UAE: Smart system to prevent degree fraud

A smart chip system to prevent the use of fake university certificates has been adopted in the United Arab Emirates.

More than 30 universities and educational institutions have partnered with smart technology solutions company Amricon to implement the Smart Document Attestation Solution, according to Gulf News.

It uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to store information on labels that can be read by the attestation department of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, enabling the verification of certificates using a smart document reader without the need to communicate with the issuing university.

This allows more certificates to be checked in a shorter time, as data is captured directly from the certificate into the ministry's systems without the need to input by hand.

Amricon CEO Mousa Al Amiri said the smart chip technology "has eliminated the risk of certificate forgery".

Nasser Hamdan, a professor of physics at the American University of Sharjah, told University World News: "A few years back, an organisation in the US published a list of fake certificates issued from Western universities and among them was a large number from Gulf states including the UAE.

Since then, he said, the UAE government has become very careful to certify certificates before someone gets a job.

Dubai International Academic City, the world's only free zone dedicated to higher education, has 27 academic institutions from 11 countries and hosts around 18,000 students from more than 100 nationalities spread across 300 higher education programmes.

According to a 2011 report published by Emirate 24/7, the black market for fake degrees is thriving in the UAE, because getting a job and a decent pay-scale often hinge on an applicant's degree.

"A degree certificate also ensures better visa status and could be the difference between an expatriate getting a family visa or not," the report said.

The number of foreigners living in the UAE reached 8.26 million in 2010, representing almost 90% of the UAE's combined population, according to figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

If it proves to be successful, there may be a demand for the technology elsewhere in the region.

On 14 March, Iraq's parliament launched an investigation into reports that 20,000 government employees, including senior officials in the current and former government, used fake educational certificates, which are traded from US$1,500 to $7,000, to obtain their jobs.

Abdul Jabbar Alansari, an Iraq-based senior scientific researcher, told University World News: "This technology is needed to prevent forgery, because fake university certificates is a significant problem for higher education across the Middle East, especially in my country due to the critical unemployment situation, political instability, ethnic conflict and fluctuation in economic systems."

According to a global report published in March by Accredibase, a database of unlicensed universities, fake higher education institutions are on the rise with a 48% increase worldwide in the number of known diploma and accreditation mills in the past year alone.

North America and Europe have the most diploma mills and between them account for the vast majority. Africa was close to the bottom of the list along with the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Oceania.

The report, Diploma and Accreditation Mills: New trends in credential abuse, was the result of an 18-month international research project into unaccredited educational establishments, fake universities and colleges, and unrecognised accrediting agencies.

To makes it easier to spot bogus universities as they appear, and to keep on top of new strategies used by diploma mill operators, the report called for effective law enforcement and international cooperation, including the exchange of information between countries and jurisdictions.

"While it will never be possible to claim to have an exhaustive resource, by encouraging more jurisdictions to monitor and publish information on bogus education providers and collating this information in one place, it is possible to build an extremely powerful tool to combat credential fraud," the report said.