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“I know of no safe repository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

– Thomas Jefferson

The thoughts of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the USA, cited above around the beginning of 19th century seems to have had a premonition of the current situation in Sri Lanka depicting an ever widening gap between education and qualifications. Educational qualifications being a universally considered reliable measure of one’s level of education, it is of vital importance to seek to redress this trend for the sake of education and the educated per se.

In Sri Lanka, it seems to be that the ‘repository of ultimate powers of society’ is not lacking in ‘enlightenment’ but prefers to lead a blind eye on the vast reservoir of ingenuity of suppliers of bogus qualifications. Basic tenets of economics, teach that free markets are governed by the laws of supply and demand. This applies as a gross  truth that reins unchecked over the award or rather ‘sale’ of fictitious qualifications from post-secondary to post-graduate qualifications including PhDs by unscrupulous vendors.

The sale price of a degree in the private sector could be Rs. 400,000 onwards with a PhD being around Rs.10 lakhs. The fiction is well dressed with easy ‘modules’, ‘assignment based oral/written presentations’, or ‘open-book examinations’,

‘interviews’, ‘group work’ etc. The entry qualifications to any of these fancy qualifications vary according to the demand and the type of qualification required.  Presently the demand is for MBA qualifications. The marketability of these qualifications depends on the duration of the ‘course of studies’, type of ‘evaluation’ and the purported recognition of the foreign institution awarding the qualification.

The shorter the duration and lower the price of the award, the greater is the demand. Very colourful certificates and pompous ‘award ceremonies’ add to the attractiveness of the award. The increasing competition among the awarding organisations seem to be complete with flamboyance in presenting their ‘offers’ which include scholarships and easy payment schemes.

The validity of the bogus qualifications is no doubt highly questionable. There appears to be two reasons for the success of these fraudulent organisations. One could be sheer ignorance of some of the clients. The other is the client who is aware of the fictitious character of the award but seeks them for their own end to defraud prospective employers or gain an advantage over their colleagues for promotions or other benefits based on qualifications.

The net implications of fraudulent and low quality educational qualifications are wide and disastrous. There are many recognised private educational institutions that have well-designed affiliations with prestigious foreign educational institutions including universities. These institutions, (some with BOI approval where heavy investments have been undertaken) are severely affected as potential students divert from gaining a proper education and a recognised qualification.

They also create a loss of confidence of the public in the educational qualifications, perhaps, of even the genuine qualifications. This effect is further strengthened by general ‘devaluation’ of the prestige and dignity of holding, for instance, an MBA or PhD vis-a-vis those displaying concocted ‘purchased’ qualifications devoid of a basic education.

A genuine educational qualification such as a ‘degree’ is a culmination of successful completion of a strenuous, committed months of serious studies under the guidance of well qualified and experienced tutor/s of a higher educational institution.

Investigative research is a necessary component of any serious academic work under stringent evaluation criteria. A student must ‘earn’ the award through his own independent diligence.

In Germany, for instance, no person shall display, use a title or be referred to by designation or otherwise related to educational qualifications acquired other than such qualifications conferred by officially recognised authorities. This is so well implemented that it bestows the appropriate respect and dignity to educational qualifications and to persons who hold them.

Here at home, unfortunately any form of regulation on the award and the use of academic qualifications is sadly lacking.  It is a matter for both, the Ministry for Higher Education and the Ministry for School Education, ‘repository of ultimate powers of the society’, to jointly develop a system of accrediting diverse qualifications and set stringent criteria to eliminate the plague of awards of fictitious qualifications. Let qualification-seekers then be guided by the apt words of Thomas Jefferson to ‘inform their discretion by education’.