It begins as legitimate academic pursuit but ends up as theft.
Sunday Standard learns that for some time now, some lecturers at fly-by-night universities have been infiltrating some other universities posing as either tutors or students in order to gain access to and steal instructional materials that they themselves don’t have.
Despite Botswana Qualifications Authority requirements, lecturers at one too many fly-by-night universities hold only a junior degree and pursue a master’s degree after getting a job. They pursue the latter on a part-time basis at anyone of the several universities in Gaborone that offer such programmes. As students, they are availed of all resources a university has – including comprehensive instructional materials. That is when they strike.
“They plagiarise lecture notes they are given in order to develop modules for programmes they teach at their own universities,” says a source familiar with this scam.
Where they don’t infiltrate other universities as students, they come in the guise of tutors – which ruse gives them the same level of access and enables them to carry out the same mischief. Tutoring gives these lecturers access to another very important resource – students, whom they turn into customers by ghost-writing their dissertations.
A credible-university lecturer says that lecturers characteristically know the language competence and reasoning ability of their students. Where there has been an illicit transaction between a tutor and student, the latter’s dissertation would be as flawless as to strongly suggest that the student got more than a little help from someone else. Technology in the form of plagiarism-detection software has been helpful in unravelling issues such as this one. Where this fraud goes undetected, students acquire academic qualifications that misrepresent their actual abilities.
The standard length for a dissertation is five chapters and ghostwriters typically charge P1000 per chapter. This basically means that a ghostwriter nets tax-free P5000 per dissertation.
The culprits are almost always foreigners from Sub-Saharan Africa who are easier to exploit than Batswana. Not too long ago, one of the oldest fly-by-night universities used the opportunity of an otherwise lawful process (retrenchment) to get rid of citizen lecturers. In the process, this university dismantled a whole trade union cell that was agitating for labour rights.
More disturbing is the fact that political leaders have compounded the problem by validating the costly scam the owners of fly-by-night universities are running on the nation and its youth. These leaders have access to the most credible and shocking intelligence about how fly-by-night universities (virtually all of them run by foreigners) are destroying the future of young people by providing sub-standard education while claiming their full pay from the government.
Yet those same political leaders routinely attend events hosted by these universities – which amounts to full-throated endorsement even when a single word is not uttered. Appearing before a parliamentary committee during his stint as University of Botswana Vice Chancellor, Professor Thabo Fako said that the term “university” should be legally protected. Perceptibly, that would prevent entrepreneurs from using the promise of quality higher education to scam the government and rob young people of a bright future.