University of Nairobi 67th graduation graduands/

Fake Academic Certificates: How to Deal With Them

By John Walubengo

Kenya’s 2022 Elections witnessed a fair share of educational certificates saga. Having a university degree was a prerequisite to being a candidate for some of the top seats in the country, and there was a lot of doubt about whether some candidates had a valid degree.

This brought to light one of the biggest challenges facing the traditional education system – the storage and management of academic certificates. Traditional methods, such as paper-based certificates or centralized digital databases, are vulnerable to fraud, tampering, and loss.

Fraudulent Activities

Typically, fraudulent moves involve illegal counterfeits, deceitful alteration of legitimate credentials (modification of name, signatures, degree, details, etc.), or complete fabrications (using fake logos, seals, and serial numbers).

Other times you have a case of institutional fraud where staff within academic institutions are compromised. Such fraud may involve the university registrars or other high-ranking officials creating illegitimate academic credentials, which are then retroactively appended to the university’s official records.

In some cases, the fraud is executed at the education regulatory agency level, such as the Commission of University Education or similar. The accreditation body is compromised to validate a non-existing foreign credential as being authentic. This can even be scaled further by certificate printing mills, which can fake the accreditation agency documents and purport to legitimize and endorse fake academic credentials from foreign countries.

The biggest losers in these scams are usually the potential employers and academic institutions who suffer reputational damage after the employers realize that their highly qualified first-class graduates cannot perform at the expected levels within the job market.

The potential employers usually cannot confirm the paper certificates presented to them within reasonable timelines. In most cases, writing to the parent universities to authenticate the academic credential offered by candidates has yet to respond since universities have other internal pressing matters – and responding to every other potential employer’s query is just not one of them.

Introducing Blockchain Academic Certificate Systems

To deal with all these challenges, most academic institutions and academic regulatory agencies have fairly rigorous internal mechanisms to preserve the integrity of academic credentials and certificates.

However, the fact that the fake certificate saga continues to be part and parcel of national and global conversations suggests that the current system is broken and not working effectively.

And this is where the case for a private, blockchain-based system comes in.

Blockchain’s decentralized and distributed ledger technology allows for secure and transparent storage of educational certificates. The data is stored on a private, decentralized network accessible by key stakeholders, including the academic institution, the educational regulator, and potential employers, amongst other selected actors.

The Benefits

A digital version of the paper certificate is stored on the blockchain, where it is protected from tampering, loss, and fraud by cryptographic algorithms. This means that the certificates stored on the blockchain are tamper-proof and can be relied upon by various stakeholders as authentic.

Potential employers can instantly verify the authenticity of certificates as long as the potential candidate employee grants them the rights or permissions to run the verification query against their certificates digitally.

The educational regulators can also instantly access a rich source of reliable educational data in real-time from their ‘Audit Role’ in the blockchain academic system. The data may include but is not limited to the total number of educational certificates issued at any given time, the most sought-after academic certificates by virtue of employee queries, and the most subscribed degrees, amongst other valuable regulatory data.

Can the ministry of education, through its education regulator, the Commission of the University of Education (CUE), dare to dream and implement a blockchain-based academic certification system?

Maybe, but then again – maybe not.

Photo Credits: University of Nairobi

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John Walubengo is an ICT Lecturer and Consultant. @jwalu.




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