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I recently happened upon a video clip making the rounds on social media which highlighted the disparity in the ratio of Ph.D.’s among the members of the Shoura councils of GCC countries. It even noted the numbers of Ph.D. degree holders in the US Senate and House of Representatives as an added comparison. Surprisingly or perhaps not so, Saudi Arabia has by far the largest proportion of Ph.D.’s among the lawmakers, with some 100 members of the Shoura Council holding Ph.D.’s according to the clip. If that is indeed true, then is it perhaps not overkill?

Granted that there are more rewards at the end of the rainbow for those who boast of such a degree. According to a study from the US Census Bureau, using data from the most recent comprehensive national census, adults with Ph.D. degrees earn more than those with just master’s degrees.

The Census Bureau found this to hold valid across all the disciplines surveyed, with the differences ranging from a 7% increase to a substantial 33% increase. The study substantiated the evidence that a Ph.D. is an even more valuable asset in the private sector, particularly in industrial research and development.

But not everyone is Ph.D. material. And herein lies the problem.

Some resort to an easy way out. They find willing candidates ready to write out their doctoral thesis for a price and then spend a week or two coaching them for the final dissertation. Others simply don’t bother to go that far; they will just buy a Ph.D. A finding of the Ministry of Higher Education identified 110 offices selling forged degrees from non-Saudi universities. The agencies were supplying these bogus degrees for the past several years, and the recent finding was just the tip of the iceberg.

Steps were being taken steps to identify the agencies that supply forged degrees. The ministry had set up a special department to crack down on the issuance of false degrees. The department could verify the authenticity of any degree by contacting the institution that purportedly issued the document. The names of those holding forged degrees would not be found in any accredited university register.

Fake college degrees can be a profitable business for those orchestrating them. Prices for a fake bachelor’s or master’s degree can cost anywhere from $1000 to $8000 while a skilfully manufactured doctoral degree can cost up to $25,000 from an institution in the west. The degrees supplied are not genuine or approved by any official body, and often not worth the paper they are printed on. Some are issued by institutions that may offer courses without stringent controls or approved standards. Others may be simply issued by the transfer of money into an overseas account.

Diploma mills seek to snare prospective candidates for bogus certification through fake ads or social media. Such institutions simply create a website that looks like it belongs to a genuine university. A US media investigative team reported that such sites would provide online payment options for customers as well as details for prospective employers who might contact them to verify whether a degree is genuine or not, and that bogus degree markets thrive in many parts of the Third World.

An American government finding of a few years ago created some ripples in this country when it named over a hundred recipients of bogus Ph.D. degrees from Saudi Arabia who obtained their fake certificates from diploma mills. What was discomforting was that some of them were holding executive positions in the government at the time, undoubtedly riding on the success of those fake degrees.

This brings up another question. How much emphasis are we placing on our population to target themselves for the ultimate degree? Only in areas of advanced, research-driven jobs can the discipline and specialised knowledge that a Ph.D. requires be absolutely necessary. A Ph.D. is a basic requirement in many countries for a career in academia. Unless one is heading towards academics or research, the need becomes minimal.

Governments and institutions across the Gulf could screen a candidate for any job based on his suitability for the needs of that position and not simply based on a piece of paper he holds from a university. There is plenty of need for hands-on expertise today to run our country and most of which can be met through vocational or business colleges without the ordeal of going for a Ph.D. or obtaining it through fraudulent means.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena