Investigating fake degree certificates: Report reveals political interference in university enrolment

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Hon.Kandeh Yumkella,head of investigating committee

By Jariatu S. Bangura 

Findings on the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Academic fraud in the Civil and public services in Sierra Leone, have revealed that crippling politics of patronage and interference in the educational administration is undermining reforms in the sector.

WHAT HAPPENED: The Parliamentary Special Select Committee headed by Hon. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella was instituted on April,2022 to investigate staff of all Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) after an alleged proliferation of academic fraud and fake qualifications awarded by fake Universities and the growth in the popularity of online and distance learning opportunities.

The Committee was set up following the Dominion Christian University and the African Graduate University scandal of the 26th of March 2022.The committee was set up in April to investigate the issues of fake certificate and operations of distance learning programmes without recourse to any set standards or regulations.

WHAT DOES THE REPORT SAYS: The report states that after meetings with students and members of the Academic Staff Association (ASA-SL), it was revealed that sometimes universities receive calls from top politicians requesting them to enroll certain students in faculties that they are not qualified for.

“We received testimonies of instances of political interference in the administration of universities and colleges, especially regarding admissions and enrolment. Arm-twisting universities and other institutions of higher learning to bend the rules regarding admission of students have had a concomitant effect on quality standards and integrity,” the report states.

The report further states that the Eastern Technical University was particularly concerned that they were summoned to Parliament for conducting entrance examinations. These, they were told, are problems that have bedeviled the governance and autonomy of educational institutions in Sierra Leone.

The report continued to states that the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) explained to the committee that the entrance examination is now a part of the laws of Sierra Leone as enshrined in the Universities Act of 2021.

This is similar to what obtains in other countries in the region such as Nigeria where entrance examinations like the Joint Examinations and Matriculations Board (JAMB) have been in place for a very long time.

“Most experts we heard from bemoaned the absence of a robust regulatory framework for institutions of higher learning in Sierra Leone. It is regrettable to note that neither the Tertiary Education Commission nor the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education possess an enforceable guideline for higher education regulation. It was revealed that despite designing guidelines along this line and distributing to Technical Education Institutions for adoption in 2020, the TEC was unable to enforce same since it lacked regulatory powers,” the report noted.

Other findings include serious bribery and corruption in the educational sector, challenge in accessing higher education and misuse of internets are among the several challenges embedded in the tertiary educational sectors.

WHAT THE COMMITTEE MAKEs OF THE GOVERNMENT: The report states that the committee does not believe the nation has taken the issue seriously. It is critical that the President and Parliament make a strong pronouncement on fake qualifications since it will have a direct long -term negative impact on human capital development and the free quality education initiative. It is important that the recommendations and the action plan to be presented later are implemented expeditiously.

RECOMMENDATIONs: Also, the Committee called on the nation to take the issue of the proliferation of fake qualifications as a major national emergency.

“In particular, it should be noted that the endemic spying and fraud at the secondary school level (in some cases aided and abetted by parents and teachers) feeds into the tertiary education system, and eventually into work force” the report states.

The report noted that it would be critical that the Executive Branch, Parliament and Civil Society make a strong pronouncement on fake qualifications, and launch a national campaign. Fake qualifications will have a direct long-term negative impact on human capital development and the free quality education initiative.

“The negative impacts on the economy as a whole, and the reputational damage to our academic system cannot be over emphasized. It is important that the recommendations and the action plan of this report be implemented expeditiously,” the report added.

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