Bogus degree scandal discovered

August 16, 1996

The University of Zululand has just found out that officials have been awarding students false degrees. Now students and management are at loggerheads over how to tackle the fraud.

A tip-off two months ago from a student who obtained marks fraudulently sent Ken MacKay, head of protection services at the university, investigating. He noticed several discrepancies in marking and eventually unearthed 15 fraudulent degrees across the disciplines.

The degrees were cancelled and employers of graduates who had obtained these jobs on the strength of their degrees were notified. Some of their degree holders were senior civil servants.

One University of Zululand official has been suspended and an internal investigation was launched in June. It entails sending mark records since 1993 back to respective departments so they can check against their own records, a process of retracing steps, checking and counterchecking. When a problem is found, the investigation tries to establish who was responsible. A computer system has been in operation since 1992 which makes it very difficult to change marks once they have been typed in.

According to vice chancellor Charles Dlamini, the computer centre responsible for facilitating this programme did not enforce it rigorously enough. Karl de Villiers, university spokesman, said the discovery of "bogus degrees" had "been devastating for our image".

"Donors are considering withdrawing their funding," he said. "And what is worse, the majority of innocent students who have earned their degrees must pay the price for what their less responsible predecessors have done.

"These false degrees have discredited our institution and we cannot afford to sweep anything under the carpet. We have to cut out this cancer before it grows."

But students are unhappy with the procedures which have been set up to tackle the problem. They are suspicious of the internal nature of the investigation, and have called for a "more objective" external commission of inquiry.

They accuse a number of officials of benefiting from the corruption and are concerned that an internal inquiry will not be stringent enough. They have faxed Sibusiso Bengu, minister of education, about the matter.

But Professor Dlamini said Professor Bengu does not have the authority to approve an inquiry, and that the matter would have to be referred even higher to President Nelson Mandela. This could delay a public inquiry, he said.

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