The Malawi social media has been awash with debates on fake PhDs for the past week or so. Some highly inquisitive fellows have been taking some time off their work to check and verify the authenticity of some PhD degrees held by some prominent people in our country.

A number of questionable PhDs have been uncovered. And consequently, there have been a few cases, where unpalatable words have been exchanged. I will, however, not delve more into this.

Having stayed outside Malawi for quite some time, I did not really know that people are so crazy about PhDs like this in my country. Back in the days, when we were in college, PhDs were distinctly falling into two categories.

The first category was the obvious one. There were some well educated people, with well known academic track records. They had their first degrees, mostly, from the University of Malawi. Most of their former classmates could easily attest to their intellectual prowess.

These folks had obtained their PhD degrees after spending at least three years abroad, during which they were doing rigorous research. Many of them had Masters degrees from credible universities abroad prior to embarking on their PhDs.

They were usually on scholarships. They used to publish journal and conference papers as part of their PhD research and eventually they defended their theses and returned home. These are the people that used to inspire us, when we were young.

The second category of PhDs were honorary PhDs. The former president of Malawi, Bakili Muluzi, was one of the recipients. Even though he is addressed with the Dr title, other distinguished fellows such Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, who received several honoris causas are not addressed as such.

Over the years, it seems some folks have discovered that honorary degrees are not worth it. They have discovered that an academic doctorate carries far much more weight. As a result, they get these degrees from questionable institutions and diploma mills.

They use these fake qualifications to either get employment or attain promotion at the expense of honest Malawians. This is very unfair. It is, in fact, criminal. But in the absence of a national qualifications framework, it will be extremely difficult to get rid of such elements.

To make matters worse, the folks with fake PhDs are also the noisiest around. They use these qualifications to attract honor to themselves. Genuine PhD holders are generally calmer.

I have worked in Namibia and South Africa since my return from Japan, some eight years ago. In these two countries, they have the Namibia Qualifications Authorithy (NQA) and the South Africa Qualifications Authority (SAQA), respectively.

Among other things, these bodies register qualifications on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). They also evaluate all foreign qualifications. If your foreign qualifications have not been evaluated by SAQA, you cannot get a job in South Africa.

A friend of mine in Malawi has been part of a team that was developing the National Qualifications Framework, that will lead to the establishment of the Malawi Qualifications Authority. There is a need to fast-track this process so that the season of fake PhDs can be brought to an end.

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