Home South African Concerns rise over bogus honorary doctorates

Concerns rise over bogus honorary doctorates

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Recent revelations of high-profile figures receiving honorary degrees from unrecognised entities have prompted calls for stricter regulations to safeguard the integrity of academic honours.

Trinity International Bible University awarded veteran actor Sello Maake kaNcube with a bogus honorary doctorate. Picture: X

RECENT revelations of high-profile figures receiving honorary degrees from unrecognised entities have prompted calls for stricter regulations to safeguard the integrity of academic honours.

The association issued a statement on Monday regarding private universities that claim to be able to award honorary doctorates but are not officially accredited with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

This concern arises from recent events involving Trinity International Bible University, which awarded actor Sello Maake kaNcube and other celebrities, including gospel singer Winnie Mashaba and businesswoman Shauwn Mkhize, honorary doctorates.

The Department of Higher Education and Training has previously instructed the university to cease its unauthorised activities.

South African Association of PhDs communications director Dr EM Mathebula said the organisation’s main objective is not to closely examine each honorary doctorate presented, but to dismiss a troubling pattern.

“We are troubled by the rising prevalence of well-known celebrities receiving honorary doctorates from institutions not officially registered or acknowledged by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

“This situation leads to ambiguity among less knowledgeable individuals regarding the bestowal of honorary degrees. Many are unable to differentiate between an academic doctoral degree, which involves thesis writing, and the presentation of an honorary doctorate.”

Mathebula added that a PhD, or academic doctorate, is a substantial academic achievement attained through thorough research in a specific field. It involves years of dedicated study, research and completing a significant doctoral thesis.

“The process includes coursework, examinations, original research, and defending a thesis. It usually takes three to seven years, depending on the institution. PhD holders are recognised for their scholarly contributions and have various career opportunities.

“This qualification reflects one’s intellectual capacity, critical thinking skills, and significant contributions to knowledge advancement. It is the highest level qualification as per the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).”

Honorary doctorate degrees are awarded to individuals who have made significant contributions to society or achieved notable success in their fields. Unlike traditional doctoral programmes, these degrees do not require recipients to meet academic requirements.

“The process of receiving an honorary doctorate varies among institutions and typically involves nomination and approval by the institution’s leadership.

“Individuals who hold academic doctoral degrees, such as PhDs, LLDs, D.Phils, D.Coms, D.Eds, D.Techs, etc, earn these qualifications by fulfilling doctoral degree requirements, which typically involve producing and defending a thesis before a panel of experts in the field.”

Mathebula further stated that as an association, their responsibility was to protect the authenticity and integrity of academic doctoral qualifications and advocate for government policies that ensure the legitimacy of our hard-earned degrees.

“We are pleased to hear that the department has taken a stand against fraudulent practices by institutions like the Trinity International Bible University,” said Mathebula.

Attempts to get comment from the Trinity International Bible University were unsuccessful. The institution lacks an official website providing specific details about its physical address or any other verifiable information. Its Facebook page, last active in August 2022, primarily consists of religious quotes and graduation photos of various individuals.

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