The South China Morning Post recently published an article that decried the rapid spread of fake degrees and qualifications in Asia.
I believe that instead of focusing on the many obvious objections that could be made against fake degrees, it might be more instructive to ask what are the conditions that make the fake possible.
Ackbar Abbas defined the fake as a suspect object, one that makes us take a suspicious and critical attitude at the system of such objects, in this case the commodification of education, the transformation of education into a commercial relationship.
When education becomes essentially something with exchange value, something to be bought and sold, inevitably the 'sign' (that is the degree) starts to replace the 'thing'.
As an educator with 15 years experience in teaching at university level, I have become totally disillusioned about the sustainability of such a system. The universities I have worked for doled out MA degrees to students who can’t even write a short essay but had the money to pay for it. How many students actually fail to bring home the degree they pay for? Universities can’t be selective when their goal is customer’s satisfaction.
The current system fails motivated students, motivated educators and ultimately, and ironically, the market they bend backward to please. As there is no longer any correlation between knowledge and degrees, the difference between the original and the fake lies only in the latter’s cheaper price.
I have long stopped to be impressed by a string of academic qualifications after a person’s name. In my eyes they are fashion accessories, like the ubiquitous LV bag. You can’t buy taste, you can’t buy knowledge. I have more respect for people with a genuine thirst for knowledge, the bus conductor who reads a Chinese classic during his break, the domestic helper who reads a history book, while her employer with an MBA (must-buy-accessory) watches the Apprentice on DVD.