Dr No-degree: Saudi Arabia's plague of fake academic credentials

Dr No-degree: Saudi Arabia's plague of fake academic credentials
Feature: Engineers, doctors and government officials are all working in Saudi Arabia with fake academic certificates, according to the government and activists.
5 min read
11 May, 2015
Saudi Arabia has spent billions improving its higher education facilities [AFP]
Youssef Shahin died before a verdict was issued against him on charges of forging more than 16,000 university degrees.

His daughter faces five years in a Saudi prison for her alleged involvement in the crime.

Shahin and his daughter were arrested last year in the city of Buraydah for running a workshop allegedly forging academic credentials. According to police, a PhD cost $13,300, an MA $5,300, and a $BA just 4,000.


In 2014, Saudi security arrested five other people forging academic certificates - along with 1,650 people who had used forged academic certificates at work.

Another 4,174 forged academic papers were discovered to be held by foreign engineers and doctors working in Saudi Arabia.

Most of them forged their certificates to get jobs or to improve their social status.

In Jizan, an expatriate was arrested on charges of forging academic certificates. Police allege he had accepted $3.5 million to manufacture 700 university degrees.

"People have become obsessed with academic degrees. Wealthy people no longer want to be just known as businessmen, they want to add 'doctor' before their names for social pride. This would explain the millions of riyals were have collected from the forgers," said Fahd al-Harithi, a professor of social sciences.

Harithi puts part of the blame the Saudi penal code, because it only punishes those who use forged academic certificates to get a job, and not those who use it for social status.

"That is why many wealthy businessmen seek academic degrees from unaccredited universities, mostly online, just to boast," said Harithi.

One senior source said that police had uncovered 800 employees in leading government positions, including deputy ministers with forged higher degrees.

An official survey conducted by the ministry of higher education confirmed that there were 51,000 forged academic certificates being used in Saudi Arabia.

In Dammam, an employee at one of the largest hospitals in eastern Saudi Arabia said many of the nurses there did not hold nursing degrees, and some were former house helpers with forged certificates.

"The section on forgers in the latest version of the penal code only applies to foreigners, but a study on the punishments for Saudi forgers will be released soon," said Mohammad al-Maraol, head of the interior ministry's general administration for public relations.
     Wealthy people no longer want to be just known as businessmen, they want to add 'doctor' before their names.
- Fahd al-Harithi, professor, social sciences

The punishments for expatriates include jail time, deportation and a permanent ban from re-entering Saudi Arabia.

Legal adviser Ahmed al-Rashed said that those accused of contravening the country's anti-forgery and bribery law could face five years in prison and a fine of up to $2,700 if found guilty.

He said that the punishment also applies to those with degrees from a fake university, if the accused were aware of the nature of the institution.

Fake degrees

Hamad al-Sharqawi, chairman of the Saudi council of engineers, said that a survey conducted by his organisation over the past five years uncovered 2,000 forged degrees, including 40 held by Saudi engineers.

The forged degrees, he said, were discovered thanks to a new verification system. Sources at the council estimated that there were 30,000 engineers operating in Saudi Arabia with forged degrees.

About 460 were from the Philippines, 250 from India, 180 from Egypt, 110 from Pakistan, and 50 from Jordan.

Abdullah Obeidat, chairman of the Jordanian engineers syndicate, said that 1,300 of 20,000 Jordanian engineers working in Saudi Arabia held forged degrees.

The problem is also affecting the healthcare sector - with one senior source saying that 2,714 workers in the public and private sectors were caught with forged degrees.

This included 1,431 nurses, 450 anaesthetists and laboratory technicians, 370 pharmacists, and 60 general practitioners.

Tayseer el-Mofarraj, head of the labour ministry's department of information, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that it was not their responsibility to catch forged degree holders and that their role is simply to regulate the job market and "take care" of labour law violations.

One activist taking a stand against this phenomenon has created a blog, Fake Doctorate KSA1, to name and shame the holders of fake academic certificates. The site has received more than seven million visitors since it was launched.

"We will not allow fame-seekers to exploit us financially, intellectually and academically through forgery and deceit," reads the site. "The list will be regularly updated."

It lists 190 names of government and private sector officials holding forged higher degree certificates or qualifications from fake universities. The website reveals their names, and the name and dates of the universities they allegedly attended.

It includes 59 senior government officials and 70 others in non-educational government sectors, along with 19 media professionals, 30 private sector managers, 14 preachers, 12 businessmen, and ten higher education officials.

"A fake university is one that does not have a headquarters or faculty, with the only aim of simply making profit," said the anonymous blogger.

"Official reports revealed that more than 15,000 health workers in Saudi Arabia had been suspended for holding forged degrees, including 75 doctors," he said.

The blog also listed the American University in London as one of main culprits for issuing fake degrees in the Gulf region.

One of the businessmen mentioned on the list admitted to buying his degree from the European University for $10,000 to boost his social standing.

"I do not need a PhD, it is only for social status," he said.

"I paid $10,000 and received the certificate in the mail in two weeks. I did not benefit from it and I did not harm anyone," he told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.