ADELAIDE - A G Sitori (‘Fake academic credentials: a world problem we’ve inherited’) is right to regard fake qualifications as a serious threat to Papua New Guinea’s professions, trades, economy and overall credibility.
This rise in the incidence of fake qualifications in PNG closely parallels what has been happening across much of the world.
In part, this is because so much emphasis is now placed upon having post-secondary or tertiary qualifications to do jobs that were once typically held by people who had only completed their secondary education.
Thus, many employers now demand a degree level qualification for jobs that, in truth, merely require average intelligence, secondary level literacy and numeracy and a good work attitude.
It is also a function of technology, in that it is now possible to relatively easily produce exceedingly good fraudulent documentation such as the fake University of Nottingham certificate mentioned by Mr Sitori.
And, of course, there are still so-called institutions of higher learning that cheerfully issue degrees to those willing to pay for them and who have done little or no work in their purported area of study.
A far more insidious problem is that more than a few qualifications are issued by entirely legitimate institutions to people whose academic achievements are, in practice, very modest indeed.
Basically, some institutions appear to be certifying that their students have achieved under graduate or higher degree standards of competence even though this is not really the case.
This is because, in the eternal struggle for paying students, many institutions of higher learning are “dumbing down” both their entry and learning standards.
They are responding to a market whereby if students find the entry and academic standards too hard to achieve, the fear is that they and their money will go elsewhere, to attend more accommodating institutions.
This is no minor matter. For example, when recruiting medical practitioners, the possession of the relevant degrees is not, of itself, enough to secure approval to practice in Australia.
Quite rightly, governments, registration boards and hospitals are very interested in the issuing authority for those degrees.
The truth is that the standard of education offered across the world’s tertiary institutions can vary quite strikingly. A medical qualification from Harvard or Cambridge or Paris or Moscow or Tokyo or Beijing is likely to be of the very highest calibre, whilst one issued from a more obscure university may be rather less so.
In truth, it is the quality of the teaching staff and facilities available that is at least as important as the efforts of the student.
If the professorial staff contains a number of winners of the Nobel Prize or the Mills Medal or similar awards, the academic standards are likely to be pretty solid. This is why a degree from a place like Harvard or Oxford is more highly regarded than one from my alma mater, Flinders University of South Australia.
I was awarded what Flinders University described as an “ordinary” bachelor’s degree. It certainly felt rather extraordinary to me but I know that it really represents merely a certificate of competence in reading, understanding, analysing and writing about relatively complex information and ideas.
Flinders is a good university that has produced a long line of successful graduates in many fields, but it is never going to challenge Oxford or Cambridge for prestige.
In a world that seems to be growing more complex and difficult to understand by the day, a small, emerging nation like PNG needs all the indigenous intellectual horsepower it can get.
For this reason, the problem detailed by A G Sitori therefore is more than a mere nuisance: it threatens to undermine the reputations, capacity and integrity of PNG’s most important institutions and businesses.
For this reason, he is right to bring it to public attention. The real question is what are the various relevant authorities in PNG actually going to do about it?
I recommend that, as a useful start, they might care to stop trashing the reputation of PNG’s tertiary system with absurd and damaging performances such as the recent persecution of Dr Albert Schram.
The significance of this incident is that, apart from the damage done to Dr Schram, it is a powerful disincentive for world class academics to ever come to PNG to teach. Why would you join an institution that has shown a willingness to treat its academic staff so badly?
Right now, there is neither prestige nor advancement to be obtained from being appointed to such an institution, so the brightest and the best will simply go elsewhere, to PNG’s great disadvantage.
Now that is a problem that seems to deserve immediate attention.