Something I was going to mention in my story about the student loan company, but then I felt it would be better as a separate item.
We all know about those dodgy diplomas, right ? The scam emails saying "pay us your money and we'll send you a Ph.D no questions asked and no need to do all that boring studying".
And some of those scams take in the best of us. It won't take you long to google the details of the fact that for example Paul "I can make you thin / stop smoking / whatever" McKenna was conned by a seemingly genuine academic institution offering him a higher degree in exchange for a thesis and some hard cash.
Now it does not help that McKenna's own branch of what I will call complementary medicine, for that is what it is, suffers a problem of recognition. Doctors have the BMA and GMC. Lawyers have the Law Society. Nurses have the RCN. But for Mckenna's complementary therapy there is no equivalent accrediting body.
So when a young(ish) and less streetwise than he is today McKenna put together his carefully worded thoughts on the scientific principles behind the therapeutic use of hypnosis and related skills, and sent off his thesis and his cheque to the states, he says he had no reason to believe the paperwork he got back awarding him his qualification was anything other than a genuine award based on academic review of the material he presented.
I leave you make up your own mind on that, but I will point out that there are a LOT of people who say they too thought the place they and McKenna sent their work and their money was genuine, and when enough of them made the same complaint, the FBI took an interest and THEY came to the same conclusion too. And because I am always a champion of scrupulous fairness (and because McKenna has already won one libel case on this already where a foolish journalist failed to check his facts) I will also point out that McKenna has subsequently presented a dissertation to an academic body all hold to be genuine, and received the academic achievement his work clearly deserved.
But it seems the dodgy degree lives on.
My own degree in a scientific discipline was awarded to me in 1979 by an institution whose pedigree and standing was beyond reproach and the instant the ink dried I was able to join, as a "graduate member" the professional body to which those of that discipline sought membership in order to continue their careers. Regrettably in my case Margaret Thatcher was to smash my hopes of academic achievement, but such is life.
But today I see a worrying trend. Many University Charters allow the university to award degrees in subjects, and with syllabus content, controlled entirely by them.
In the right hands and with a modicum of common sense there is no problem. Physics is Physics, Chemistry is Chemistry, French is French, right ? And no-one in their right mind would set up a course in any of those subjects that was not going to give a student the necessary grounding ? Now let us be honest here, the people doing the teaching will obviously enthuse over their own specialist subjects, and a Physics or Engineering graduate of shall we say Cranfield bloody well ought to know more about aviation engineering than a graduate of another university I know with links to the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope Project. But both should leave their alma mater with the same understanding of the malleable and ductile properties of the metals in those structures.
But here is the problem. More than two decades ago some employers found that people leaving some courses did not possess that same grounding, and to that end they, the employers, went to those professional bodies I spoke of and asked that they provide oversight of the course structure, course content, and examination methods, and thereby give their seal of approval, or accreditation, to the degree, thereby showing an employer that a man or woman with that bit of paper from that body could indeed be relied upon to have been taught the necessary information. Whether they retained it through the drunken haze of the post graduation party was another matter of course.
But today, there are still some well respected institutions who offer courses and degrees that do not carry any such accreditation.
I will give you just one example. Thanks to the popularity of the "CSI" genre of programmes there are a bewildering array of courses in university that the unsuspecting might believe would give them instant entry to the job. Now I cannot fault the scientific research that goes into the programmes, hell some of my own research from decades ago made a fleeting appearance in one episode as did the textbook from which I learned my craft, but when did you last see Grissom in a white suit and boots as the Midsomer Murders forensic crew always are. But while there are lots and lots of courses available leading to degree level qualifications, how many are actually accredited by the UK Royal Society of Chemistry which is the one thing the UK Forensic Service will use to judge the worth of your degree ?
The answer is about half a dozen and whilst the universities whose courses have that status will tell you of its importance, the ones that do not seemed strangely quiet about it.
But hey, with luck you can combine that degree with your A level in Media Studies and go get a bit part on the set and play act as if you were doing the real thing.
You'll get paid more, too !