Executive development

Henley Business School Africa takes national lead to curb qualifications fraud

As new legislation to check the rise of qualification fraud in South Africa takes effect, Henley Business School Africa is playing its part to address the issue, launching a secure, digital certificate system, in partnership with PrivySeal, that guarantees the legitimacy of its credentials. It’s the first business school in the country to do so.

Lie about your qualifications and you could face jail time, in terms of the new National Qualifications Framework Amendments Act of 2019. The new legislation, which came into effect on 13 October 2023, is an important step towards curbing rampant qualification fraud across the country.

Scandals involving fake degrees and embellished CVs are commonplace in South Africa, with even people at the highest levels being caught out. A report released by background screening firm Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE) in 2018 revealed that while the number of falsified qualifications decreased from 2,049 in 2016 to 1,678 in 2017, the number of misrepresented qualifications – when people lie about their educational background or claim to hold a qualification awarded by a recognised and accredited institution when they don’t – increased from 44,880 in 2016 to 50,618 in 2017.

Since the amended law came into effect, the consequences of such dissembling just got more severe, ranging from hefty fines to up to five years in prison. The Act also seeks to hold institutions that misrepresent qualifications or issue unregistered qualifications accountable and permits the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) – the country’s apex verification body for all qualifications in the country – to establish and maintain separate registers for professional designations, misrepresented qualifications and fraudulent qualifications, effectively naming and shaming guilty individuals and lifting the lid on bogus institutions.

According to Jon Foster-Pedley, dean and director of Henley Business School Africa, the legislation is to be welcomed, but institutions also need to step up to do their part to address the scourge.

“In South Africa a university education is a valuable commodity and a public good. It is literally the foundation upon which we can build the economy,” he says.

“Accredited qualifications give prospective employers and clients the confidence to engage with someone, knowing that they've actually earned the expertise they claim to have. One person lying about a degree can have an outsize effect, potentially undermining the performance and credibility of the business they work for or, if they are in the public sector, compromising service delivery to thousands.

“It’s not hard to see how, over time, each drip of dishonesty adds up to a flood that could erode the foundations of the entire education sector and ultimately the economy.”

The issue therefore goes beyond just shoring up an institution’s own reputation, adds Foster-Pedley. “There is a bigger picture at stake here. If employers, institutions and citizens don’t feel confident that individuals have earned the qualifications they purport to have, then the entire system will lose its legitimacy. And we can’t afford that in South Africa right now.”

Henley Africa’s real-time digital and encrypted certification system has been developed by PrivySeal, a technology company that is fast making a name for itself in this space. The system is designed to be easy-to-use and certificates can be shared online to validate graduates’ qualifications in real-time. Viewers, such as a graduate’s prospective employer, simply click on a unique link or use a supplied QR code that s been embedded in emails, websites, documents and social media to vet a qualification’s legitimacy.

The School maintains an active graduate database against which the certification can be continuously checked, while PrivySeal runs the back end to ensure the technology is iron clad.

“The ability to confirm a certificate as genuine in real-time is important to building trust,” says Stephen Logan, founder and director of PrivySeal. “It enables third parties to have faith that they are dealing with a recognised, responsible person who holds a proven and top-class qualification.

He adds that the system is already used by a wide range of institutions and authorities including qualification bodies, statutory regulators, government agencies, recognised professional organisations, industry associations, corporations and educational institutions, but that Henley Africa is the first business school to take a step into this space.

“In the era of AI where ‘deep fakes’ are becoming easier than ever and videos and even likenesses can be easily forged, this kind of system is no longer a nice to have but a must have for organisations to be able to prove their identity and the authenticity of their qualifications,” says Logan.

Foster-Pedley agrees. “The value of the genuine, the real, the untarnished, is becoming greater every day,” he says. “Backing up our graduates’ professional qualifications with this technology helps them build their careers, reputations, businesses, and ultimately economies, with confidence and pride.”

Photo credit: Photo by Growtika on Unsplash

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