As graduates flood the job market, many will be shocked to hear their degrees have no value.

South Africans are still finding themselves victims of bogus higher education colleges and universities despite better access to resources to verify the status of an institution.

The new National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Amendment Act which came into effect on August 19 this year has once again exposed the problem of bogus institutions in the country. A new dimension to the Act is the criminalisation of qualifications fraud whether the holder of the qualification is aware of the fraud or not. This means that, according to the Amendment Act, even if you hold a fake qualification thinking it is legitimate you will still need to defend yourself, and if this defense is rejected you could face jail time or receive a fine.

Dr Julie Reddy, acting chief executive officer of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) told Wits Vuvuzela, “If the public checks the information regarding the registration and accreditation of the institution as well as … the qualification on the NQF before enrolling, they will not find themselves in [this] situation. However, if a person finds themselves in such a position, their qualification would still be misrepresented.” SAQA is the body set up through the NQF Act to regulate qualifications in South Africa. 

Ishmael Mnisi, media liaison officer from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), told Wits Vuvuzela there is no telling how many fake institutions currently operate in SA.

Since many of these fake institutions operate without the proper materials and accreditation you would expect them to be a lot cheaper than the real deal, but a woman who wished to remain anonymous said this is not the case.

The 24-year-old, who was baited by the unaccredited Savia Nursing School, in Queenswood Pretoria, lost R29 000 in her first year of study, compared to a first-year BNurs degree at Wits that costs R47 900.

The woman found out that Savia Nursing School was unknown to the South African Nursing Council and said, “It taught me to first seek information rather than running off and just wanting to go to school out of desperation.”

According to Reddy, SAQA considers the operations of unregistered and unaccredited private institutions/persons as acts of fraud. She added that for a course to be considered legitimate it must be registered on the NQF database, be offered by a registered and accredited education institution or skills development provider, and it must be lawfully obtained.

Mnisi said as soon as the DHET becomes aware of institutions that are not accredited they act swiftly to ensure the bogus institutions are closed.

“Unfortunately, there is a lack of awareness about accredited institutions and how to apply for financial assistance. There’s desperation among many people to secure qualifications … [Bogus institutions] also affect South Africa’s ability to absorb [graduates] into the economy and it has a big impact on the country,” Mnisi said.

Statistics SA states that the second quarter of 2019 showed a 29% rate of unemployment, resulting in 6,7 million people sitting without work, the highest unemployment rate in over a decade. The only statistics representing youth unemployment this year were derived from first quarter statistics which estimated that 31% of graduates were jobless, a steep increase from the 19,5% unemployment monitored for the same group at the end of 2018.

The anonymous woman said, “It made me feel for my parents because they were paying so much only for me to drop out because I did not do my proper research and I just wanted to be in school. I’ve learnt and made sure that I don’t just jump into something I’m not sure of again.”

The DHET register of private higher education institutes said bogus colleges use a range of methods to mislead the public.

“[A] number of online operators committing internet fraud purport to offer degrees in 15 days using the name and logo of the DHET,” said Mnisi. 

The DHET warns registering hopefuls to be wary of institutions with names similar to those of prestigious universities, offering the possibility to receive several degrees in one year and institutions claiming to give qualifications on behalf of foreign universities.

If an institution is found to be functioning without accreditation “[it] will face closure by the DHET. Such institutions may also be declared unfit to apply for future registration for a period not exceeding ten years,” Reddy said.

Now a qualified nurse and graduate from Tshwane University of Technology, the anonymous woman was lucky to get out of the bogus institution in her first year of studies. Other students face a different fate: graduating from these fake institutions wastes time and money in the process.

According to Reddy, when applying to institutions it is pivotal to check the list of accredited providers on their website and to make sure the qualification offered is registered on the NQF. They also add that only a registered qualification will contain a unique SAQA identity number, followed by the names of public and private providers that are qualified to offer the course.

“One [fake] institution is one too many. Where such institutions are found, the law will take its course,” Reddy said. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Every year many hopeful students in South Africa are taken advantage of when bogus academic institutions steal their time and money.  Photo: Gemma Gatticchi