• Academic fraud is a threat to the integrity of Kenya's education system
One-third of employed Kenyans are not qualified for their jobs. They got those jobs using fake academic papers, sometimes with the complicity of recruitment panels.
Those astounding revelations were made by the Kenya National Qualifications Authority and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, both government agencies. That means one in every three Kenyans holds a fake qualification. This is a critical concern because unqualified persons may be making decisions with huge implications for the lives of Kenyans.
Imagine getting medical treatment from someone pretending to be a trained doctor. Or trusting a fake architect to design your dream home. The lecturer who inspires you in class may not have done anything to acquire his or her academic title.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) recently revealed to Members of Parliament that some employers, including universities, are fully aware they are hiring and promoting employees with fake certificates.
"Employers, universities and colleges bear significant blame for the forgery of academic certificates in public service," EACC deputy CEO Abdi Mohamud told MPs on July 27.
THREAT TO FREEDOM
Describing academic fraud as a threat to the integrity of Kenya's education system, Mohamud advised employers to undertake sufficient background checks on academic certificates submitted by job seekers. One way of doing this is by checking with the issuing institution to confirm the authenticity of the certificates.
EACC has been arresting public servants in the national and county governments who got jobs with fake certificates. For each individual caught, many others remain undetected. The problem of fake certificates is tainting the country's politics, too. In the run-up to the 2022 general elections, several politicians were found with questionable academic certificates.
The Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA) blames the growth of fake qualifications on so-called diploma mills. These are institutions that offer degrees, diplomas and certificates to anyone who wants academic qualifications without attending classes. In essence, diploma mills exist to deceive the general public.
Diploma mills can be found in both developed and developing countries. They are often unregistered with the host government and lack accreditation by an accrediting agency or association. In previous elections, prominent personalities have presented certificates from suspicious universities in Central America, the Pacific, Europe, North America and Asia. Most employers accept the certificates at face value, not taking the trouble to check if such educational institutions exist at all.
KNQA lists several signs of fake academic certificates. Academic fraudsters are fond of forging certificates that closely resemble those of credible academic institutions. A quick online review can tell you whether the institution indicated in the certificate exists. If the institution remains unresponsive and cannot be found traced using online maps, you are probably looking at a forged certificate.
Other signs to watch out for include a qualification earned in a very short period, several qualifications listed for the same year, and a long gap between acquiring qualifications. A certificate written in excessively grandiose language should also be a cause for alarm.
Former KNQA director-general Dr Juma Mukhwana explained that all certificate qualifications must take no less than one year of study, while diplomas need two years. "Anything less than this, whether local or foreign, is a fraud and Kenyans must be wary of the same," Mukhwana insisted. Interestingly, a KNQA statement reveals that at least 30 technical and vocational education training institutions (TVETs) are awarding qualifications without a mandate.
Why do some people buy fake papers instead of going to school? According to the EACC, fake academic qualifications fall into several categories. The first is of people who started the fraud immediately after secondary school.
A student aspiring to a prestigious college modifies his or her KCSE grades to qualify for admission. This particular type of fraud was highlighted in January 2021, when a Kenyan pilot was accused of altering his secondary school certificate to gain admission into a flight training school. When he was caught, the man had been in the aviation industry for eight years.
The second source of demand for fake certificates is from people who never attended any training after secondary school but need the papers to get jobs. There's a group of people who joined colleges and universities, failed to complete their studies, and somehow obtained papers as proof they graduated.
Another lot of fraudsters went for training and graduated but with poor results. In such scenarios, a graduate who got a lower division forges a certificate showing First Class honours. With the fake certificate, the individual can boast of excellence in academics.
Several arrests show the prevalence of the problem. In May, EACC charged a civil servant with presenting fake certificates in his job application. If convicted, the suspect may be forced to refund Sh4.7 million he earned in salaries over the years. Meanwhile, EACC is demanding almost Sh100 million from another public servant facing similar allegations. The courts have already set a precedent for ordering that offenders refund ill-gotten salaries.
In July 2022, two former employees of a state corporation were convicted of forging university certificates, with the judge ruling that they refund the total sum of salaries they earned during employment. In addition, the duo were fined almost Sh300,000 each or else serve prison sentences ranging from two to three years.
In February this year, 11 employees of the Homa Bay county government were arrested for presenting forged academic documents. The county government was in the midst of a staff audit when the culprits were nabbed.
Security forces have not been spared the scourge. In June 2022, 10 police recruits were arrested for presenting fake academic documents. The individuals were already undergoing training at the Kiganjo police college when the forgeries were detected. The previous year, five recruits were expelled from the GSU training school in Embakasi for similar reasons.
Employing unqualified persons is bad for any organisation. Jobs of all levels require people who have the right skills. When people cheat their way into jobs they are not qualified to hold, they don't live up to expectations. The result is poor services from the organisation, bad management and financial losses.