Fake degrees: Not as bad as the real ones? — Alwyn Lau
JULY 31 — We should look closer at the recent revelation that more than 500 individuals, including several “very important” personalities, have purchased fake degrees. Apparently, there are syndicates in Subang and Cheras where you can get a master’s degree from bogus universities for RM8,500.
It would be a mistake to conclude from this episode that stronger policing of scam scrolls should take place. It would be an even greater mistake for genuine degree holders to suck a long smiling glance at the framed scrolls in their offices and be glad their qualifications are as real as the stars.
There’s a saying that an ordinary person who thinks he’s a king is a fool. However, a king who actually believes in his own majesty is also a fool. Why? The first case is simply a psychotic believing the lies he tells himself. The second case is also that of a psychotic, except this is one who believes the lies others tell him to believe. This is to say that a ruler’s downfall begins the very moment he forgets that his authority is a conferred one, a matter of contingency, of socially constructed symbols, of circumstances which could’ve gone another way. In other words, the foolish king is a king who fails to remember that he is merely a man like everybody else.
What does this have to do with fake degrees? Almost everything. In many ways, we should envy the Datuks and Tan Sris who bought their qualifications. At least there shouldn’t be any doubt in their minds that the BA, MSc or PhD certificate hanging on their walls is nothing but a worthless piece of paper.
Not so the average graduate. Graduates tend to believe completely and absolutely in their spit-shiny new status as an “educationally qualified” individual. Graduates tend to equate their having shaken hands with the vice-chancellor as proof that they are “learned” people. Graduates buy lock, stock and empty barrel the illusion that obtaining the degree and getting an education is the same thing. They ignore the fact that much of textbook education is canned and long past the expiry date. They trust too much in what academia calls “thinking” and “intelligence”; they forget that more than 90 per cent of what they’re required to do in the examination halls have less than 10 per cent relevance in the world beyond the invigilator.
Worse still, just like a king who has forgotten he’s nothing but a man, they have become “one” with their scrolls and thus blinded. To what? To the fact that the value of their scrolls is total zilch apart from the arbitrary and fleeting nice things that folks in society say about them.
Could this also be the error of the students who “occupied” Dataran Merdeka in April this year, protesting the PTPTN loan scheme? They were demanding free education when what they really wanted was a free scroll. Because free education is already available, isn’t it? You can get it online, in libraries, in almost any job, in teamwork, in careful and open conversations, in self-started projects, through organising events and so on.
And while I empathise with them and every family struggling to pay tuition fees, I hope this essay makes it clear that free education is like going around asking people for compliments. The things spoken of may be true but the mode of speaking is untrue because ultimately the worth of compliments — like that of education — is inseparable from what else other people see in you.
Nationwide free paper education would merely perpetuate the obsession with titles even as it diminishes the true value of the learning that titles are meant to declare has happened.
So maybe it wouldn’t be too extreme to say thank you to the Cheras/Subang syndicates for embarking on their creative endeavours. The problem of fake degrees is small compared to the scandal of real ones.
One tells you to lie to the world, the other tells you to never question it.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.