Fake degrees, a form of resistance?

The thoughts in this article are all my own, but informed by ongoing conversations made popular by BBC’s the Documentary Podcast and CBC’s Marketplace.

Written by Patience Adamu

Lately it has been popular to expose and publicly shame people who have purchased their degrees. And although I agree that it is a problem, I want to draw your attention to a related issue–that unaffordable education perpetuates a system that is not merit-based and is oppressive to recent immigrants, racialized groups and those who live under the poverty line.

Let me be clear… it is important to be qualified for a job. But, I have read countless articles that discuss how university education does not adequately prepare students for employment. Yet increasingly employment opportunities require a university degree, often listing advanced degrees as an asset. We know that lived experience and work experience are huge contributors to most people’s qualifications today. We know that international education and degrees (particularly from the Global South) are discounted when considered by employers. We actively encourage friends and family members to slightly exaggerate their skills and experiences when in interviews, to use certain words to market themselves.

Yet we act surprised when people purchase and present fake degrees to support immigration applications, to qualify them for prospective employment and to try and get a better life.

In an information world that needs highly-skilled people, degrees are necessary to get jobs. So rather than focus on the symptom, fraud, we should be more interested in the cause. Fake degrees are a symptom of a finish line (security, stability, success) that keeps moving further and further away from the most vulnerable people in the world. Fake degrees are a way to resist oppression, unemployment and poverty.

As a PhD student who has been in university for 9 years – and in school for 23 years, I can attest to the frustrations of having to compete with those who do not have the same levels of education as I do. However, as an expert-in-training on the interplay between Race, Immigration and Labour Market outcomes, I am suggesting that we will continue to see this kind of behaviour if we do not change the way education, lived experience and work experience is achieved, perceived and rewarded in our societies. This article in no way suggests that I am in favour of permitting fraud or malpractice.

And congratulations to the Province of Ontario for providing free university tuition to those living under the poverty line. This is the kind of leadership we need to curb this activity.

“foreign credentials are less valued in the labour market because it is the ‘label’ of a Canadian credential, and not the knowledge of an educational degree, that is valued in the labour market” (Buzdugan & Halli 2009, p.370)

Buzdugan, R., & Halli, S. S. (2009). Labor market experiences of Canadian immigrants with focus on foreign education and experience. International Migration Review, 43(2), 366-386.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn on January 22, 2018.