Economic crisis contributes to the fake degree industry

According to UNESCO’s web-based platform ETICO, academic fraud is on the rise. In Zimbabwe, several cases of academic fraud have been reported in the media.

One type of academic fraud that has plagued the country in recent years is the use of fake educational qualifications to gain entrance into an institution of higher learning. For example, one man was jailed after using fake results to enrol at Midlands State University. However, perhaps even more prevalent is the use of fake diplomas and degrees to gain employment.

Several people have been brought before the courts and academic authorities for using doctored educational qualifications to secure jobs.

The clerk accused of using fake certificates

A former employee of Women’s University in Africa, Kennias Manyevere Rashirai, is facing allegations of leaking examination papers. His case is currently before the Magistrate’s Court of Zimbabwe.

It is the state’s case that Rashirai who, as data entry clerk, was responsible for processing and printing examination papers, supplied Kudzanai Justice Magaya, a social work student, with examination papers for different faculties through WhatsApp.

Magaya, it is alleged, then sold the examination papers to students on behalf of Rashirai. Rumours of the exam leak led to an investigation and Rashirai’s arrest. Following Rashirai’s court appearance in June, the police submitted his educational certificates to the ministry of higher and tertiary education for verification. They were said to be forged.

Rashirai was then brought before the courts a second time in July, this time facing charges of fraud. According to the state, Rashirai tendered fake certificates in computer studies to secure his job as data entry clerk. Rashirai is set to appear in court again on 2 November.

A higher education manager without higher education

In 2021, a top manager at the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education, Florence Chimbumu, lost her job after it was discovered that the O Level results she used to get employed were fake.

Chimbumu, according to local press, only had one O Level pass, yet the certificate she used to get her job claimed she had five. Further investigations revealed that Chimbumu also had fake higher education qualifications.

The Higher Examinations Council dismissed her two diplomas in accounts and secretarial studies, as well as her higher national diploma in office management, as bogus. Soon after she lost her job, Great Zimbabwe University accused Chimbumu of misrepresenting information to get a position at the university and withdrew her degree in politics and administration.

The thief whose fake degree was accidentally discovered

According to his own testimony, one felon used fake academic qualifications from Zimbabwe to secure employment in neighbouring South Africa. In 2021, Mazvita Ruwambara – a 27-year-old man who used the alias Paul Leon Mukuruva on his fake documents – was convicted on charges of theft and possessing articles for criminal use.

After raiding his house to recover US$10,000 Ruwambara had stolen from his aunt, police found him in possession of a fake National University of Science and Technology bachelor of commerce degree in finance.

Ruwambara admitted to using the fake qualifications to apply for jobs in South Africa when he appeared before the Magistrate’s Court. He said: “Your Worship, I used these fake certificates when I was in South Africa. I used them to secure employment there. I never used them here in Zimbabwe.”

Ruwambara was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for possessing articles for criminal use. The sentence was wholly suspended for five years.

Where do the fake documents come from?

The preponderance of fake educational qualifications leads to one important question: where do they come from?

There appears to be a thriving counterfeit industry churning out fake diplomas in Zimbabwe and globally. Some of the people who make fake diplomas are brazen enough to market their services online. “University of Zimbabwe diploma replica, buy a fake UZ degree,” reads what appears to be some sort of business tagline for one such business with an online shop that sells fake diplomas for universities in multiple countries, including Zimbabwe.

In addition to international providers of fake qualifications, there are also local syndicates engaged in the forgery of academic qualifications in Zimbabwe. In 2020, the University of Zimbabwe Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Mapfumo, was quoted in the state media as saying that his institution was in the process of investigating document forgery.

“The problem may be within, which is why we are investigating. Those who will be caught offside will certainly face the law. This is a jailable offence,” he said.

Bad economy a root cause

The protracted economic crisis in Zimbabwe is one of the main reasons people engage in academic fraud. This is according to Professor Eldred Masunungure, an academic guru in the field of political science who leads an organisation called the Mass Public Opinion Institute.

Referring to the practice of buying fake degrees, Masunungure said: “It’s all driven by the very difficult political economy of Zimbabwe presently … As the economy deteriorates, there appears to be a correlation with the frequency and seriousness of such fraudulent cases because people want to make ends meet. They are not qualified to get the job and they feel they have no other alternative except manufacturing qualifications to secure employment.”

Some have the qualifications, just not the right ones

Some people with educational qualifications also buy fake diplomas according to Lennon Mazuru, spokesperson of the Zimbabwe National Students Union. “Sometimes, one studies for this degree or that degree but there are no opportunities for employment in their respective field,” said Mazuru.

“In order to survive in such conditions, some people decide to just get fake diplomas for the jobs that are actually available on the job market.”

Mazuru blamed the government of Zimbabwe for failing to provide jobs for young people and said it should stabilise the economy.

Commission of inquiry needed

Masunungure called for a commission of inquiry into rising cases of academic fraud in the country.

“To stem the pervasiveness of the problem, there is a need for stern action, including a commission of inquiry, because, once the country is associated with fraudulent education standards and fraudulent education certificates, it tarnishes the whole education system. This may impede students who are properly qualified when they want to secure admissions in other reputable institutions outside the country,” he said.

Masunungure said the problem cannot be solved without dealing with the economic crisis in Zimbabwe. “At the root, I am blaming the nature of our economy, which has deteriorated in the past two decades.”

Research on credentials fraud

Only one holistic research paper on academic credentials fraud has been published in Zimbabwe so far, it appears. Titled ‘Qualification Award and Recognition Fraud in Higher Education in Zimbabwe’, the research was conducted by Evelyn Chiyevo Garwe and published in 2015.

It covered 15 universities and Zimbabwe’s quality assurance organisation, the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education. The research showed there was an increase in academic credentials fraud at the time it was published.

Some of the causes identified by the research were high unemployment, credentialism, and the desire for recognition and success. Honorary degrees, according to the research, were the most fraudulently acquired, followed by professional awards, doctorates, masters, bachelor degrees and secondary level certificates, in that particular order.

Zachariah Mushawatu is a freelance journalist. He recently completed a masters thesis on academic freedom at the University of Bergen, Norway, and is also the former national spokesperson of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, or ZINASU.