We need to bust the ghostwriters

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am


Improvements in higher education have, ironically, played a part in the growth of the trade in fake credentials. As employers ask for ever-higher qualifications, dodgy organisations known as degree mills have stepped in. They have capitalised on Asia's rapid growth to globalise a market for unearned and unrecognised qualifications. This is a case of buyer beware. It highlights the need to check the accreditation of unfamiliar institutions and also to verify the qualifications of job seekers. Genuine degrees or diplomas can be awarded by recognised institutions that have themselves been deceived by academic fraud.

A South China Morning Post investigation has uncovered an online business based in Hong Kong that has been supplying students as far afield as Africa and the Middle East with 'ghostwritten' essays that form part of course work required to obtain a degree. We paid the website HK$1,000 for a six-page, 2,000-word paper reviewing public service broadcasting, which was assessed by a professor as being worth a mark that 'isn't too bad'.

Lawmakers have called on the police force's commercial crime bureau to investigate the company concerned. A lawyer says the company and its clients could be guilty of conspiracy to defraud, although it may be difficult to get a conviction. But a police spokesman said they could only act on a complaint about a particular case.

It is unclear whether ghostwriting is widespread in Hong Kong. Local universities run software programs to detect plagiarism, which can result in expulsion, and reported only a couple of cases last year. But the lawmaker representing the education sector, Cheung Man-kwong, is right to say the bureau should investigate an academic fraud operation that is based here, before it becomes a local problem. Our universities are a pillar of our knowledge economy and their academic integrity is fundamental to our city's reputation. Evidence of ghostwriting should be referred to the police as a test case and the universities should tighten their rules to specifically outlaw it.