Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Paper Chase

These days, everybody is chasing after some kind of a paper qualification – look at the jobs ads: if you wanna get a good job, you need to obtain a degree first. So that’s why in Malaysia and elsewhere – getting a degree is first on the agenda once you leave school. Or if you didn’t go to college after high school because you have to go to work – then you will endeavor to enroll into a degree program sometime during your working life. Yes, these days, a degree is that important. For those studying at HICT, or at any HELP institutions, they are very fortunate because they are assured of a sound and dare-I-say-it, excellent education. I should know since I lecture at HICT, and I am really good!

But there are also those who want a degree but are not prepared to work for it – the sort of people who think they can buy anything as long as they can afford it! Therefore, this innovative (and of course, very profitable) business venture we derisively call “degree mills” came into being to cater to this segment of the market. A degree mill offers a credential purely in exchange for payment and nothing else. In Malaysia, things are of course never so obvious. Local education providers pretend to organize classes and get students to submit some work before they are presented their scrolls in glittering graduation ceremonies in swanky hotels. I can still recall some of these degree mills: Preston University, Dublin Metropolitan University, St. Clements University, St. Regis University and Wesleyan International University. And there are also education providers who had the audacity to offer degrees from “real” and genuine Universities – e.g. Brookes Business School, Singapore had advertised: “Get a degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in just one year, for as little as $12,000.” The only trouble is, the degree is fake!

Anyway, my point about degree mills is that just about anybody can qualify for these degrees! Even non-humans! And so I read with a great deal of comic amusement this posting on boingboing.net yesterday: “Skeptics who believe that a university is actually a diploma mill often prove their point by enrolling their cats in the university's program and seeing whether the cat can get a degree." Two examples: Colby Nolan is a house cat that was awarded an MBA degree (with a 3.5 GPA) in 2004 by Trinity Southern University, a Dallas, Texas-based diploma mill, sparking a fraud lawsuit by the Pennsylvania attorney general's office. Ben Goldacre, a UK-based science journalist, obtained a diploma in nutrition from the American Association of Nutritional Consultants for his dead cat, Henrietta, while investigating allegations about fake qualifications.

So the next time you come across a cat – please treat this feline with proper respect. For all you know, it might be a very learned cat with a college degree!

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