairs & Marketing, Moatlhodi Dilotsotlhe, spoke on his behalf.
Moatlhodi Dilotsotlhe (Director: TUT Corporate Affairs & Marketing): “What I can state to you at present is the fact that I’m aware that he has consulted his solicitors and that there are processes and, therefore, in that respect, one would not be privy to the discussions between himself… But as for the University, the University is not aware of any correspondence that you are referring to.”
We showed him the registered letter SAQA sent four years ago.
Moatlhodi: “To whom did they send it?”
Devi: “To Prof Molefe.”
Moatlhodi: “Let me state to you…”
Devi: “Why don’t you ask Prof Molefe?”
Moatlhodi: “No, no, no, no… Ordinarily, in terms of my duties and responsibilities, don’t you think I would as a primary point of departure ask..?”
Devi: “Did you?”
Devi: “What did he say?”
Moatlhodi: “He says all of these matters are unbeknown to him.”
Since this interview, the TUT’s Council has informed staff that it only found out recently that there were questions around Prof Molefe’s qualifications.
They’ve since appointed a task team to investigate.
Carte Blanche is in possession of the team’s preliminary report, which makes it clear that they went to great lengths to find an accrediting agency willing to validate a degree from St George University International.
We are also in possession of a letter from the Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in America stating:
[On screen] ‘St George University International is or was not accredited or recognised by any organisation that is an official, bona fide internationally-recognised administrative or quality control authority for the oversight of higher education in any country.”
Devi: “You’ve looked at the qualification and said it’s not recognised. Yet that individual is now up for a top job?”
Samuel: “If one said one had a particular qualification, and it turned out to be not recognised, I think it does start to ask questions about an individual who then still insists that this is a credible qualification.”
Prof Molefe is apparently not the only academic at TUT with a doctorate from a degree-mill.
His colleague, Prof Titos Khalo said in a letter to Carte Blanche that representatives from SGUI had lured him and several lecturers at the former Technikon North West to enrol for degrees, and that the Technikon had even paid their ‘tuition’ fees. However, SGUI’s former representative, Ray Faure, believes all is above board.
Ray: “I did nothing wrong. I still believe it was a good university, and I believe that the students that studied there were good students.”
George: “I would not accept that person to become[a] lecturer with our facilities, and they would not be allowed to call themselves ‘doctor’.”
Devi: “If I told you that somebody with a Doctorate in Business Administration from St George University International was holding the position of Acting Vice Chancellor of a technical university here in South Africa, would you find it difficult to believe?”
George: “I’m actually floored to find that. To hold that qualification from that particular institution is like putting a time bomb in your resume. One day it will go off… unfortunately I think it’s just about to go off!”