While qualification fraud has remained consistently high in South Africa – at 16% for two consecutive years – there are circumstances where candidates are not the ones to blame, but have been scammed into thinking that their qualifications are legitimate. 

This is according to Ina van der Merwe, director and CEO of Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), referring to the company’s 2015 Background Screening Index findings that, out of over 470 000 qualifications verified by MIE in 2015, more than 70 000 were found to be negative, inconsistent or fraudulent. This includes candidates deliberately forging or altering their certificates, altering results or never having been awarded the qualification.

But, while it may be assumed that the above discrepancies are deliberate on behalf of the candidate, the experts in qualification checking highlight that this is not always the case.

Van der Merwe refers to a recent investigation by the Department of Higher Education in which 53 colleges were identified as providing “less than legitimate” qualifications – 21 of which fall within the religious sector.

“Likewise, in January, the owner of a bogus college in Soshanguve was forced to refund disgruntled students who had paid deposits before discovering that the college was not registered with the department and that their qualifications would therefore not be recognised,” she adds.

In cases such as these, explains van der Merwe, students may be unaware that their qualification is not legitimate until they apply for a position which requires qualification verification.

“Because of a growing culture of fraud, corruption and dishonesty, it is crucial for students to take measures to ensure that they study at an institution which is accredited to provide the course they wish to study. Not all universities or colleges provide every course, relevant to every industry.”

Van der Merwe shares some advice on how prospective students can find a legitimate institution for their field of study:

* Do your research – Look for accredited institutions for your course online, making sure you only view the official webpages of reputable sources. Another helpful form of research is to talk to people you know and who work in the field you want to enter after completing your qualification. Ask them what course and at which institution they – and their colleagues – studied.

* Attend career days – Career days are a great opportunity to meet with people who work or study at different institutions. Ask questions and be sure to find out about their accreditation status.

* Ask the experts – Once you find an institution that appeals to you, ask an accredited qualification checking company about their accreditation status in relation to your chosen course.