The Golden Ticket
A university diploma seems to be the necessary requirement for a job in the modern-day world, despite the rising student debts and associated costs. In 2015, a study showed that graduates could earn £500,000 more than non-graduates and enjoyed more lucrative career opportunities. In a 2017 report by The Office of National Statistics, it was stated that graduates were more likely to be employed than non-graduates and were more likely to work in high-skilled posts. On the other hand, non-graduates aged 21 to 30 have consistently higher unemployment rates than all other groups. Thus, due to the popular demand for a diploma as a valuable addition to one’s CV, the market for fake degrees is booming, despite the moral and legal issues associated with using them.
A recent BBC investigation discovered that thousands of UK nationals — including NHS consultants and nurses — bought fake degrees from a multi-million-pound‘ diploma mill’ in Pakistan. Axact, a Pakistan software company, is one such company which operates a network of fake online universities ran by agents operating 24/7. According to a New York Times investigation, Axact hosted 145 sites for fictitious universities, 41 for high schools, 18 for fake accreditation boards, and 121 degree portals. These institutions have no tangible existence and offer little to no teaching. To boost profits, sales agents usually impersonate government officials, hire actors to play as professors in promotional videos, and create false news reports. Over 215,000 Axact qualifications were sold in 2015, making them $51m (£37.5m) that year.
Whilst purchasing a fake diploma is not illegal in the UK, using one to apply for employment is. Doing so causes one to partake in fraud by misrepresentation, an offence under the Fraud Act 2006 s2 — which could potentially result in a 10-year prison sentence.
Jayne Rowley, the Higher Education Degree Datacheck chief executive, said only 20% of UK employers ran proper checks on applicants’ qualifications, allowing for a large leeway for fraudsters to enter the employment market.
In Japan, foreigners are required to submit Japanese language proficiency certificates to the Immigration Bureau to receive resident status to study in Japan. These certificates can be issued by Japanese educational institutions abroad, allowing for the potential for false certification. In order to combat this issue, multinational conglomerate Sony and IT equipment services firm Fujitsu have created an encrypted database for educational documents, utilising blockchain technology. Through this platform, Japanese language schools can compare certificates with data registered on the blockchain to ensure authenticity. This platform will be trialled in March at the Human Academy Co. which operates Japanese language schools in the Japanese cities of Osaka, Saga, and Tokyo. If successful, a worldwide launch will occur in April.
By utilising this concept, other universities and educational institutions can also prevent the use of false documents in job applications. For example, in Malta, an island country in southern Europe, the government has announced that all educational certifications in the country from all levels of schooling — state or private — must be stored on a blockchain, the first in the world. Students receive their paper certification whilst companies can verify them online. This secure and publically available database exists to remove educational certification fraud whilst allowing its citizens to transfer jobs and obtain employment with greater ease.
“Blockchain gives us the opportunity to ensure that every Maltese citizen take ownership of their educational credentials” — Maltese Education Ministry
This would also prevent the potential loss or destruction of certification, for example, it would allow a refugee who has lost all their belongings to still have access to their educational credentials. Blockchain can also allow for the authentification of apprenticeships, an important matter to consider because as of April 2018; 160,800 commitments entered into the apprenticeship service in the United Kingdom.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a Big Four audit and consultancy firm, is currently conducting a trial of its new blockchain platform which verifies employee credentials. Smart Credentials aims to issue, store, and securely share digital certificates for employee qualifications, which becomes a part of their unique digital wallet. This would not only reduce the potential for fraud but also lower the costs of screening qualifications when onboarding employees. Furthermore, in December 2018, PwC partnered with US-based blockchain technology company BitFury to create blockchain projects accelerator for enterprises in Russia. By 2030, according to PwC forecasts, blockchain projects will generate about $3 trillion for businesses annually.
“Blockchain was designed to allow participants to share data without needing intermediaries… so individuals get more control over their personal data. You can also see the potential in any case where credentials are earned and continually updated.” — Steve Davies, global blockchain leader at PriceWaterhouseCoopers
Other countries, such as the Netherlands and Estonia, have also set up ad hoc centres to research blockchain use in education.