Friday, June 01, 2007

University Diplomas

"Obtain a prosperous future, money-earning power and the prestige that comes with having the career position you've always dreamed of. Diplomas from prestigious non-accredited universities based on your present knowledge and life experience".

This is the first paragraph of an advertisement e-mail I received - despite of my spam filter -. It reminds me of a recent discussion on a Dutch national radiostation (Radio 1) about how we are trying to prevent students from plagiarism. Nowadays we have sophisticaed software for plagiarims prevention like Ephorus or Turnitin. These tools can be integrated in our LMS solution. Every paper submitted by our students can be checked in a very short time and we receive a sort of originality report. A percentage score can give you an indication whether a paper is a suspect of plagiarism. The results of the plagiarism software are based on exhaustive searches on billions of pages, databases, e-journals and of course the papers that have been previously submitted.

However, inventive as people are we see other fraud-phenomena arising. For example, companies who offer to write your entire master thesis for 3 fo 4 thousand Euros. They give a sort of non-plagiarism guarantee (maybe even checked with the same software) and claim to have professional writers on a great variety of subjects. Until recently, there was a discussion going on whether Google should display advertisements / search results for these types of companies. Since it was decided that the search results should no longer be displayed, the turnover results of these companies has dropped by over 90%. I was wondering anyway how students who buy their master thesis would do when they have to give their final presentation, or even worse answer in-depth questions about the thesis. They don't have a clue....

For those who are really desparate: they may reply to advertisements such as written in the first paragraph of this post. This advertisement refers to nonaccredited universities, but we have also seen that it's not too difficult to buy an almost genuine diploma of an accredited university in the Netherlands for a couple hundreds of euros. These kind of practices cannot be prevented by plagiarism software. Perhaps we should strive for a central registration system in which all your credits are stored. I am pretty sure that the University of Nijmegen must have some kind of registration on the achievement of my PhD degree, but can anyone else find it? Just type in the social registration number of a person and find out what degrees are officially registered. Of course, there are a lot of (privacy) issues that we have to deal with first, but technically it shouldn't be difficult to realise.

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