Debate rages over honorary PhDs as questions swirl

Wednesday December 08 2021
PhD pic
By Jacob Mosenda

Dar es Salaam. The debate over honorary doctorates is raging, with focus having now shifted to bogus online colleges said to be selling “degrees” to those who can afford them.

Some commentators told The Citizen that demand for honorary doctorates is such that fake online universities are now springing up like mushrooms, charging people “registration and certification” fees.

One such institution that has sparked much debate in Tanzania is the Academy of Universal Global Peace, which on Monday awarded “honorary doctorates” to some local leaders, including MPs.

The recipients included CCM MPs Joseph Musukuma (Geita) and Japhet Hasunga (Vwawa). Apart from the two lawmakers, 13 other Tanzanians, including clerics and retired public officials, were awarded honorary degrees by the institution this year.

Online research conducted by The Citizen to confirm the authenticity of the institution established that it is headquartered in India, not the United States as it claims.

The college also claims that it is registered in India, the United Kingdom and the United States, but is not on official university websites of those countries.

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The institution has also been accused of offering fake awards as reports show that it awarded honorary degrees to more than 20 people, who each paid of £2,500 (about Sh7.5 million) for the honour in 2020.

Mr Paul Greatrix, a registrar at the University of Nottingham, author and a contributing editor of Wonkhe website, says in one of his writings, “The Academy for Universal Global Peace looks a bit ropey to say the least. Not only do they have a rather flimsy website but they also have a less than reassuring message from their (anonymous) registrar. There are plenty of details about how they go about awarding those honorary degrees.”

He also says competing in the honorary degree space with the institution is the very similarly named Global Human Peace University – the whole operation appears to be rather similar with again honorary degrees seemingly the primary award.

“Then there is the International Peace University which also provides a handy application form too.”

A contributor on the JamiiForums social media platform says, “It is very sad when we see the country’s top leaders, especially MPs, agree to buy cheap doctorates from rogue colleges.

“That gives you the impression that our leaders do not even know how to check authenticity when everything is online.”

He says the college is “fake” as it has no address, premises or genuine headquarters.

“It is just a fraudulent institution set up by scammers for defrauding people who want cheap prestige without sweating,” he says.

Dr Abdul Mohamed, a development expert based in Dar es Salaam, says that many politicians and celebrities, who were not fortunate enough to have a good education, will not hesitate to dish out huge sums of money for such an award.

“This is huge business that has taken time to be uncovered. I have a friend of mine who is a politician, who was awarded a doctorate in 2015. He later told me he spent Sh15 million to get it, and that it helped raise his status politically,” he says.

But the Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU), in recognising the loopholes, outlines procedures that universities should follow in issuing honorary doctorates.

It notes that honorary degrees in Tanzania are conferred by only accredited and registered universities as per the provisions of the Universities Act, Cap. 346 of the Laws of Tanzania.

The university watchdog stipulates further that honorary degrees conferred by foreign institutions are recognised by TCU only when such institutions are accredited and recognised by the regulatory where those institutions are located.

It also reminds that the Universities Act and Universities (General) Regulations, G.N. No. 226 of 2013 provide for the procedures for foreign institutions wishing to operate in the country.

“It is therefore an offence to run university academic activities including conferment of academic and other awards in Tanzania without the approval of the commission,” says TCU executive secretary, Prof Charles Kihampa in a statement.

He reminds the public to beware of such institutions and verify the authenticity of universities in Tanzania through the list of recognised universities which is available on www.tcu.go.tz before transacting with any foreign or local universities.

But Dr Mohamed says the perpetrators have to be hunted down and action taken against them as some have been bold enough to travel to Tanzania to confer bogus degrees.

“The existing laws should start working in partnership with countries where such colleges are located.”