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EDITORIAL

The lesson of express degrees: you get what you pay for

NO STUDYING, no examinations, no heavy fees, no commuting, no dormitories, no hassle with professors, 100-percent discretion and verifiable qualifications. Just think: someone with a masters or bachelor degree can earn almost $1 million more than a high-school graduate during their lifetime. Call us now for a customised diploma!

NO STUDYING, no examinations, no heavy fees, no commuting, no dormitories, no hassle with professors, 100-percent discretion and verifiable qualifications. Just think: someone with a masters or bachelor degree can earn almost $1 million more than a high-school graduate during their lifetime. Call us now for a customised diploma!

Cyberspace is loaded with advertisements promising a brighter future for a few hundred or a few thousand bucks. Such ads often leave people wondering: how does this work? Will I get a fake diploma – or a real one, but for fake studies?

Slovakia now has its first official “express diploma” scandal with an opposition deputy suggesting that it is only the tip of the iceberg. Certainly, it would be going too far to compare the “customised diploma” ad with what happened at Trenčín University recently, but the case still poses some disturbing questions.

The children of the dean of the School of Social and Economic Sciences at Trenčín University had to return degrees awarded by the same university shortly after the Pravda daily broke a story about how they had obtained them. Pravda reported that the qualifications had been granted after an astonishingly short period: the daughter of the dean apparently completed her studies in about a year, despite the programme officially being defined as a five-year course.

Perhaps the phenomenon of buying proof of education as though one was buying jewellery is as old as the phenomenon of diplomas. But the problem is that if all it takes is money, then the result isn’t jewellery but just a cheap bijou. And this is how diplomas and higher education in general are devalued in Slovakia.

Post-communist countries bathing in the self-congratulatory belief that they had excellent education systems added universities like so many cogs to a machine, presumably expecting the machine just to churn out more educated people.

But problems start when society completely suffocates the status of trades and vocational training and produces second- or third-rate teachers, lawyers, artists and media experts instead of first-rate carpenters, mechanics, repairmen, shoemakers or confectioners.

Many young people simply do not want the status of carpenter or mechanic, but also don’t feel like walking the walk of getting an education either. And society, instead of creating more pressure to redefine the system of values within the education system, makes universities more accessible and more easily consumable even for people who might otherwise have made pretty good professionals.

Undoubtedly, 2009 is turning out to be a bad year for academia. First the government made universities open their doors to thousands of extra students in order to make sure that the unemployment figures didn’t rocket. Then the universities figured out that one of the Education Ministry’s criteria – a criterion they have to meet in order to be classified as universities – is to have the right ratio of students to professors. Schools accepting too many students suddenly risked losing their university status.

Earlier this year several universities faced the prospect of not being able to grant masters degrees because they lacked sufficient professors.

And last year none of the country’s universities were ranked among the world’s top 500 in the prestigious Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) compiled by the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Rectors in Slovakia were quick to suggest that Slovak universities’ failure to make it into the top 500 may be the least urgent problem they and their students face in 2009. They say that the pressure of quantity has only harmed the quality of education.

At some schools elsewhere in the world students are charged up to $38,000 per study programme or even per term for their education. Those who take a loan to complete such degrees rightly expect the school awarding their diploma to ensure it is faultless, valuable and acknowledged.

Officially, students of Trenčín University pay no tuition fees and get their education free of charge. However, education is never free and someone, in this case the state and the taxpayers, are paying for it. The daughters and sons of deans who get their customised diplomas in the blink of an eye contribute to the further decline of the education system. Sooner or later some Slovak universities could yet start posting ads on the internet: “Because you deserve it and deserve it without hassle: call us for your customised diploma today.”

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