31 May 2017

Universities combine to fight qualification fraud

8:56 am on 31 May 2017

Falsely claiming a New Zealand university degree is about to get a whole lot harder thanks to a new secure system for recording students' qualifications.

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Studies show about a third of applications include inflated or fake information about qualifications. Photo: 123 RF

All universities in New Zealand and Australia are rolling out the system, called My eQuals, which allows graduates to share digital copies of their qualifications with prospective employers.

Australian universities-owned company Australian Higher Education Services is managing the service. Chief executive Andrew Trnacek said overseas studies indicated about a third of job and course applications included inflated or fake information about qualifications.

He said faking a qualification through the My eQuals system was not possible.

"We're using the latest in encryption technology and that's constantly being reviewed and updated so it's not really possible for somebody to issue a fake document through the node," he said.

Dr Trnacek said the other big motivation for introducing the system was to reduce the time and effort involved in providing and verifying graduates' qualifications.

"It often has to get verified by a justice of the peace or similar notary, or the institution or the employer might actually pay another party to verify that degree, or contact the issuing university directly.

"So it's long, it's cumbersome, it's expensive, it's manual."

The University of Auckland was the first New Zealand university to pilot My eQuals.

Deputy vice-chancellor of operations Adrienne Cleland said it dealt with about 13,000 requests for transcripts or letters each year and My eQuals has had a lot of traffic since it started using it.

"We launched in April and from that time to now we've had 14,638 documents accessed, which is more than what we had thought would be, and about 2000 documents shared with an employer or another university."

Mrs Cleland said the university had uploaded all qualifications awarded since 2010 onto the system.

Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said the system would improve the integrity of New Zealand universities by giving people more confidence in their qualifications.

"Any employer both in this country or internationally can receive a secure link which provides them basically with assurance that the transcript or degree certificate that they're seeing has actually come from a real university and is a real qualification," he said.

Mr Whelan said fake New Zealand qualifications were not believed to be a big problem, but they were available.

"We pick up a few examples and we know that there are websites internationally that offer forged copies of New Zealand degrees and transcripts," he said.

Mr Whelan said Chinese universities had dramatically reduced qualification fraud through a similar system.

"When the Chinese introduced a similar system they found that they went from 28 percent of all the degrees that were referred to them being fake down to three percent over just a five or six year period."

Auckland University of Technology, Massey University, the University of Canterbury and the University of Otago were expected to introduce My eQuals later this year, while the Waikato, Victoria and Lincoln universities would do so next year.

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